Friday, November 18, 2016

How the Cold War Ended 17: Pop Culture Invades, Influences and Embolds

In the 1940s American jazz made its way across the world, and even the Soviet satellites couldn't keep it out of their country. Musicians in Prague Czechoslovakia developed their own version and the party line was tolerant; but then came Elvis and the Beatles--and with their music a counterculture of rebellion, free expression, drugs and long hair. Even Alan Ginsburg visited Prague and preached his poetry for freedom and free love.

Pop bands who combined the sounds of the fifties and sixties, came alive in Prague. When the Prague Spring of 1968 squelched the dissident voices, there was one band that wouldn't go away. Their licenses to perform were revoked; it became illegal to have concerts--but they persisted. Plastic People of the Universe became a voice for the quest of freedom.

They insisted, persisted, when concrete walls were put before them. They continued to create, to hold concerts, even when they had to go underground. Fans would walk miles to an abandoned farmhouse for the chance to witness free expression. The human mind and soul must create, must speak.

Their anti-party shenanigans caught up with them. At least three of the band members spent time in prison, but they never lost the fight. While imprisoned, they fueled the nation with more animosity, more desire to become a free people. It was only a matter of time and time included the playwright and poet Vaclav Havel. He started writing revolt literature. He too was imprisoned. For four years, he used his excessive thinking time to create and protest. His works were smuggled to the people. His works infused the rebellious with different ideas about successful protest. He knew the physical fight was pointless--the country was up against the iron fist of the Soviet Union, but all the tanks, bombs and guns can't beat the spirit that longs for freedom. He wrote of a different kind of insurgency:

“That gave Havel the motive and the time, through his essays and plays to become the most the most influential chronicler of his generations disillusionment with communism. He was, it has been said, a Lennonist rather than a Leninist.— He did not call for outright resistance: given the state’s police powers, there would have been little point in that. Instead he encouraged something more subtle, developing standards for individual behavior apart from those of the state. People who failed to do this, he wrote, “confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.” But people who were true to what they themselves believed—even in so small a matter as a brewer deciding to brew better beer than the official regulations called for—could ultimately subvert thee system.” John Gaddis, writes of Vaclav Havel

Havel challenged his people to be better. Better than the system.

 Vaclav Havel at the time of his arrest.

When the Soviet Union did fall, Havel became its president from 1989-1992. When the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he served his people again until 2003.