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Too Big of an Idea for a Small Space?


People from elsewhere are enjoying that nothing is happening here

or Central Europe as a penitentiary of nations?


We ventured for the discussion about Central Europe into its very heartto Prague, just outside Wenceslas Square into the former building of the Federal Parliament, current seat of Radio Free Europe, which very kindly offered us a place for holding the panel discussion. The price for parking at the Main Train Station was horribly high (not to mention that the car-park attendant immediately tried to rip us off), Radio Free Europe "will be moving soon" and the heart of the continent is supposed to be completely somewhere else... Similar, small and bigger illusions, disillusions and joys of our "Lebensraum" were discusses by Jefim Fištejn, Marek Hovorka, A. J. Lihem, Karel Sidon, Martin C. Putna, and discussion host Tomáš Kafka.


ABDUCTION OF EUROPE

KAFKA: I have one warm up question that is connected with the room we are now in—the conference room of Radio Free Europe—and with the tags we have in front of us on the doors; there are names of editorial teams, mostly of the former states of the Soviet Union: aren't these states, this context, one of the reasons why we talk about Central Europe—why we stick so much stick the concept of Central Europe inside Eastern Europe?

FIŠTEJN: Central Europe is a concept that seems to have popped up from nowhere. It has certainly existed in our minds and sophisticated books, but it was common practice—not only political, but also in the minds of people—to divide Europe into Western and Eastern Europe. Kundera called it "abduction of Europe". In fact, this concerned only Central Europe, because the Western part never felt "abducted". I think that nor a French, an English, neither a West German had the feeling of ever being "abducted"; on the other hand, we experienced this feeling here very sharply. The fact that we are missing something that was here before. That's the reason for the appearance of this concept, and also the reason why we talk about it.

When the "frame" dividing Europe into Western and Eastern collapsed, it showed that there's something missing: this vast area where at least ten (but most probably more) nations live, which don't belong to Western or Eastern Europe with their cultural experience; at least the way these two concepts were understood—Eastern Europe meant Russian or Soviet culture; Western Europe stood for coastal culture—in other words, it meant countries that have in one way or another access to the world seas and oceans. The Central European experience was missing in this conception; an experience that influenced literature, art, even the political and military thinking of the continent with its historical experience. And suddenly it was gone. There was nothing to refer to, nothing to relate to, there was no common history.

Kundera formulated this and it is a motivation for discussion—if what appeared is a civilizational and cultural reality, then what is its cultural outline; or is it a cultural myth, where our national dreams, past experience and desires project? However, they just project and form some kind of holographic reality that doesn't exist. These are different dimensions, which are projected together; and in this vast space almost everyone can relate to them. It is not possible to assert with certainty that something ends here or there; that this one or the other don't belong there... Even Scandinavian, Baltic, or Balkan countries long to be part of Central Europe. The question is whether we have any cogent reason to reject their claim with—for example, because they were not part of Austro-Hungarian Empire... That may be a cogent reason. However, we would need to be able to precisely define what Central Europe actually is. If we are not able to do it, its boundaries will stay open, unclear and ambiguous—and we'll be talking here about this; whether it is an idea, or faded reality.

HOVORKA: The idea of Central Europe as Mr. Fištejn mentioned is justified and legitimate; that's why, as a part of International Documentary Movies Festival in Jihlava, we introduced a special section as soon as 2001, which is mapping movie production of Central Europe. However, we came across a problem with the definition of Central Europe—which countries are to be perceived as Central European. The Polish notion of Central Europe is completely different from the Czech one; then there are Scandinavian countries, which according to our notion belong to Northern Europe; however, perceiving their certain distinctness in comparison with the dominant countries like France or Germany seems to approximate them to the "otherness" of Central Europe, which is between two dominant influences—Eastern and Western. For our purposes, we simplified Central Europe to the most simplest it can be—we named thus the space "between the seas", the space between the Baltic and Adriatic sea, in other words, the conception of Austro-Hungary that forms together with Polish territory the most compact Central European core.

As far as Austro-Hungary is concerned—the fact that some thought models, which define much more than just borders, prevail is confirmed, for example, by the fact that there are a lot of direction signs in Vienna that show visitors the direction to Prague, Brno, Bratislava, or Budapest until today. It is a unique relic of thinking that goes back to times of Austro-Hungary, when its space united in Vienna. As far as architecture is concerned—I think it symbolizes the puzzle pieces that make up Central Europe.

