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The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze

Rees, Reagan, and the Digest Smear: The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze
August 16, 1983

“Certainly, while he was campaigning, and in the years before he was president, he had my material, and he made use of my material in his radio programs. And that goes back years. That goes back to the time he was governor of California.”

The man describing his intelligence gathering for the president is John Herbert Rees, right-hand man to John Birch Society chairman and Georgia con­gressman Larry McDonald. Rees has been dogged for years by charges that he is a con man, police informant, and agent pro­vocateur.

Rees may be boasting a bit. But ob­servers on both the left and the right have credited his articles as the primary source for the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last fall as gospel “evidence” that the Soviets had “inspired” and were “ma­nipulating” the U.S. nuclear freeze move­ment. Digest author and senior editor John Barron assured reporters that the president “made very extensive inquiries, before he spoke, on the facts in that arti­cle.” FBI assistant, director Roger S. Young told The New York Times the same day that Reagan’s comments were “persistently consistent with what we have learned.” And in an Oval Office press conference, Reagan himself claimed he had verified the Digest piece.

Since then, FBI director William Webster has retreated from the allega­tions. But as surely as The White House stands by its charges, with the freeze reso­lutions now coming before the Senate, John Rees denies he was ever more or less than a journalist. However, documents released under the Freedom of Informa­tion Act, and recently produced in a Na­tional Lawyers Guild lawsuit charging unconstitutional government surveillance, prove that Rees made informing on politi­cal groups “a profession”; moreover, a 1968 FBI memo concludes, “Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual… Information from him cannot be con­sidered reliable.”

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Given current political realities, it’s no great surprise that the president echoed charges which first appeared in print under Rees’s byline. Rees, 57, plays a central if largely unseen role among the coterie of ultraconservative commentators and courtiers influential with Reagan, a group whose legitimacy Reagan’s presidency has boosted enormously. Reagan, after all, chaired the unsuccessful senatorial cam­paign of arch-conservative Birch sup­porter Loyd Wright in the 1962 California GOP primary. Such are the connections that lie at the heart of the smears against the U.S. freeze movement.

It is Rees’s job, within this clique, to “document” the charges of “subversion” often used in right-wing attacks on the left. Besides covering Washington for var­ious Birch periodicals, Rees publishes the closely circulated Information Digest (subscription price: $500 a year), which purports to focus on “the background … operations and real capabilities of social movements and political groups.” ID reports have been distributed mostly among intelligence units and conservative politicians such as former governor Meldrim Thomson of New Hampshire and Reagan.

Rees is also listed as editor at the curious Western Goals Foundation, founded in 1979 by Larry McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia, to “rebuild and strengthen the political, economic and so­cial structure of the U.S. and Western Civilization so as to make any merger with totalitarians impossible.” To this end, Rees produces foundation tracts such as “The War Called Peace — The Soviet Peace Offensive,” and oversees the com­puterization of what McDonald claims are 100 file cabinets of data on “terrorism and subversion.” (In an outgrowth of an ACLU lawsuit charging Los Angeles po­lice with improper intelligence activity, the department recently investigated whether one of its detectives improperly supplied confidential police files to West­ern Goals. According to Stern magazine, staff members of the German-based Western Goals Europe have been linked to the CIA and its German equivalent, the BND.)

The New Right’s leading lights have shined warmly on Rees. Robert Moss, co­author of The Spike, who in the summer of 1981 testified as an “expert on terror­ism” at Senator Jeremiah Denton’s hear­ings on “Terrorism: The Role of Moscow and Its Subcontractors,” says Information Digest is “the most important public source available in this country on the activities of the radical left … ” Allan Ryskind, an editor at Human Events, which Reagan has called “must reading,” says he has reprinted articles from Information Digest “directly,” and lauds “Rees’s enterprising journalism and credibility.” Heritage Foundation pundit Sam Francis cites Rees as “authoritative.” Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media con­fidently quotes “John Reese (sic) … a well-known investigative journalist.”

Such endorsements may help explain the striking similarities between Rees’s Birch and Western Goals screeds and the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last October. In the February 1982 issue of American Opinion, Rees concluded that “the Soviet Union is running the current worldwide disarmament campaign through the KGB and front organizations … ” Eight months later, Barron averred in The Reader’s Digest that the U.S. freeze campaign “has been penetrated, manipulated and distorted to an amazing degree by people who have but one aim — to promote communist tyranny by weak­ening the U.S.”

