Showing posts with label samizdat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label samizdat. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The perfect tribute to Václav Havel : the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent

The Goddess of Democracy
from Tiananmen Square
circa 1989
Václav Havel and the Czechs inspired my 'Empty Nest Expat' adventure. I knew people who could elect a playwright as President were different in a way I couldn't define than me and my countrymen. The Czech Republic seemed like such a delightfully highbrow non-warlike society. I wanted to learn all about the Czechs by moving overseas and seeing what they were like.

To this day, I'm inspired by Václav Havel. This week, I discovered that one of the most beautiful tributes has been created to honor what he did so well: creatively dissent from the State.

Havel, for years a dissident at odds with the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, led the challenge that eventually overthrew the regime, and consequently, he became the first President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

Many credit Havel with the fact that both the Velvet Revolution resulting in the overthrow of Communism and the Velvet Divorce separating the Czechs and the Slovaks were violence-free.

The inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent will be awarded to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Saudi women’s rights advocate Manal al-Sharif, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

I am particularly delighted that Saudi citizen Manal al-Sharif has been recognized. At a time when human beings have walked on the Moon, it seems so strange that other human beings still aren't allowed to drive a car on a particular part of our planet just because of their gender.

Showing breathtaking courage and speaking plain common sense, Manal al-Sharif posted a samizdat video of herself on Youtube driving in Saudi Arabia while she described to the camera all the different reasons a woman needs to be able to drive to fulfill her different duties. The video was swiftly removed. I was one of the 600,000-1,000,000 people who got to see it before it was gone. Awed by her courage, I also thought her reasoning was undeniable.

Manal al-Sharif is an internet security consultant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia working for Aramco. I predict someday she'll have her own statue in her nation.

These three Havel Prize laureates will receive an artist’s representation of the “Goddess of Democracy,” the iconic statue erected by Chinese student leaders during the Tiananmen Square protests of June, 1989.

To learn more about the prize, here is the web page.

To see additional posts about Václav Havel

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Checking Out the History of Dissidents: New Vaclav Havel Library to Open in 2013

A Force for Good
Vaclav Havel

Modeled after the American Presidential Libraries, the new Vaclav Havel Library will be a repository for Vaclav Havel's published works and unpublished papers. Unlike Presidential Libraries, this Library will carry the samizdat of years of repression and the official papers of years of expression.  The unique gathering of that collection makes for an interesting juxtaposition and the final triumph of Prague dissident voices from repression - to rule  - to Presidential level archives. It's a fairy tale, really.  A political fairy tale.

Click on my title to read more about the project.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

This Blog is Censored in Turkey

Tap, tap, tap. Is this thing on? I'm not sure. Because I can't physically see my blog.  You'll have to tell me if you can.  I'm physically prevented from seeing what I write here so I hope you can read it. I just now figured out how to get a post on my blog through a blogging "back door."

I haven't posted in over a month.  That hasn't happened in the three years I've been writing this blog because there has been so much I've wanted to share in my traveling adventure.

As many of you know, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey last summer and have thoroughly enjoyed myself here.  I'm a bit behind in blogging about my adventures because well, a move is disruptive, and time-consuming. Turkey itself is a fantastically-interesting country with incredible history and beauty. I can't wait to tell you about it!

Right now, however, my blog and any other bloggers using Google's Blogspot domain are being censored in Turkey.  The story printed in the papers was that one person was illegally streaming football matches over his blog and a judge ordered not just his blog shut down, but the entire domain! Blogspot gets 18 million hits a month in this country alone. I sincerely hope you aren't a Turkish person trying to run a business on your blog cause you've been out of luck for over a month now.  I can't even imagine how frustrating that would be!

Now I'm American so I don't know much about football.  I've watched one game in my life, the final of the World Cup, and it was enough to convince me that I don't need to know too much more about football.  Yawn! Geez, it's slow.  But a game is over in one afternoon, right? I have no idea why this censorship continues. One of my American friends said, "well, maybe that guy wasn't streaming a football game, but a cricket match.  Those go on for weeks, right?" 

So here we bloggers sit.  Still censored.  Maybe it's because I'm a librarian and we librarians are constantly making sure the public has access to banned books.  Maybe it's because I spent so much time in formerly-Communist Prague and I find the idea of repressed society unable to express their opinions so compelling and worthy of my advocacy.