LIEHM: There's a political, geographical, cultural, or historical definition... there's not much to add to it. From my point of view, I'm interested in the cultural subconscious of Europe. I think that, for example, in literature it is quite obvious that Central European cultural subconscious comprises also of Günter Grass, Dürenmat and Frisch, because nobody French or Russian could be able to write the things that Grass or Dürenmat did; not to mention what Austrians, Czechs or Hungarians write. There's even the huge problem of the countries of former Yugoslavia. Is Croatia in Central Europe? I don't know. However, Krleža definitely is a Central European author. Another thing is that Central Europe basically is what is neither Eastern, nor Western Europe. When Kundera says that Czech Republic is a typical Western European country, I'm not sure whether it is all that true. Just take Czech culture—it is not such a big coincidence that there's no Czech equivalent for the German term "böhmische Kultur".

SIDON: I believe that the fact that the question of Central Europe arose didn't matter much to me until today. It may have some connection with the too huge a project of Europe. It is extremely difficult to identify with Europe; on the other hand, it is now extremely difficult to identify with the nation. Suddenly the nation states are in decline and there's a search for a new identity based on common roots of several nations, which think they inhabit Central Europe. Thus, it is important how far-fetched the Holy Roman Empire, Austro-Hungary, and most important for us the world of the Soviet satellite states actually is, which has had fairly homogenous history over the last decades.

CULTURAL-PALEONTOLOGICAL EXCAVATION

PUTNA: It is my usual role on various occasions to be the devil's advocate. I'll stick to this "custom" now, even though I share sympathy for all Central European symbols, and Austrian tradition and aesthetics, and I love Holy Roman Empire, and I am intoxicated by the continuity of emperors and the coronation jewels in Vienna... However: The memory is important, though completely out of reality. Three things that constituted the Central European reality have vanished: Latin as the language of education and liturgy that united the nations. Germans outside Germany have vanished. Another connecting phenomenon that vanished is the Jews—though it might not seem to be true when you look around this table, but it is historically true. What is left are mainly the national borders. The border between Czechs and Germans goes through Šumava Mountains, and so on...

I am afraid that although it is a reasonable cultural conception, and it helped us a lot during the last years of communism, which I've lived through, I'm afraid that the essential question is not what about Central Europe, but what about Europe as a whole! Full stop.

KAFKA: With the exception of Martina Putna, we can say that the Central European experience could be defined quite positively with some psychological, historical, cultural, or mythical aid. Martin Putna mentioned rather what was missing. However, I think we can agree that it survives in our imagination; that it helps us either from inside or at least for support. My question now is whether it is worth it to construct Central Europe and to strengthen this notion, or is it more reasonable in the times globalization to attempt forming higher regional units?

FIŠTEJN: I think that Martin Putna is not in such a sharp contrast with what the rest of us think. The fact that Central Europe is not a contemporary phenomenon is clear to us all. Even in things where we find some remnants of it—in architecture or literature—we clearly feel that those are just remnants. Central Europe is actually a matter of cultural-paleontological excavations nowadays. That's where we also come across common traces of the ancient Roman Empire. Those are excavations. Why do I say it? Because when I walk along city streets, I find that Lvov reminds me a bit of Prague, bit of Krakow, bit of Zagreb; that Riga has most of its architecture is in Art Nouveau style, which could easily fit into Prague streets. Furthermore, we can find the trace of Central Europe in literature, or in more modern arts like movies. A Central European movie differs from others by its sense for detail, sense of psychology of everyday situations, and so on... However, whenever we try to apply this to the present, we find that the disintegration was intensive enough for the present not to have any common features. We know almost nothing about Hungary, though together with the Czech lands and Austria it's been the core of the monarchy. We know very little about Hungary—as though it lay on a different planet. I feel that France and Germany are closer to us with respect to information flow. Hungary is terra incognita for us. The same goes for Slovenia, although several Slovenian architects came from there to embellish the Prague castle. In other words, there was a strong cultural reciprocity, but today Slovenia is terra incognita. No matter that some time ago Czech teachers used to go there and teach, even literature; not to mention Croatia. The same goes if we look north into the territory of Baltic countries, where some remnants of common cultural history can be found. Thus, concerning the contemporary manifestations of past times, there is absolutely obvious decay.