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In the Atlanta Constitution last No­vember, Ann Woolner and Jerry Nesmith said Barron told them he had seen the Western Goals report, but that it was one of over 200 sources. Woolner and Nesmith listed numerous instances in which Bar­ron cites the same meetings, excerpts the same quotes, and uses paraphrasing simi­lar to Rees’s. For example:

In March, in his Western Goals report, “The Soviet Peace Offensive,” Rees wrote: “Mel King, active with both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, gave a militant speech, saying, ‘We’ve been too damn nice … (and) al­ways on the defensive … It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started get­ting even.’ ”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Mel King, a Massachusetts state legislator active in both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, demanded a more militant spirit. ‘We’ve been too damn nice,’ he declared. ‘It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started getting even.’ ”

In March, for Western Goals, Rees wrote: “Rep. Gus Savage (D-Il.) stressed the need to bring black and other minority groups into the disarmament move­ment.”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Congressman Savage spoke about how to induct blacks and other minorities into the disarmament drive.”

In March, Rees wrote: “… U.S. Peace Council executive director Mike Myerson, who has been a Communist Party U.S.A. functionary since his student days some twenty years ago, emphasized the U.S. Peace Council and World Peace Council’s unique responsibility of merging the fight for Western disarmament with pro­vision of support to … revolutionary groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, South Africa and the PLO … ”

In October, Barron wrote: “The execu­tive director of the U.S. Peace Council, Michael Myerson, a longtime communist functionary, asserted that the U.S. Peace Council had a unique responsibility to fuse the cause of disarmament with that of the Palestine Liberation Organization and guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and South Africa.”

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“John Rees is simply a good journalist who has done a valuable service in alerting the American people and the American government to the threats against our se­curity from terrorists, subversive, total­itarian and extremist organizations,” said Larry McDonald in the Congressional Record in 1981. “John Rees deserves com­mendations and accolades from the Amer­ican people.” Law enforcement agencies, however, have not always agreed with Rees’s boss.

The FBI first took note of Rees in the early 1960s in his native England. He worked in a minor business position for the London Daily Mirror. According to an FBI memo released under the FOIA, Rees misused his personal accounts, and was fired by the Mirror. Agents in the FBI office at the London U.S. Embassy dis­covered that during 1962 Rees had been “keeping the company” of a bureau steno­grapher. “Rees’s background and the fact that he was married and had five children were confidentially furnished to this stenographer, who was visibly shaken by this news inasmuch as she had planned to marry Rees,” the memo notes. Humil­iated, the secretary resigned from the FBI.

Leaving his family behind, Rees came to America in 1963 to take a reporting job. The job fell through. But when Rees was introduced that fall to Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, he presented himself as a writer for a Boston daily, and talked her into letting him do a “profile” on her. Metalious had been ruined by her own success, writes Emily Toth in Inside Peyton Place. She was recently divorced, isolated, and a chronic alcoholic.

The promised profile never appeared. But Rees soon became Metalious’s lover and business manager, and by December had moved into her Gilmanton, New Hampshire, estate. According to Toth’s book, Rees often kept family and friends away from her as Metalious sank deeper into alcoholism. On a rare visit, Metalious’s daughter Marsha found the house strewn with garbage and empty liq­uor bottles.

During a trip to Boston shortly there­after, Metalious collapsed, and died on February 25, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver and massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Her deathbed will left her entire estate to Rees and nothing to her three children. She had known Rees less than six months. After the will was contested on behalf of the children, Rees relinquished his claim for what he called moral reasons. The FBI reached a different conclusion: “Rees subsequently renounced all claim to the estate when it was determined that the liabilities exceeded the assets.”

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By 1968 Rees had relocated in riot-stricken Newark where he worked as a research director in a Great Society job­-training program until he was forced to resign. Auditors discovered that while col­lecting his federal pay, Rees was often out of town for his own company, National Goals, Inc., a “non-profit organization spe­cializing in areas of education, training and law enforcement.”

