The urgency of Palach’s message

How does the life perception of the of modern-day Czechs, Moravians and Silesians differ from the sentiments shared half a century ago? The gap is difficult to fathom. But some circumstances would seem to hint that both notions are not nearly so dissimilar and ride the crest of a negative wave. What to make of it?

It might seem that the twain shall hardly meet: captivity versus freedom, under-the-counter merchandise versus consumer glut. One party rule versus multiparty democracy. We deem it logical to assume that the start of the normalization era instilled insecurity, fear and apprehension in people. But we cannot seem to be able discern that the same anxieties are still with us, more than a quarter of century after the Communists went into opposition. For all the dissimilarities, one crucial sameness persists, namely, something that fans the flame of our uncertainty.

If you wish to foment anxiety and fear in people, you can usually choose among several methods. The devil is in the assumption that diametrically opposed methods can produce the same effect. Way back then, information was restricted, whereas now it condensed. Russian censorship gives way to Russian information fireworks. The more bona fide and doctored inputs are implanted in our minds, the more confused we grow. The authors of these fireworks could hardly wish for more. We have been caught unawares. We were luxuriating in a hammock hung from the trees of knowledge and marvelling at the potentials of the global world, while they worked to give us a rude awakening: the global world has more snags than you would care to know, stupid! Snags brought online, in a hybrid way.

Instead of the Cold War, we have a cyberwar now. Those on the other side of the barricade have started eroding our cohesion. They know well there is no need to try that hard, often it only takes some banking on human envy or natural fear of the unknown. The surest way of exciting fear is to exaggerate certain adverse trends in society. It is easy to work with the nation a third of which suffers from depressions and burnout syndromes. To know that we earn more money but don’t feel any better for it. That the “have a good time here and now” dictum is exciting but not fulfilling. That we gobble up information without restraint and forget that the effect might be the same as censorship, signalling a fall to serfdom.

Forty-eight years will have pass this month since the “first human torch gone ablaze”. On 16 January 1969, student Jan Palach doused himself in a flammable liquid and set fire to himself in Prague’s Wenceslas, to die three days later. His act was in protest against censorship. A loud cry of defiance. An attempt to wake up a passive society from its slumbers. Never after 1989 has Palach’s message sounded more urgent. Never during the rest of the year will we have a better opportunity to speak up than at the polling stations this coming autumn.

Bob Fliedr

Bob Fliedr

Director, Institute for Christian Democratic Politics