HOVORKA: I would surely make a distinction between the old Central Europe as we know it in the cultural, political, and historical tradition, and the contemporary one we live in, which has existed only for a very short time. The question is whether it exists at all, and what is going to happen with it; but I think that there is a scheme and it's only up to us whether we'll follow it. I mean, that I would separate the old Central Europe, which ended with World War Two and the separation of Europe into two parts—Eastern and Western, from the new one, which has only started to form after 1989 and is still forming today. This is where I would agree with what Mr. Sidon said—in different regions there will be strong tendencies arising to find one's identity in the globalizing world, a supranational identity, not a continental one. I will use a paraphrase of Jiří Němec's quote, who said that traditions are important foundation for future possibilities and that without traditions it would be very hard to create something new. I think that the tradition of Central Europe is great; that's why it is also a great challenge for future.

LIEHM: No matter what we do, Central Europe will stay here. It is simply a cultural fact and a historical fact. I only wanted to react to Mr. Putna—you spoke about Latin and Latin liturgy... I want to add that Latin liturgy disappeared everywhere, not only in Central Europe. It is not Central European specificity. Latin is taught nowhere in Europe nowadays; I wouldn't view it as he does...

When Visegrád Four was founded after 1990, even in Poland and Hungary many people said: Now, it is not about thinking of European Union or what will happen after; let's do something similar to the Nordic Union of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden—countries that entered EU as Nordic Union, not separately, and it had a significance. Visegrád might have been similar, but was not... You will remember how Václav Klaus turned back the cars of ministers going to the Visegrád meeting saying "That would only hold us off, any alliances of this kind." It's started to emerge now, but I believe that it is a bit too late. The game has already started, and I think it's a pity.

Another thing that I feel is interesting is the fact that we should rid us off viewing Eastern Europe as Soviet Europe of satellite states. Soviet Union is gone, but the distinction between Eastern and Central Europe still exists and is not bound to our immediate past.

It has some absurd consequences: I published a book in USA about the history of film from Moscow to Albania after 1945; its title was The Most Important Art, as Lenin said it, and my publisher gave it the subtitle Eastern European Film after 1945. Later, when a paperback edition was prepared, he asked me: "Excuse me, could we add Soviet Union into the title? It would sell better." And I said: "But Soviet Union is there. Eastern Europe is concerned." And he said: "No, no, in USA Eastern Europe is one thing and Soviet Union other thing." I found it absurd, because I never thought about it to be this way in the context, but they viewed it like that automatically; the next edition was published under the title "Film in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe".

PUTNA: Could I just interrupt with a short explanation about Latin? Latin had a specific role in Central Europe, because for Romance nations Latin was something that was connected to their "genetics", something deeply rooted in their cultures. For Italians, the French, and others Latin is just an older phase of their language. Even for the English Latin is a part of history in the linguistic and cultural sense. However, for the world of the Holy Roman Empire Latin played an even more important role, because it was a chosen cultural identity. And it disappeared—that's the reason why the loss is so important here. And another brief remark to Scandinavia: I am afraid that this analogy is falling behind a bit; especially because though the Nordic countries cooperate mutually, it is worth noticing that some are members of NATO and some are not. Furthermore, they entered European Union separately; some of them voted to do it and some of them just didn't do it. It is definitely not true that they are a unified whole. Sometimes they are, sometimes not.

LIEHM: Norwegians didn't vote for entering the EU, because they've got oil. That was the only reason. The rest of them voted for it, though they've had a "stomachache" from this decision, especially the Swedes, but eventually they went for it together, only the Norwegians stayed aside...

KAFKA: We are indeed getting into these matters here. And the analogy really doesn't work. Denmark was a member of EU earlier; only two countries joined it together—Sweden and Finland—two countries out of four; on the other hand, all four Visegrad Group countries joined EU together; no matter that the cooperation has not been so good.

LIEHM: I know that; the thing is that they didn't join EU as a whole, but each country as a separate unit. However, that's not too important. I want to add one comment to what I've said before: ere we started, I've said that if you, for example go to a Finnish university, they'll tell you that Central Europe starts in Finland, continues through the Baltic, Poland, Czechoslovakia, to Slovenia and Adriatic Sea. That's Central Europe. And what you are saying—about Riga and so on—relates to it; the German culture in Baltic is responsible for Baltic having these traces and that it has a German-European identity. And I still think that the Nordic model is much more interesting for us than the American one, which is not applicable here.