In a plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department, National Goals proposed the creation of “community peace patrols” to quell “the summer months and threats of violence and disorder.” Rees wanted to use federal funds to equip Anthony Imperiale’s North Ward Citizen’s Commit­tee, a white militant group, and Kamiel Wadud’s United Brothers of Newark, a black militant group, with uniforms, helmets, walkie-talkies, tape-recorders, cameras, patrol cars, four offices, and two warehouses. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and New Jersey governor Richard Hughes denounced it as a vigilante scheme.

Meanwhile, Rees and an investigator for the House Committee on Un-Ameri­can Activites (HUAC) quietly visited the Newark FBI office to cut a deal. “He stated he had information of a racial and criminal nature which he and the in­vestigator from HUAC believed was of an interest to the FBI,” agents observed in a report. “He attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI.”

But like the Justice Department, the FBI wasn’t buying — at least. not yet. “Rees talked in generalities … and furnished no information of value,” the memo concludes. “The interviewing agents believed his interests were self­-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his creden­tials in contacting other potential clients.”

Rees remained undaunted. In Septem­ber 1968, according to FBI documents, he was undercover in Chicago, covertly tap­ing lawful political meetings for secret testimony he would later give before HUAC. Again a HUAC investigator of­fered the FBI the fruits of Rees’s labors. Again agents shied away. “We should not initiate any interview with this un­scrupulous, unethical individual concern­ing his knowledge of the disturbances in Chicago,” wrote an agent, “as to do so would be a waste of time.”

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Yet Rees had found his niche. He’d made several cameo appearances before HUAC, peddled his information to vari­ous police departments, and by now, ac­cording to Rees, Information Digest was finding its way onto the desks of Reagan gubernatorial aides beset by campus pro­tests. Frank Donner charged in The Age of Surveillance that “Rees used a familiar scam: he would hawk information to one department (typically a lurid tale of a violent plot) and in the course of this transaction pick up information that he in turn would peddle to a unit in another city. In the same way, he enlarged his sources for Information Digest.”

He also found a spouse. John Rees and Sheila Louise O’Connor arrived in Wash­ington, D.C., just before the 1971 May Day protests and quickly assimilated themselves into left circles.

Rotund, bearded, and longhaired, Rees was an articulate pamphleteer who often sported an Anglican priest’s collar. Sheila, big-boned and over six feet tall, was a whiz at office work. They came complete with then-rare commodities: an IBM Selectric and Gestetner mimeograph ma­chine.

In July Secret Service agents spotted Rees in a demonstration at the South Vietnamese Embassy. Running a com­puter check on him, they received several interesting reports. According to a Secret Service memo obtained by the National Lawyers Guild, the Washington Metro­politan Police Department disclosed that it employed Rees as an informant. The Chicago Police Department reported “subject is unreliable and is known to make a profession of providing intelli­gence to police departments.” The Secret Service memo also stated that the IRS had revealed “subject was a known con man in England.”

The agents also learned that Rees “possibly carries a gun” and used a string of aliases, including John Sealy, S. L. O’Connor, and Jonathan Goldstein. Besides his work as an informant, agents found, he had no known employment.

Yet at about the same time, FBI docu­ments indicate, the FBI designated Rees Potential Security Informant (PSI) No. WF-3796. (Sheila would later become a PSI too.) Like full-fledged informants, PSIs are paid for their information.

Former FBI agents and congressional staff familiar with intelligence matters said the government’s negative evalua­tions of Rees should have disqualified him from working for the FBI. But they noted that, as with Mel Weinberg in the Abscam case and Gary Thomas Rowe in the Ku Klux Klan, the bureau has used less-than-­credible informants in attempting to get convictions or discredit a target. The FBI will use “anybody they can,” explained a former agent. “But I wouldn’t touch Rees with a 10-foot pole … all you’re going to do is get yourself in trouble.”

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Rees and O’Connor moved into a left collective at 1616 Longfellow Street, N. W. Friction quickly developed. One day while searching for a packet of checks she be­lieved the Reeses had taken from her, a housemate stumbled upon a bizarre cache in their usually locked room. Pat Richartz, now a West Coast legal assistant, recalled finding “several guns, boxes of bullets,” and “a large black suitcase con­taining everything to wiretap a house.”

