Radka Denemarková My greatest hope was to experience freedom. My greatest concern was to experience the brutality of power, and in general, of human nature. I recall three key moments. The Palach week in January 1989, when people were honoring the anniversary of Jan Palach’s immolation on Prague’s main Wenceslas Square. It was a silent gathering dispersed by water cannons. In October, my East German friend fled to free Germany via the West German Embassy in Prague along with thousands of other East Germans… The fall of the Berlin Wall was a happy moment. The third moment was when we slept at Charles University and the solidarity we experienced. The writer Bohumil Hrabal brought 100,000 Czechoslovak crowns in a backpack, which was a lot of money back then, and offered it to the students. I was happy for my father, for the fact he lived to witness freedom. In 1969 [after the 1968 Soviet invasion], he had saved a lot of forbidden books, which we kept at home in the basement and would lend to our closest friends. Keeping those books back then could lead to prison.
My biggest hope was that we would adopt the Western democratic values. Yet we drew a thick line with the past but this was a huge mistake not to immediately label culprits and victims. What we took from the West after 1989 was a model of consumerism, and not a democratic lifestyle.
我最大的希望是要體驗自由，最擔心的是被權力迫害，因為這是普遍的人性。我最記得三件事，其一是1989年一月的帕拉赫紀念週，就是大家聚在布拉格最主要的瓦茨拉夫廣場紀念揚 ⋅ 帕拉赫。這個平靜的集會居然被水砲驅離。其二是，當年十月，我一位東德的朋友和其他數以千計的東德人經由位於布拉格的西德大使館逃到自由的德國，所以柏林圍牆的倒塌是令人鼓舞的時刻。其三是我們留守在查理士大學，感受團結的力量。作家博胡米爾·赫拉巴爾用背包帶給學生十萬克朗，當時這是不小的金錢。我也為我父親感到振奮，因為1969年(1968蘇俄入侵後)他救了很多禁書，我們把這些書藏在地下室，只借給最親密的朋友。當時保存這些書若被抓到是會被送入大牢的。
Czech society is sick. What is worse, it refuses to get cured. The source of this state of mind is this eternal feeling that we are just a buffer zone between East and West. The vocabulary of totalitarianism is creeping back unnoticed, which is incredibly dangerous. Language reflects the current thinking. When democracy disappears, it doesn't happen day by day but centimeter by centimeter. We must maintain the positions we reached and fight for freedom. This requires a lot of efforts today.
The countries of Eastern Europe live in frustration. Victims and culprits became one. The people who have power are those who got rich during the wild years of capitalism in the 1990s, former agents of the Czechoslovak State Security, such as our current Prime Minister, people representing the former communist power, arrogant oligarchs. In Poland, the conservative Catholic Church also plays a huge role. All political leaders take Hungarian politician Viktor Orbán as an example, and imitate him, while he imitates Putin. Mentally, we are still satellites of Russia.
Hopefully we have some positive models in Eastern Europe, with the humanism of Masaryk and Havel. The reference I make to Masaryk's humanism is social empathy, as for Havel's humanism, it means to find in oneself a greater sense of responsibility for the state of the world, to reject open and hidden forms of pressure and manipulation, so that human life wouldn't be reduced to a stereotyped view of production and consumption. As Masaryk said, our national fate depends mostly on our capacity to fulfill our human mission.
RD：The only places where I can find an uncompromised freedom to speak and express my opinions are in my books and in the media of Western Europe. The Berlusconi syndrome, which allows the capture of media as a source of propaganda and “national values” is thriving in Eastern Europe. And the Czech politicians are under the spell of Beijing, they state that China represents a stable and harmonic society, and for us an indispensable economic partner. But my experience of China is that it represents what we imagine as a brutal police state.
I believe in the novel, it can tell the truth. My main theme is dehumanisation. We belong to the human kind and I do not accept the views of “states”, of ethnic cages and superior gender. Surprisingly, my books act as a catharsis for many people. What matters to me is to correct the thinking and support people, who are sensitive, educated but have no voice, because of the arrogance of the powerful who shout louder. Those people must unite and demonstrate that a parallel way of life is possible.
In my novels I disclose what makes today's mentality. After 1945, the rule of law disappeared for millions of expelled Germans, so that the same thing could happen later to hundreds of thousands of other people. These are the moral consequences of massive expulsion that can be identified: if it is possible to punish a person because she or he belongs to a nation, then it is later possible to punish anyone for belonging to a specific social class or political party. The future will not look positively at the moment when the world introduced the notion of collective responsibility.
RD: Not for writers, and I don't understand why. Not even for the older generation. The majority of people behaves as if 1989 [the year marking the fall of communism] never happened. Havel is a world reference, his Charter 77 led to the creation of Charter 08 in China, but at home people mock him. Charter 77 was the first significant act of solidarity in the communist era, it represented the first awakening of a civic conscience. Today the “young comrades from the party” are attempting to build “capitalism with a socialist face“: it is the victory of the chosen ones, who operate outside the rules of competition and open tenders.
For me, the younger generations represent hope. In Eastern Europe, we have Mikuláš Minář, the student who founded the movement A Million Moments for Democracy, and in Slovakia we have the new President Zuzana Čaputová, who comes with a new political agenda and behaviour. It is sad that a young journalist and his fiancée had to die before people in Slovakia woke up, and started thinking seriously about their future.
RD: We are now contemplating an essential question: do we want an open democracy or a closed society, freedom of expression or censorship, rule of law or a new form of authoritarianism? Society is a strange animal, with a lot of hidden faces and abilities. I know very well that the main concern shared by all on this planet is this: what to do with this human life? I visited China where the worst of capitalism married the worst of communism, and economically it all works perfectly, and everyone it admires secretly, yet without any human rights. This is where I see the danger for Eastern Europe.
I know that the political process of a shared humanity finds itself now at one of its most critical moments. And it becomes clear that the future of humans depends on this kind of humanism that each of us tries hard to reach within the limits of our environment. Humans must come to their senses, and realize that solidarity, including in the context of climate change, is absolutely necessary. The hardest thing will be to fight nationalism, a narrow view of the world, and any limitations, but I am an optimist. This is my provocative hope, yet it is hope.