Introductory Essay: Czechoslovakia
In his essay on seaside postcards, George Orwell remarks that we are all divided, in character, between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: aspiring, romantic, impractical on the one side, down-to-earth, appetite-oriented, resentful of abstractions, on the other. This is a distinction which might be applied to the self-images of various cultures. The historical picture of Poland in the west (though not in Russia) is quixotic in high degree: a nation of fighters, inspired by a militant Catholicism which, despite all of the mayhem that Poland has suffered, has given Poles a pride and resilience that make so many Poles impervious to communism. The cost of the Poles’ refusal to collaborate has been very high — from the extinction of so many Polish institutions following the Russians’ crushing of the revolt of 1863, through the slaughter of one-fifth of the population and the destruction of Warsaw in Nazi times, to the appalling economic mess of the past few years. But you can be proud to be a Pole; is that the case with other nations in the Soviet bloc? This question underlies several of the essays collected here, in a volume written mainly by Czechs and Slovaks living in the West, and devoted to the four ‘eights’: 1918, when the republic was founded; 1938, when its western parts were handed over, by Great Britain and France, to Hitler; 1948, when the communists took power; and 1968, when an effort to create ‘socialism with a human face’ was crushed by Soviet tanks.
KeywordsEurope Ruthenia Crushing Reformer German Minority
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