In the midst of Richartz’s discovery, the Reeses returned. According to Rich­artz’s signed affidavit, Sheila beat her “unmercifully” while John held her two young daughters. Stew Albert, then a D.C. activist and now a California-based writer, saw Richartz shortly after the al­leged attack. “She came up to my apart­ment looking very messed up,” he said. “She said John and Sheila did it to her.” Richartz claims she still takes daily medi­cation for migraine headaches stemming from the assault.

Richartz accused the Reeses of being informants, but no one believed her at the time. She was seen as an outsider; the Reeses were valuable volunteers. Richartz left for California. In researching this arti­cle, Sheila Rees could not be reached for comment on the charges.

When in July 1972 the National Law­yer’s Guild opened a Washington chapter and became rapidly involved in represent­ing activists and antiwar groups in Wash­ington, Sheila volunteered to be office manager. Soon she became the office’s key administrator and a member of the Guild’s national executive board; mean­while, John supplied the FBI a steady stream of internal Guild documents.

During the Guild’s 1973 national con­vention in Austin, Texas, for example, Rees provided the bureau with “ex­tensive” information, according to FBI memos, noting who spoke, what they said, the names of petition signers, and amounts of chapter contributions to the national office. He also supplied a letter concerning the Guild’s anti-surveillance project.

The Guild’s worst fears were not con­firmed until 1975, however, when New York State Assembly staff investigating Information Digest contacted them. The Reeses, now living in Baltimore, soon be­came central figures in anti-surveillance lawsuits brought by the Guild, the In­stitute for Policy Studies, and the Social­ist Workers Party. Shortly thereafter, ac­cording to a deposition Rees gave IPS attorneys, he transferred Information Digest‘s materials to McDonald’s office. McDonald brought O’Connor onto his congressional staff, and made Rees editor at Western Goals.

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When enough time had passed after the Reader’s Digest article to form a fat political cushion, FBI director Webster told Face the Nation in April that “the overall freeze effort does not seem to us to have been dominated … or successfully manipulated” by the Soviets. Yet those most vocal about alleged dissemblance in the freeze movement were most reticent about government reports on Rees’s shady past.

Reader’s Digest prides itself on its ac­curacy. It touts Barron, a former naval intelligence officer, as an expert on Soviet spying. But while Digest staff assured me that he’d picked up my messages, Barron returned none of my calls.

Last September, Jeremiah Denton en­tered some of Rees’s work into the Con­gressional Record to back up his claim that freeze supporters were commie dupes. Denton’s press aide said he was too busy for an interview during the next two weeks. But questioned briefly on his way to a Subcommittee on Security and Ter­rorism meeting, Denton said he was un­aware that the FBI had evaluated Rees as “unreliable,” or that the IRS had reported he was a “con man.” Asked if he did consider Rees reliable, Denton explained, “I was handed that stuff, that’s it, just to get information into the record on that matter … I didn’t get to see it … ”

McDonald refused requests for an in­terview. When shown a copy of an FBI memo on Rees outside an elevator, he summoned a nearby officer. “This reporter is bothering me,” he told the cop.

Rees himself, in an abruptly termi­nated interview, said he was merely a reporter with a unique philosophy. He said he favors stories that focus on “what I like to call the further shores of political thought, which range from Marc Raskin at IPS to Gus Hall of the Communist Party to the people who run Posse Com­itatus and the Minutemen and the Klan. And I see no difference between Marc Raskin and the Grand Dragon of the Klan because they’re both fuckheads … who want to control the world. I don’t like that.”

Rees claimed that similarities between his stories and the piece by Barron, whom he has described as a friend, were “coincidence.” He said Reagan had used his information during the 1980 campaign, and that while he was governor “members of his staff were getting Information Digest.”

He challenged charges that he or his wife had ever worked as government in­formants. “You just have to do one thing,” he said. “Find me proof that we have been paid informants … ”

Faced with such documents, however, Rees refused to comment and halted the interview. He and his assistant left our table at a congressional cafeteria, went directly to McDonald’s office, and slammed the door.

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In his suite at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI assistant director Roger Young and two assistants sat at the op­posite end of a huge coffee table, on chairs about a foot higher than the long, low couch where I sat alone.

Young said the FBI was familiar with the Barron article, but could recall no White House requests to verify it. He shrugged off questions about Rees. “We cannot be involved in evaluating some­body’s factual situation,” he said. “Our job is not to evaluate one journalist’s statements.”