SIDON: I didn't think about these big units that were here in Europe as something that I would love and relate to with love—quite to the contrary. On the other hand, we shouldn't forget that it somehow left an impression in the thinking of people, in their traditions, customs, and even in the nature of nations. I don't feel the need to seek for a common project of Central Europe, but if it's going on and it's talked about, it is an expression of some need. I understand it as a phenomenon, which can be explained as an expression of a fiasco of nations in the recent history, and at the same time as unpreparedness to identify with a larger unit, which is losing outlines. Reaction to Mr. Putna: If it is emphasized here that Central Europe can be an alternative identity to European Union, it is surely true, but it would have to have firmer roots. Although it is positive that intellectuals meet and talk about it, but they're scared of dreaming into history; it may be more useful to perceive how individual nationalisms in different countries relate to their own heritage—the regional heritage, which is as if smaller—Moravian heritage for example. However, to take Central Europe as a phenomenon and we would discuss just how nice it would have had been... we would finish in conditionals. Conditionals are nice and journalists should practice them, but...!

NEW AND OLD CENTRAL EUROPE

KAFKA: It is possible to understand from what you said that Central Europe could from the point of view of living in this region or construct serve as educational facility, if not penitentiary for individual nations to learn more tolerance when "using their nationalisms", or am I going too far?

PUTNA: I think this was meant especially when this issue was discussed at the end of the eighties and beginning of nineties. I mean review Central Europe, just to name it—one of their central topics was fight against nationalisms and hatred by showing common cultural heritage. I did an interview with Rudolf Kučera six months ago and he said: "Yes, it was nice; it was important, and we feel that this idea had been fulfilled during the nineties. Everything important that could've been said was said, but we still stick to the idea, although we know that there are other questions lining up."

SIDON: A thought just came to me—whether Central Europe is not only sought out by nations, whose nationality is quite questionable. If we consider that nations in Central Europe starting with Germany arose from much smaller tribal units—nothing more than them has not been here until quite recently. There are tribes that have a quite decent identityh—however, for example, the effort to create a unified German nation led to many horrors... And I think that it proceeded in a similar way in the Czech lands, when nobody thought about whether Czechs are a nation. And it all started in the nineteenth century as well.

Probably the only ones not fitting into this scheme are the Hungarians, which transgress this unit in the centre of Europe with their singularity.

The question that this Central European space should ask itself is probably about its nationality, its illusions that are connected to it... It may be that the search for Central Europeanism is an effort to avoid it.

FIŠTEJN: At the moment, Visegrád cooperation is a kind of political opportunity. The Eastern part of European Union adopts very similar positions. Thus, there definitely is a chance for cooperation. But otherwise, as far as some "reanimation" of cultural unity is concerned, it is more of a folly today; it means nothing more than the fact that in our country (same as elsewhere) global trends have put through in culture. There is nothing that would enable us to say that between Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia would be some projects, which would be purely Central European.

KAFKA: I like the idea that (if I can interpret you this way) our common feature is the need to remember, but at the same time we cannot do it without conflicts. Maybe it is connected with the discontinuity, which is so typical of Central Europe. However, I also like the term "dividing Europe into old Central Europe and new Central Europe"; it reminds a bit with its provocativeness of Donald Rumsfeld's quote about old and new Europe. But in this context it seems to me as a certain chance of moving forward in our discussion. Let's leave old Central Europe to itself; but the new Central Europe, if anything like that has a right to exist, should have some tasks. Do you see any? Political, cultural... even outside this region?

HOVORKA: I would like to ask one question: you mentioned a certain cultural unity of Central Europe, but I think that a reflexive interpretation and looking back is always necessarily a simplification, a look into the past as we want to have it. I never thought that Central Europe was a unified unit in the past neither it is today. I think that its position in Europe was more layered. And I'm not a pessimist. The language is not common, but the territory and a certain experience with living on a continent with two poles do not change. We are not sure where the borders of Central Europe lie, but every country feels the need to search for Central Europe or with the search for Central Europe delimit themselves against extremes. If I simplify it: not only intellectuals are attempting to know their surroundings and react to countries that surround the region. They delimit themselves negatively or they're looking for some contact points; this has been the same in the past. It means that Central European short movies are something specific and they differ from the Baltic ones; no matter that Baltic countries are on the border in their own way. I have to say that when I continually watch European documentary movies, they (similarly to cinematography generally) don't have the same background, and countries in Central Europe are not interested in looking for cinematographic reflection—in contrast to Austria, which is systematically creating conditions for cinematography to be an important "mirror" to what is happening in the society. Nonetheless, the Central European movies are somehow close to each other, because they set similar questions.