The effect of this banning was annoying at first, but now it's starting to feed my ego. I never would have thought to put "being censored" on my bucket list, but hey, now I can cross it off the list as "done! Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt"  What could we all have to say that merits this silence? Why, I do believe my blog is samizdat (the Russian name for literature that doesn't have the official seal of approval so it has to be self-published)! How wonderfully romantic. The librarian in my loves the idea of "Banned in the 'Bul!" Somebody ought to make T-shirts and sell them.

Another thing the librarian in me is giggling at: I'm not the one doing the shushing here!

Friday, March 20, 2009

"The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka

People read George Orwell's "1984" to imagine the kind of inhuman state where individuals don't matter and the state's right to control all is paramount. Orwell's "1984" is fiction. Milan Simecka, a Czechoslovak dissident writing in the early 1980's explains for history what happened in Czechoslovakia following the people's attempt to "put a human face" on socialism.

How was the totalitarian country able to reinstitute a Stalinist-style state without violence after the Prague Spring in 1968? How did the government eliminate dissent in less than two years? In chilling detail, Simecka shows how the State used it's power over people's income, jobs, friendships, even their children's future to control each citizen's every move.

Approximately 10-20% of the Czech population still votes for the Communist Party. My Czech friends tell me that the people still voting for the Communist party look back with nostalgia at getting a job from the state, getting a flat from the state, and cheap bread. With everything "provided" life had "no worries."

Today's young people, especially, may not know the horrors of that time, because the Czechs are so sick of that period there hasn't yet been a national curriculum developed to teach young people what happened. Czechs want to let it go and move on (hence, they think we Americans are obsessed with it all!)

I recommend this book for every reader of any country who wants to understand the communist totalitarian period. It would be a great book for any Czech/Slovak or political book club. I also think it would be especially useful for every Czech and Slovak high school student to understand the choices their parents and grandparents had to make to survive.

Like "The Diary of Ann Frank," which most American kids read sometime during their education, this book makes the choices presented by the times very personal and imaginable.

You may be interested in another book about governmental abuse of power:

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called 'Persepolis'

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My History with Czechs (part two)

One day while Little Lenka was living with us, I ate lunch at one of my favorite restaurants and my waiter happened to be Czech (I am one of those people who ask all people with an accent where they are from - I suspect all expatriate types are like that). We struck up a friendship and he invited me to get to know his wife Kate.

Kate was a graduate student at the local university and we soon were enjoying lots of time together. She was in a traditionally male field and did not have much female company. I learned so much from these two! I loved hearing their observations comparing American and Czech life.

Kate said Americans were the most uncynical people she had ever met. She loved that we had no cynicism about anything we expected from our government and instead had indignation that whatever was wrong needed to be changed ...immediately! I think she found that level of connection, identification, and empowerment unimaginable (who knows - maybe that's changed in both places by now, this was 1992).

Kate said Americans laughed at things that a Czech would find unfunny as too simple. She felt Americans had the sense of humor of children. Not much blackness to it. And she was fascinated by American parenting. This idea of constantly building up a child's self esteem was foreign to her yet she could see the benefits to the child.

One of my attractions to Czech culture is the sense that ordinary people enjoyed it at a highbrow level. Back then, everything I read about Czech culture led me to believe people would do things like play as a string quartet in their living room.

Kate and her husband told me that under communism, friends would have "samizdat" (Russian for self-published) parties. Samizdat in Soviet-block countries was writing that would never be officially sanctioned by the dominant and all-powerful state. People would get together and pass around pages of forbidden Czech writing, page by page. The whole party would be completely silent as people sat absorbed reading and taking in what they weren't supposed to know. She said "can you imagine what it was like for us? We were completely denied our own culture. Can you imagine that the minute you are able to travel, your first trip is to Paris, not to see the Eiffel Tower and the sights that everyone else in the world wants to see, but to go to the Czech Library to read the writings of dissidents who weren't published at home? To know your own writers!"

I am a First amendment fan and a lover of the printed word. At the time Kate and I had our conversations, I was serving as a trustee of my local public library board. It was my passion, back then, to make sure the people in my community had access to not only "their writers," but everyone else's writers. Still is. It was impossible for me not to fall in love with this vision of Czech culture.
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