The agent who escorted me out suggested, “It would probably be better if you went through the White House.”

White House deputy press secretary Lyndon Allin spoke with me several times over the phone, carefully evading my questions.

“When the president said he verified the Reader’s Digest article, did he mean it was examined as to its factual content?”

Allin: “Well, I think the term ‘ex­amined’ is a little harsh …. ”

“Who would have actually checked it?”

“I have no idea … There was no for­mal investigation — we don’t do that with the free press in this country for crying out loud!”

“Can you tell me who, if not an agency, verified the Digest piece?”

“No. We don’t get into process around here. That isn’t the way you run a govern­ment.”

“Was the president aware that one of the main sources for the Digest story was John Herbert Rees, a former police informant whom the FBI once called an ‘unscrupulous, unethical individual’ and an ‘opportunist,’ whom the IRS once described as a ‘con man’?”

“I just told you I wasn’t going to go any further … ”

“Rees claims he sent materials to Mr. Reagan and his staff during the presidential campaign, and that tbe president used them. Is that true?”

“I have absolutely no idea.”

“The FBI seems to contradict the pres­ident’s assertion that the KGB is manipu­lating the U.S. freeze movement. They say they’ve attempted — and failed — to manipulate it.”

“No. I think they say they’ve at­tempted to control it … But the fact of the matter is that the definition of ‘ma­nipulation’ is, ah, I think, subject to some discussion … Look — I’m not Noah or Daniel or whatever his name was that wrote the dictionary. And I’m not gonna get into that. The president’s word stands. And that’s that.” ■

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Madison Avenue, Moscow

With the Russians at the Summit

GENEVA — The Russians called their Mission in Geneva “Madison Avenue, Moscow” and won­dered aloud if an American Express card in Raisa Gorbachev’s hand would change the world. The 150 men and women who made up the delegation were the Westernized elite of Moscow’s cultural and scientific communities. They sucked on Marlboros and Salems; many chewed thoughtfully on the tips of designer eyeglasses, others removed their jackets to reveal the Ralph Lauren polo ponies embroidered on the shirts they had selected at Bloomingdale’s while on assign­ment in New York. When not caught up in the hard­-sell of Mikhail Gorbachev and his version of the Soviet Union, they tuned their TV sets to French cartoons, or strolled to the supermarket to load up on corn flakes.

Fully versed in the arithmetic of nuclear death Rea­gan and Gorbachev had come to Geneva to discuss, the Kremlin account executives also displayed a savvy and sometimes frightening understanding of Patrick Ewing’s rebound average, and what it took to make Raisa a People magazine cover girl. They joked that Gorbachev’s jet was nick­named Comrade One, quipped about the unfortunate bag ladies who must sleep in Union Square, and — breaking a long­standing Soviet policy of never attacking an American leader personally — cracked gleefully that Ronald Reagan was a bad actor who couldn’t remember the time of day. Representatives from the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada — the Soviet think tank on American policy and cul­ture headed by Georgi Arbatov — wan­dered Geneva like old divas back under the klieg lights, showing a unique affinity for American public relations; they chat­ted up morning talk show bookers, de­scribed by one Russian as “those cute little women” dispatched by the networks to usher the comrades in gray flannel suits into hastily built sets for transmission back to Americans eating their breakfast.

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The Russians stormed Geneva five days before the two leaders arrived, eat­ing, drinking, cajoling, and press releas­ing their way through the snow-dusted city, telling blue-nosed network reporters about their love affair with America. The Russian public relations exercise was a smash, so effective that it overshadowed the critical issues both sides were to have discussed. Mikhail Gorbachev came to Geneva to field test the weaponry of pub­lic relations instead of the weaponry of war. He may not have met Reagan mis­sile for missile, but he beat him badly press event for press event. The ultimate irony of the summit was that the Great communicator was bested at his own game by a former Soviet agricultural minister.

“I’ve seen all this Russian stuff on TV back home for days,” said Patrick Bu­chanan, the White House’s most hawkish adviser, upon his touchdown in Geneva four days into the Soviet PR blitzkrieg. “They’re not saying anything new. I don’t know why anyone is listening.”

