"The leaders' mistaken policies transformed a political party and an alliance based on ideas into an organization for exerting power, one that proved highly attractive to power-hungry individuals eager to wield authority, to cowards who took the safe and easy route, and to people with bad conscience. The influx of members such as these affected the character and behavior of the party, whose internal arrangements made it impossible, short of scandalous incidents, for honest members to gain influence and adapt it continuously to modern conditions." - Ludvik Vaculik, The Two Thousand Words
The Changing of the Seasons, part one: Spring
It started, as it always does, with economic stagnation. Soon followed political stagnation, then economic decline.
Jobs were lost, the standard of living got gradually lower and lower, leading to mass poverty.
There was talk of reform. The talk was quickly stifled.
We complained. We questioned.
We were given no answers.
We demanded answers from the powers that be.
We were told to shut up. Dissent will be dealt with harshly.
We contacted friends, who contacted friends, who contacted friends.
By radio, by phone, by samizdat, by social media, we organized.
We took to the streets.
We were told to go home.
We got louder.
We got noticed, by both the right and wrong people.
Friends and allies were imprisoned or disappeared.
Rights and civil liberties were taken away.
We were branded enemies of the state. Agents of the West.
We marched on.
We got louder..
The crackdown came swiftly. The rights that remained were stripped away.
With the world behind us, we fought back.
We bled, we died.
We wrought change.
But was it positive change?
Did we win?
The original title for this draft was Prague Spring, and it was to be the first part of a larger five-part work on political change. I wrote it back in 1997, inspired by Jello Biafra, and it was to set the tone for a new online magazine I was planning. As with most of my grandiose and overthought ideas, I realized I couldn't do it alone and sought the support of a few similarily-minded people I knew online. It was a good idea, but internal squabbling over the magazine's direction lead to it being a non-starter. The irony is, had I been willing to relinquish a bit of editorial control, listened to others' concerns and criticisms, and loosened up the subject framework a little, it would have worked... perhaps well. Art imitating life?
A lot happened during the intervening 15 years since it was written. First was the realization that I'd been confusing the 1968 Prague Spring with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which blows the whole "Seasons" theme to Hell if taken chronologically (you'll understand later). They started out largely the same, had different levels of violence, lost the battle when the Soviets intervened, but ultimately won the war when Communism fell in the late 80s.
Second was my discovery of two more "Springs", in keeping with the seasonal theme. The Beijing Spring of 1977, which was largely centred around freedom of speech, and the Croatian Spring of 1967, which started out as a means to preserve the Croatian language and evolved into a Croatian rights movement. I won't get into these now, but will save them for a later installment.
Third were the events of the recent Arab Spring, which started in response to police corruption and brutality in Tunisia, and quickly spread to other nations in (and out of) the Arab world. Thousands took to the streets to protest corrupt or brutal regimes, poverty, the standard of living, etc.
Dictators and leaders stepped down or fled. Some were ousted. Others, like Moammer Qaddafi, were killed. But still others listened to the demands of their people, and conceded reforms.
Some battles were won. Women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to vote, regimes changed and elections held in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Some battles are far from over, with Syria being plunged into a civil war, and Libya left in chaos. Resolutions seem a long way off, and the fight continues.
So, while change has been wrought, and some of it positive change, did we win?
(To be continued)