Shock Waves: Eastern Europe after the Revolutions

By John Feffer | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Czechoslovakia. . .
A moral foreign policy

The history in our country bas ceased to flow against the current of conscience. Let us not allow it—be it under whatever banner—to flow that way again.1

—Vaclav Havel

After Czechoslovakia's velvet revolution, Prague swelled with crowds and cheerfulness, like a Disneyland of the East. The tourists pressed in from far and wide—more in the first three wintery months of 1990 than in all of 1989. Chartered buses deposited their charges to stare open-mouthed at the baroque beauty of the medieval city. Czech and Slovak emigres, the children of 1968, returned for unexpected reunions. Political guests paid their respects to the new residents of Prague's famous castle. Everyone wanted to see the historic city, talk to the historic president, take advantage of the historic opportunity. There were even some historic castles and villas that the government offered to interested businesses and international organizations—a compelling architectural reason to open a Prague office.

When the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA) met in the capital in October 1990, it too received a historic venue: the glorious art nouveau municipal building with interiors designed by renowned painter Alfons Mucha. An unusual experiment in grassroots diplomacy, the HCA brought to the fin-de-siecle city hall over 800 activists from East and West for a weekend of discussion and debate. It was, needless to say, a historic meeting. New Forum members drank pilsner with Solidarity activists; Hungarian intellectuals mixed with Bulgarian environmentalists; Slovenian peace activists danced with Czech and Slovak student organizers. Interspersed were French anti-racism activists, Welsh nationalists, Dutch church women, Scandinavian Greens, Italian feminists, Canadian professors, Ukrainian politicians, Russian writers, Lithuanian secessionists.

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