The Russians might not have been say­ing anything new, but they were saying it in a new way — with style, the cool, famil­iar televised style that Americans used to consider their own. Although the Soviets never fully understood what they wrought in Geneva, they were generally pleased with the result. The Old Guard of Brezhnev and Chernenko and Andropov had been wrong — not all Americans were congenital scum. There were great Amer­icans — people like David Hartman, Bry­ant Gumbel, Maria Shriver, and the hungry packs of style reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Russians plunged head first into media-politics, selling their general secre­tary like an American president. “Ronald Reagan is used to the image of the Sovi­ets as cheaters who do things behind closed doors,” said Sergey Plekhanov, deputy director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada. “Our job here is to show that the image the American public has of us is untrue.”

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The White House press corps, who whisked into Geneva wearing baseball caps sweaty with jet lag and toting leatherette gym bags emblazoned with the official White House summit logo, weren’t prepared for the fandango the Russians had to offer. The boys on the bus had come prepared to be disappointed with the Soviet posture toward anything Western, and were shocked to find repre­sentatives of the Evil Empire ready, will­ing, and exceptionally able characters worthy of being quoted. The White House crew had ensconced itself in the Intercontinental Hotel, a $5 cab ride from Madison Avenue Moscow’s head­quarters in the International Press Cen­ter. The first thing they viewed upon ar­rival at the Intercontinental was a Broadway marquee flashing WELCOME TO THE SUMMIT and a dove of peace in bright white lights. “The moment I saw that I knew we were in for a show,” chuckled Jon Margolis, who covered the summit for the Chicago Tribune.

In preparing for the summit, the Sovi­ets had to Russianize words and phrases for events that had been alien to their culture in the past. “Press pool” flowed off Russian lips as “prezza poola,” and the Russian translation for the “news blackout” that was in effect for the sum­mit had something to do with draping a dark curtain over a body. “The Soviets are really turning it on for the summit,” observed Bill Eaton, Moscow correspon­dent for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s really hard to get to these guys back in Moscow, but we’re falling all over them here in Geneva.”

“We were surprised at the extensive­ness of the Soviet briefings, and at Gor­bachev’s quickness to respond to report­ers’ questions,” said Richard Cooper, Los Angeles Times news editor. “It was clear­ly calculated to serve and advance Soviet interests. I think Reagan had made a conscious decision to give Gorbachev the center stage because in some ways it increased the Soviets commitment to a successful summit. Nonetheless, it made them a critically important source of news and comment in light of the news blackout.”

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The Russian PR campaign went to great lengths to script Gorbachev, who arrived in Geneva with a fanfare of accommodation, as a friendly uncle. “Gorby is arriving in a few moments,” said one of the members of the Soviet delegation sent to greet him. The Russians wanted us to like Gorbachev, who, despite his iron teeth, harbored no viceral desire to blow us to kingdom come over Reagan’s intention to orbit a space-based laser weapons system named after a George Lucas movie, the videocassette of which would cost a Muscovite bureaucrat a month’s wages on the blackmarket.

But when it came to Gorbachev’s appe­tite for chewing on meaty global issues like Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the starving children in the Horn of Africa, and the plight of Jews and other minor­ities in the Soviet Union, the general secretary, rather than take a fresh view, took a stance that sounded all too familiar. What impressed people here was that Gorbachev ordered his troops to parade his unsavory policies in public with the snap-crackle-pop sophistication and elec­tric energy of Pepsi’s anti-Coke cam­paign.

“It’s not practical for a Soviet citizen to stand up on a soap box,” roared Soviet jurist Dr. Samuil Zivs, eyebrows flying like a humorless Groucho Marx. Zivs, proud of his role as deputy chairman of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public, a Kremlin-controlled human rights group, was flown to Geneva to hec­tor American television viewers that So­viet Jews never had it so good. Nobody in the press believed him, of course, but they were amazed when he began drop­ping bombs on the Reagan administration for its lack of action on federal budget deficit. “I’m shocked by your monetary problems, outraged that people are homeless and out of work in America. You talk of human rights? Bah! When was the last time anyone in your country listened to the street corner critics you say are so important?”

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But then Zivs, a big man with a deep voice and the huge, dappled hands of an NFL nose guard, dropped his old style polemics and held court on a bright or­ange couch next to a coffee stand in the International Press Center. The couch was his domain, and he ruled the area surrounding it with the sharp gaze of a life-long party member who knows he’s the boss. Zivs said that he was willing to discuss anything, so I asked him if he had seen the movie Rambo.