ORIENT: CENTRAL EUROPE

KAFKA: If you admit, I will now be "stubborn" and return to the question of new Central Europe: Mr. Liehm, do you see any task for new Central Europe, or will we still keep on retroactively reconstructing it?

LIEHM: For decades I've studied what is called Central European, Eastern European movie, and I've taught it on universities in exile for twenty years. And I know that my students—whether in USA, France or Britain—could very well distinguish Central European film from Western European film. They recognized that Hungarian, Czech and Polish film somehow go together. Here the "subconscious unity" of cultures is very strong, and I think that it will hold and nothing can replace it. We should do everything we can to create Central Europe. I don't think at all that Central Europe is a defense against the Union; that the Scandinavian model is a defense against the Union. I think that it is necessary in the frame of globalization, "Europeization" to preserve some inner identity; because that is the contribution we can give to Europe. If we globalize the Czech culture with the European culture, what would our contribution be? Today, we don't export sugar, and it's complicated even with beer... so, where is the Czech, Hungarian contribution? It's in the identities.

KAFKA: In discussions about Visegrád I often hear that who else should understand Eastern Europe if not the countries of Central Europe?

FIŠTEJN: To the tasks... I believe that today there are more tasks and responsibilities of Central European countries towards Western Europe than towards the Eastern part, because we are now in one economic-political unit. Towards the East the obligations are different to different countries: just to demonstrate—Poland definitely has other obligations to Ukraine than Czech Republic... But there's an interesting exchange going on with the rest of European Union: the whole Central Europe is developing much more dynamically than the rest of European Union, and it has its reasons. The reason is not in the fact that European Union is helping economically—what Czech Republic gets and what it gives is balanced, but incomes are in different forms: it's the possibility of marketing, possibilities of export of qualified workforce, possibilities of accepting and processing investments, and so on... It is evident that Central Europe has something to offer. It has less economic stiffness in all senses of the word. Development—that's the task it is fulfilling. But others will come. I would even dare to voice a heretical thought that not even a millennium has to pass for Europe to change its face; the important task for Central Europe will come in the instant when countries of Western Europe—France, Germany, Britain, and Spain—lose their unshakable position and lose their face. And we are witnessing this process. They're now losing their face; what will come after fifty, or hundred years? That will be a huge blow for the term national identity itself. Czech Republic and Central Europe has had so far one peculiarity—it joined into the process of globalization and migration quite late, and, so to say, quite cynically; we import genetic material from the east—from Ukraine, Bulgaria... And it leads to the fact that the situation in the changing Europe, when the West will mean Orient of Europe, which seems to be strangely placing itself in the west, Central Europe can get a wholly different task. This of course doesn't mean that it should enclose itself. It may be the vehicle of European culture in Europe.

UNCERTAINTY AS AN ADVANTAGE

KAFKA: While we are speculating here: do you think that this typically Central European approach, the reserve, irony—will it be a sufficient weapon for "Europeization" of the still more Oriental Europe? I cannot really imagine this.

PUTNA: Two days ago, I've been on a very Central European trip to our kingdom, to Milešov nad Milešovkou, because the greatest Czech commander is buried there. And do you know who was this greatest Czech and Central European commander? Of course nobody knows: it was Zdeněk Kašpar Kaplíř from Sulevice, who was a member of the Central European team in 1683 that was defending Vienna; he participated in the important moment of history when Europe was saved outside Vienna. And I've banged there on the door of a closed church, where nobody serves masses any longer, because nobody goes there for mass, and I've said: "Zdeněk Kašpar Kaplíř from Sulevice, you Austrian field marshal, give us advice: what we should do!" I'm kidding, but I partly really mean this "joke" seriously, and I think it's a big problem (which we don't even realize in Czech republic and, with the exception of some fascists, don't talk about) that Czech Republic doesn't have a Muslim problem so far—if we are to name the things wholly as they are.

FIŠTEJN: That's what I wanted to say right now. Maybe that is the big future task that we don't expect yet. That may be the reason why Europe was sleeping so long just as the Czech knights inside the mountain Blaník—to awake and show the possibility of salvation through "Europeization".

