Posted tagged ‘Adam Michnik’

Havel’s Star

December 22, 2011

Bright stars of the night… a strange idea was planted in my imagination a long time ago (in my childhood, I guess) that when a star is falling across the sky, it is a sign that someone is dying in a faraway place. It was a sad image and after some thought I decided to believe in a contrary concept—that when a person dies, their spirit goes up into the sky and… a star is born. So that’s why there are so many stars in the sky!

With a great sorrow I learned last Sunday that Václav Havel had died. My thoughts traveled immediately to beautiful Prague, to the starry sky above that city he loved. Although he died in his country house away from Prague, it is Prague that contains memories of Havel as a playwright, an intellectual, and as a leading dissident against the Communist system which consequently forced him to five years “residency” in prison.

Years later, after the Berlin wall fell—as the result of a hard won peaceful revolution by Eastern Europeans—Prague gained memories of Havel’s 14 years “residency” in a very different place, a presidential palace. He first became President of Czechoslovakia and later President of the Czech Republic.

Photos of Prague with communist flags and without

Prague wrapped in the red power of Communism & Prague, a durable beauty of yesterday and tomorrow.

I am writing this today because I have been greatly influenced by Václav Havel’s writings — not so much as the playwright, but as the political activist and thinker. Coming from the same corner of the world, dealing with the same political and social issues, I have a special respect and adoration for the political activists and writers like Havel and Adam Michnik (of Poland) — for their vision, their passion and their intellectual leadership.

Three books by Vaclav Havel

The only comfort one might have after Havel’s death is that his spirit is captured in his writings. So I spent an entire night re-reading pages and pages of Havel’s words.

Although I like Letters to Olga very much — it is a collection of Havel’s letters from prison to his first wife Olga Splichalova — I opted for some quotes from The Art of the Impossible, which is my favorite book by Havel. In this collection of speeches from the time of his presidency, Havel shares his views on today’s social and political issues.

Here I have the privilege to quote the words that resonate with me the most.

Vaclav HavelAbout Communism

Communism was not defeated by military force, but by life, by the human spirit….It was defeated by a revolt of color, authenticity, history in all its variety, and human individuality against imprisonment within a uniform ideology.

The totalitarian system of the communist type, as established in the former Soviet Union and subsequently imposed on all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, not only destroyed political pluralism and the prospects of real political opposition, but annihilated politics itself as a field of practical human activity.

About politics

Despite the political distress I face every day, I am still deeply convinced that politics is not an essentially disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so….But it is simply that a politician must lie or intrigue. That is an utter nonsense, put about by people who—for whatever reasons—want to discourage others from taking an interest in public affairs.

When I look around the world today I feel strongly that contemporary politics needs a new impulse, one that would add a badly needed spiritual dimension. Perhaps this impulse will come from some place other than the postcommunist countries. Yet it seems to me that come it must.

The modern era has reached a point of culmination, and if we are not to perish of our modernness we have to rehabilitate the human dimension of citizenship as well as of politics. This is what I consider to be the principal challenge of our time, a challenge for the third millennium.

About democracy

Democracy is an open system, and thus is capable of improvement. Among other things, freedom provides room for responsibility. If that room is not sufficiently used, the fault does not lie with democracy, but it does present democracy with a challenge. Dictatorship offers no room for responsibility, and thus it can generate no genuine authority.

About power

It is obvious that those who have the greatest power and influence also bear the greatest responsibility. Like it or not, the United States of America now bears the greatest responsibility for the direction our world will take. The United States, therefore, should reflect most deeply on this responsibility.

About death

With a little exaggeration we might say that death, or the awareness of death—this most extraordinary dimension of man’s stay on this earth, inspiring dread, fear, and awe—is at the same time a key to the fulfillment of human life in the best sense of the word….Death gives us a chance to overcome it—not by refusing to recognize its existence, but through our ability to look beyond it, or to defy it by purposeful action.

Knowing that Havel liked jazz, I chose Jan Garbarek’s composition titled We are the Stars to honor him. I am pretty sure that he would like it and I hope you will like it too. Click on the title above to hear the music and here are the words.

For we are the stars. For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for its journey through death.

Have a peaceful Holiday — Alicja

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Please don’t forget the special offer at the end of my previous post.

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Text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.
Photos of the book covers: first- Prague Time Life Books © 1980, second- Prazsky Hrad by Karel Plicka © 1962.