Rambo,” exclaimed Zivs in a loud whisper, his dark eyes radiating an eager glow. “Did you bring a videocassette with you to Geneva?”

The lengths to which the Russians were willing to go in their attempt to emulate American style was shown in the Battle of the Blondes, a tawdry footnote to the first superpower dialogue in six years. Karna Small, the press spokes­woman for the National Security Council, certainly the most attractive female to take the stage over the course of the sum­mit, sat next to National Security advisor Robert MacFarlane during his briefings at the International Press Center, prompting the Russians to search for a counterpart to perch next to Soviet spokesman Leonard Zamyatin during his own twice-daily press conferences. The Soviets brought out Marina Volotskova, a blonde stenographer at the Soviet Mis­sion to the U.N. and had her look long­ingly into the televison cameras. The Russians thought this was a great coup, and later privately asked a few reporters if they wanted her phone number back in Moscow.

The Soviet thinking behind the meet­ing between Reverend Jesse Jackson and Gorbachev showed how the Kremlin intended to portray the American public’s perception of nuclear peace to their peo­ple. Jackson traveled to Geneva with the leaders of four antinuclear groups to ap­peal for a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing and a freeze on new atomic weap­ons. SANE, Nuclear Freeze, Women for a Meaningful Summit, and Jackson’s Rain­bow Coalition presented Gorbachev with petitions signed by 1.25 million Ameri­cans urging nuclear disarmament and an adequate solution to the plight of Soviet Jews and other Soviet human rights vic­tims. The tête-à-tête between the two men was big-time news in Moscow, re­ceiving seven minutes on the Soviet eve­ning news show Vremya and a front-page story in Pravda — but the reports, not surprisingly, failed to mention Jackson’s appeal for human rights.

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“Gorbachev thinks that the peace movement in the U.S. is significant,” ex­plained Soviet-America watcher Sergey Plekhanov excitedly. “Gorbachev’s popu­list instincts made him meet with Jack­son. He was impressed with Jackson and he thought it was his duty to meet with him because the people he represented were an important part of America and they [the American people] shared the same aspirations.”

But Jackson, who said “good God Al­mighty, these international waters are treacherous” shortly after he was burned for accepting a bear hug from PLO chair­man Yassir Arafat, is a political surfer who roams the world looking for the big­gest wave. Although he was playing for a U.S. audience, Jackson neglected to grasp how the Soviets were going to hitch a ride for their own propaganda purposes, and, more important, as a hedge against Rea­gan. Gorbachev called Jackson a “prominent political leader” because he repre­sented a constituency worthy of stroking in the event of a failed summit. “The meeting between Jackson and Gorbachev was diplomatically risky because Reagan might have taken the time to meet with [Anatoly] Shcharansky’s wife,” a Soviet journalist speculated privately after the summit. “If the summit had been a fail­ure, then Jackson was Gorbachev’s pro­tection. He could say that he was for peace because he met with Jackson.”

The Russians gambled that their en­counter with Reverend Jackson wouldn’t become a pilot fish for disaster, and it paid off when Reagan refused to match the Russians by taking a meeting with the wife of Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky, or any other of the dozens of Soviet human rights activists who flocked to Geneva like cripples to Lourdes.

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The Soviets slickly played the human rights issue to achieve a notable degree of intimacy with the West, particularly in their use of Irina Grivnina, the founder of the now disbanded Moscow Committee to Investigate Psychiatric Abuses. It had taken Grivnina nearly three years to get out of the Soviet Union and she had come to Geneva as a reporter for the Dutch magazine Elseviers only three weeks af­ter being issued an exit visa.

Grivnina is a haggard woman, the re­sult of hard times spent behind Russian bars for editing an underground newspa­per critical of the Kremlin’s psycho-gu­lags. Over the course of the summit, she engaged Soviet spokesmen Leonid Za­myatin, Albert Vlassov, and Vladimir Lo­meiko in barbed public exchanges on the plight of Soviet human rights activists being force-fed drugs in Russian hospital wards.

“We have no psychiatric units and our medical examinations follow strict inter­national norms,” Zamyatin said during one of their frequent arguments in the International Press Center. “We are not scared to confront human rights or the Helsinki agreements. I do not know your circle of friends.”

