Time for Our Sinatra Doctrine

By Fuentes, Carlos | The Nation, February 12, 1990 | Go to article overview

Time for Our Sinatra Doctrine


Fuentes, Carlos, The Nation


TIME FOR OUR SINATRA DOCTRINE In December 1968--more than twenty-one years ago--Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar and I traveled to Prague. Our purpose was to show our solidarity with the Czechoslovak reform movement, which has come to be called the Prague Spring. That August, the troops of the Warsaw Pact had invaded Czechoslovakia to terminate Alexander Dubcek's experiment in democratic socialism. At the time of our arrival, Dubcek was still formally in office, and even though Prague was surrounded by Soviet tanks, the only visible signs of the invasion there were a few bullet-riddled walls and a shattered glass partition in Wenceslas Square. A soldier from one of the Soviet Union's Asian republics had smashed into it; he had never seen a glass wall before. The Czechoslovaks, who are descendants, after all, of Franz Kafka and the good soldier Schweik, instantly put up a sign: "Nothing Can Stop the Soviet Soldier."

As it turned out, the glass-breaking soldier was not an anomaly. Many of the Soviet soldiers were Asians who spoke neither Czech nor Russian. They were told they were being sent to put down a revolt in one of the Soviet republics and, thinking they were welcome liberators, they were all smiles as they drove their tanks into the city. Czechoslovak girls would offer them flowers and then spit in their faces when they bent down to take them. It was then that other wounds appeared, the internal wounds caused by this assault on socialism, on law and, above all, on hope.

What Dubcek and his advisers--Foreign Minister Jiri Hajek, President Ludvik Svoboda, the economist Ota Sik and the journalist Jiri Pelikan--were seeking was, in light of the changes now taking place in Central Europe, remarkably modest. "Socialism with a human face," simply put, consisted in carrying out Marx's dictum about the withering away of the state and its gradual replacement by the energies of civil society. Czechoslovakia, which had a tradition of political democracy and a well-developed industrial base, not only could take that step but actually did take it. The Prague Spring saw the proliferation of activities carried out by social groups within and tangential to the state. Farmers, students, industrial workers, intellectuals, people in the information sector, even bureaucrats began to take initiatives, to organize, to demand effective representation and to develop their own press. As a counterbalance, they demanded a democratization of the Communist Party and a constructive response from the state to this social dynamism.

But the petrified Communist state could make no political response to these demands being made by the very society that, ironically, the state had been involved in creating for two decades. Dubcek's reform group emerged as a response to the voices of society. That is, glasnost and perestroika were born twenty-two years ago in Czechoslovakia. It is only natural that they now return to their native land and replace the doctrine used to justify the aggression of 1968. The Brezhnev Doctrine announced that the Soviet Union had the right to intervene militarily to insure that any nation already within the Soviet sphere of influence (or even one that might someday be within it) did not drift away. In so doing, Brezhnev supplied powerful arguments to U.S. hardliners: Those who fall into the hands of the Soviet Union never escape.

When Garcia Marquez, Cortazar and I reached Prague in the cold winter of 1968, the operative fiction--Kafka-cum-Schweik--was that the Russians were not there at all, that the "spring" could continue right into winter. While we couldn't refer directly to the Brezhnev Doctrine, we could talk about the Monroe Doctrine, so that when we mentioned U.S. intervention in Latin America, everyone understood that we were talking about soviet intervention in Eastern Europe.

Today the Brezhnev Doctrine is dead, and the Soviet government's witty Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov, whose sense of humor derives from Gogol and Bulgakov, says that now it's the Sinatra Doctrine that's operative in Eastern Europe: "I'll do it my way" is the order of the day.

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