Judy Dempsey

The Czech Dissidents

In Milan Kundera’s (b. 1929) novel The Farewell Party (1973), Jakub, a political dissident, comments cynically – ‘How many young people have been thrown out of school because the parents fell into disfavour, and how many parents resigned themselves to a life-time of cowardly submission just to avoid embarrassing their children… anyone who wants to keep any freedom at all should forget about having children.’ Notwithstanding this remark (which is in any case true), those six activists who stood trial last October have 19 children between them.

Vaclav Havel, Jiri Dienstbier, Vaclav Benda, Dana Nemcova, Otka Bednarova and Peter Uhl acted because they refused to compromise with the Czech state and authorities; they acted also out of the conviction that this was one of the only ways to bring about political change in Czechoslovakia. These reasons, however, do not explain the motives for the arrests and trial, but ‘they do point to the recurring theme in contemporary Czech literature, best represented in the works of Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundera, Ivan Klima, Pavel Kohout and Ludvik Vaculik, that although Life is Everywhere, it is an existence devoid of certainty, creative freedom and political freedom. But it is an existence explored particularly by Havel and Kundera who have produced a new form of alienation – an alienation which simultaneously thrives on isolation and compromise, coupled with an unending search for ‘freedom’.

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