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part Two

June 2, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

Submerged in the nostalgic thoughts triggered by my previous post of this blog, I found myself on a tiny “island” surrounded by piles of letters, postcards, photographs, tapes, and newspaper clippings. My brave attempt to organize them ended up with reading them! Special attention went to a relatively new pile of letters written by my own hand and which were mailed to Poland years ago. I retrieved them after my mom’s death (my father died several years earlier). I was surprised by the length of the letters I wrote at that time. My parents and I had very few chances to visit each other due to the great distance, cost of travel, and political atmosphere between Poland and the United States. Telephone communication was not available or not reliable. So we wrote letters…. Mine were written mostly at night as I was busy with my professional work in science and raising two small children.

Here are some pages of my letters, some photos, and in the center a letter from my father.

Collage of letters, envelopes and photos

His letter was written on pages pulled out from a notebook. It appears that the pages were torn out impatiently and that the writing was done in a hurry, as indicated by numerous corrections so uncharacteristic of his other writings. The letter was written in 1980 and the poor quality paper has yellowed considerably after 31 years. I read with great curiosity his hurried words of concern and worry about my future. He was upset about my decision to separate from the father of my two very young sons. I was touched by my father’s concerns which I dismissed at that time. Mostly I was touched by the authenticity of these pages demonstrated by their ruggedness and imperfections.

Many memories were awakened and I was falling down into a big dark hole of sadness. I was drowning in the past. An invitation to a friendly, colorful Memorial Day party offered a great escape from it.

After such a welcomed break, handwritten letters from the past were again on my mind. The books of published letters by some well known and not so well known persons suddenly became more visible among the other books in our home, as if asking for special attention.

Four books

Above we have:

Letter to Mother, an anthology of over 100 letters that start with the words “Dear Mother.” They are written by well known politicians, poets and writers, painters, musicians, scientists, and philosophers. Among them are letters of Henry Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Anton Chekhov, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Henry Thoreau, Helen Keller, Tom Wolfe, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Wagner.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh — this book is well known and does not need any explanation.

Letters to Olga is a collection of letters written by Vaclav Havel, a playwright and Czechoslovak dissident at that time (1970s). He wrote them from prison to his wife Olga. After the fall of Communism Havel became President of his country.

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is a very recent publication by Verso. “Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-born Jewish revolutionary and one of the greatest theoretical minds of the European socialist movement,” as the publisher of the book introduces her. It is a huge collection of Luxemburg’s letters to her friends, lovers and colleagues. To describe this book is impossible in this space, but I would like to salute my friend George Shriver for his excellent translation of Luxemburg’s letters.

My very favorite books of published letters are pictured below:

Two books

Mother and Son: A Wartime Correspondence of Isoko and Ichiro Hatano. I simply love the tenderness and kindness of the words exchanged by Isoko Hatano (mother) and Ichiro Hatano (son) in the period 1944-1948.

Letters from Prison and Other Essays by Adam Michnik is one of my favorite books of political writings. Period! And who is Adam Michnik? Another impossibility for this small space. Starting in the late 1960s Michnik played a prominent role in the political opposition in Poland that subsequently gave birth to the Solidarity movement. He was a major intellectual force of that movement. One of the best minds of Eastern Europe, he was often referred to as a tactician of the non-violent struggle against the Soviet totalitarian system.

Regardless which letters one would read — Van Gogh’s, Michnik’s, or one of the Hatanos — there is an aura of the author’s personality and a feeling of the moment in history in such letters. Their authenticity and their permanence are their greatest assets. Those letters survived years in their handwritten form and will survive much longer in printed book form. No special technology is needed to read them now or will be needed to read them in the future.

So I wonder what will happen to our contemporary electronically written words and images stored in the corners of our own computers or on Facebook or some other social networking contraptions. Will we be able to find them and read them twenty, thirty, or fifty years later?

Tucson’s poet Judy Ray ponders a different, yet very relevant, question:

Ink of the ballpoint fades and is gone.
The pen continues across the page
with little pokings up and down,
circles left and right, pressing firm
on paper its invisible message.

I can get up and fetch another pen.
But what if I were in prison
And this my sole, rationed tool?
Like conserving water in the desert,
there would be only sips of words
written small….

Copyright © 2009 by Judy Ray

If we could not write or our writings were to be lost, we would feel that thirst for words. A power of the handwritten word lies in its endurance.

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Fragment of the poem titled Written Small is from the book of poems To Fly Without Wings by Judy Ray, Other text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

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