KAFKA: Do you think I should understand this so, that with our entering the Union Blaník has awakened?

SIDON: I feel that we are again where Czechs always end up—they feel that they carry the Blaník knights in themselves and they want to save the whole world and be a benefit to it somehow...

LIEHM: Above all, they want to be saved; including the Blaník knights...

FIŠTEJN: As I said—take this rather as a provocative instance. I only meant to provoke... If there is to be any task or mission, then the mission cannot be to become like unto something; that cannot exist as a task that will happen on its own! The mission is to bring something new.

SIDON: On the contrary, I feel that our problem is that we are trying to benefit to others, while it would be better to be beneficial to us. I don't mean we should separate from the surrounding world, but think about us—without illusions and without feelings of inferiority. For example, I have no idea why Czech Republic is talked about as a small country. Ten million people are nothing tiny. Luxembourg is small. This is a normal state. Why should we put ourselves into the position of the small? On the other hand, why not deal with our personal diseases and try to find a way out of them through benefiting European Union. If there is something expected from us, it is most probably the fact that we'll be more independent.

LIEHM: I would like to return to some of the things that have been mentioned here: that part of our cultural identity is the sense for irony, reserve. I think that this is true of Czech culture; however, it doesn't absolutely hold for Hungarian culture, absolutely not about Polish culture at all. These cultures have a lot in common, but it's not reserve. The common component is the uncertainty of their existence. That's characteristic; someone takes it with irony, somebody with the Polish saber, someone takes it as the Arabians ("we are the surrounded nation"); but still there is this feature that appears throughout the whole culture consequently. If you consider music—which way does folk lore deal with it, how does Bartók do it, how Janáček... it is very interesting. And the approaches are very similar, and still each one is different and each has its own identity.

KAFKA: Is our existence in new Central Europe really so uncertain?

FIŠTEJN: It's called a common denominator. I take it at face value, and it is true—sitting on baggage, the life of expecting going to the station and further moving has been quite typical for Central Europe. The writers from the beginning of the twentieth century are said to have expressed it the best. But when I look at Czech history, I don't see it all that tragically. Each of these "endangered" nations gained through some evil deed or good fortune a relatively large territory; furthermore, one that is ethically cleared of rivals. If I consider the Czech pilgrimage (through three centuries of Habsburg rule, through uncertainty, revival, twentieth century and two more occupations), I think that the outcome is more than acceptable—it's ten million people, who are inhabiting still the same, well secured territory. That's why I don't view the uncertainty so catastrophically. It might have been symptomatic to Central Europe that existed, but which is today like Atlantis, under the surface. I've chosen this Central Europe for my spiritual motherland, and the reality doesn't give a reason to fall through to melancholy, because it is good from the point of view of national existence.

LIEHM: I just want to explain something: when I've talked about uncertainty of existence, I didn't mean the baggage, but a cultural-political uncertainty. Just look at the way Czechs, Poles and Hungarians treat love dramas, sentimental dramas—similarly but at the same time very differently. The uncertainty, the question that's behind everything—it is omnipresent, but it is different everywhere.

HOVORKA: A big advantage of this space is the uncertainty, which I perceive rather as a permanent doubting of some concept—this means thinking about it. In my opinion, Central Europe can be very important for future through this doubtful thinking. Not only will it "Orientalize" more slowly, but with its newly acquired confidence it will become an important mirror to whole Europe.

SIDON: I think the possibilities are magnificent; I've realized that I keep meeting people who come here from elsewhere and are enjoying that nothing is happening here. They're enjoying it much more than us, who live here; we, who are experiencing this in some way. I remember, when after the occupation in the sixties I met Mr. Brdečka and he used to say: "It'll be all right, everything will settle here." Czechs have one ability that the Polish and today surely also the Austrians lack—how to take advantage of everything. I just came across the thought that it might be due to a more intensive assimilation process.

KAFKA: I would like to ask Martin Putna for a few concluding remarks.

PUTNA: I don't know whether I'm not a too pernicious person for a concluding remark, but let's try. There was a lot said about existential uncertainty, and at the same it was mentioned that nothing is happening here. There is another very important cultural, purely Central European phenomenon—that's Biedermeier. From a certain point of view, the Czech national revival actually doesn't start in Romantic period, but in Biedermeier. Tyl, Germans... that's Biedermeier and its remnants can be found even in Švejk—the remnants of the desire for that idyll. On the one hand, there is the Central European disruptness and uncertainty, and at the same time there is the huge desire for stability and home. And this is what we probably could tell the world: "We live here, we feel good here, we like this land, and we'll do our best for this land to look good—what could we want more..."

(The roundtable debate took place in the autumn 2006 in Prague as part of a project organized by Revue RozRazil and funded by the International Visegrad Fund.)


Profiles of the Participants:

Jefim FIŠTEJN (1946 in Kiev). In years 1964 to 1969 he studied the Faculty of Journalism at the Lomonosov University in Moscow. He lived in Prague 1969–1980, where he worked as a translator. After signing Charter 77 he was persecuted and 1980 forced to emigrate. Until 1996 he worked in Radio Free Europe as a reporter specializing in the Central European and Eastern European region, during the recent years he's been deputy program director; since 1996 editor in chief of Lidové noviny newspaper. He returned to Radio Free Europe as a political reporter and later also deputy program director.

Marek HOVORKA (1977). Studied at Department of Documentary Film at FAMU, which he finished with a movie about the poet Jakub Deml. In 1997, together with four friends from high school in Jihlava, he founded the International Festival of Documentary Films—he's been its director since its founding.

Tomáš KAFKA (1965). Co-founder of forgotten magazines Dolmen (1980s) and Kvašňák (turn of the 1980s), the author of forgotten poem collections Kvaše (Q, 1994), Ze Světa (Petrov, 1996), plays that were never staged like Tragedy (Větrné mlýny, 2002), Hry s Karlem (Větrné mlýny, 2004) and Hry s Ivanem (so far unpublished) and many translations hard to remember (for example translations of Bernard Schlink, Werner Schwab, Martin Suter or the first complete Czech translation of the children's educative horror of dr. Heinrich Hoffman Struwwelpeter). Furthermore, he is a columnist, football fan and employee of the Secretary of State of Czech Republic.

Antonín J. LIEHM (1924). Journalist, critic, translator. In 1945-48, he cooperated with E. F. Burian on the Cultural politics magazine. During the sixties he wrote a column for foreign affairs and a literary column in Lidové noviny newspaper. Significantly participated in the creation of the so called New Czech Wave. In 1969 went into exile, where he gave lectures on universities in USA, France, Britain, Switzerland, and Germany... In 1984 in Paris he founded Lettre Internationale magazine, published in foreign and exile magazines and journals, after 1989 he published in Czech print media again. For the first time in Czech Republic his book of discussions with Czech and Slovak writers Generace has been published in 1990 (that was preceded by talks with European intellectuals: Rozhovory) and in 1993 Příběhy Miloše Formana (Milos Forman Stories). In 2001 his book Ostře Sledované Filmy (Closely Watched Films) was published, which was dedicated to the Czechoslovakian "film miracle" of the sixties.

Martin PUTNA (1968). Literary historian and essayist. He studied philology and theology; in 1998 he habilitated in comparative literature. Since 1992 he's lecturing at Charles University in Prague, in 2004-2005 he was a visiting professor in Regensburg. He published books Rusko mimo Rusko (Russia outside Russia), My poslední křesťané (We, the last Christians), Česká katolická literature v evropském kontextu 1848-1918 (Czech catholic literature in European context 1848-1918), Órigenés z Alexandrie (Origen of Alexandria) and other books... At the close of 2006 his new book came out—Řecké nebe nad námi a antický košík, Studie k druhému životu antiky v evropské kultuře (Greek heaven above us and the ancient basket, A study of the second life of Ancient Greece and Rome in European culture). He cooperates with Czech Radio and Czech Television as an author and discussion host.

Karol SIDON (1942). Writer, screenwriter, dramatist, Jewish rabbi. He studied at FAMU, after finishing studies worked as a reporter for Listy magazine. After it was administratively cancelled we worked as a TV screenwriter. Since 1972, when he was included on the forbidden authors list, which meant his works couldn't have been published, he worked as a helper and shop assistant. In 1977 he signed Charter 77 and had to leave this job as well. Later he worked as a boiler man in a hospital. In 1978 he was awarded the Jiří Kolář exile prize. In 1983 he was forced to move out of Czechoslovakia with his family. In 1992 he became Prague rabbi.

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