The poor woman, whipped into a fren­zy by Zamyatin’s lies and threats to “call the militia” to have her removed, would literally foam at the mouth and shake violently, prompting Soviet diplomat Ni­koli Kosolapov to say at one point: “Look! Look for yourself! Do you see how crazy these people you call human rights activists are?”

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The Russians (after a praetorian pha­lanx of KGB guards surrounded her at the Geneva airport so that Gorbachev and his wife would not hear her pleas) asked the Swiss to pull her credentials. They refused, and Grivnina returned to Madison Avenue Moscow for one final battle with foreign ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko. Everyone in the room knew that Grivnina was a ticking time bomb for the Soviets, the only human rights activist willing to risk alienating a press corps utterly charmed with the Russians by wrestling with the Kremlin high command in a forum reserved for questions. Lomeiko spotted Grivnina mo­ments before the briefing began and asked Swiss security police to have her thrown out. Grivnina refused to leave, and the press corps — more interested in asking Lomeiko questions that he never answered — began shouting for her to be removed and pleaded with Lomeiko to stay. Grivnina, gutsy to the end, didn’t budge, forcing Lomeiko to storm out of the room threatening to cancel future briefings.

Madison Avenue Moscow’s queer idea that they could court the West with pub­lic forums was suddenly beginning to look insane. They had not counted on predatory characters like Grivnina domi­nating the scenes they had so carefully sculpted for Geneva. Or so it seemed. Lomeiko, the coolest man in the Soviet camp, turned the confrontation to his ad­vantage by dismissing the incident and holding an impromptu press conference around a small and intimate table in the Situation Room on the third floor of the International Press Center. It was the oldest and most effective trick in Ameri­can politics. The Soviets had not only learned how to cope deftly with their cra­zies, but had effectively dismissed, for the moment, the “ridiculous lies” of Sovi­et human rights activists.

But on one issue, at least, the Soviets seemed ready, even eager, to recant one of their own “ridiculous lies.” Over the past year, the Russians had expressed a hysterical attitude toward the AIDS cri­sis. Pravda and the labor newspaper Trud had written that AIDS was the re­sult of germ warfare research conducted by the CIA on the east coast. One Trud article claimed that the CIA tested this chemical weapon on poor Haitians and unsuspecting homosexuals. Moscow sneered at any suggestion that AIDS was a disease, and categorically refused to discuss the problem in an international forum.

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Robert Kunst, a gay activist from Mi­ami, came to Geneva attempting to change the Soviet’s attitude toward AIDS. Kunst wanted the superpowers to donate $3.6 billion — the price of 20 mis­siles — to a superfund for AIDS research to be set up under the auspices of the World Health Organization. For three days Kunst stood with a banner in the gray Geneva cold outside Madison Ave­nue Moscow, waiting patiently for a promised meeting with a Soviet official, a meeting that nobody — not even Kunst — ­ever thought would take place.

“Kunst and I met over tea for 45 min­utes, and I was there as a representative of the Soviet government,” said Dr. Vladimir Federov, a Russian physician who works at the World Health Organization. “I’m aware of the Soviet position in the past, but I’m taking a scientific approach to the problem of AIDS. We’ve yet to have an outbreak of AIDS in the Soviet Union, but it’s time we get together on this serious problem before it becomes out of control.”

Over breakfast in the Hotel de Rhone, Dr. Yevgeniy Velikhov wanted no news of Soviet dissidents either, but, like Dr. Federov, went out on a limb to modify the Soviet headline in another area. Plunging his spoon into a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn ­Flakes, the mastermind of the approxi­mately $70 million program to computer­ize Russia’s schools and the scientist responsible for Moscow’s own star wars research paused between bites to speak glowingly of America and his “friend” Steven Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computer. “Steven is very smart and represents the entrepreneurial culture,” enthused Velikhov, wiping a wet flake off one of the tigers on his Princeton tie. “The entrepreneurial spirit is not in conflict with Marxist-Leninist thought. Gen­eral Secretary Gorbachev understands this spirit and is sensitive to it happening in the Soviet Union.”

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If a leading Soviet scientist had equat­ed Marxism with entrepreneurship in the past he would most likely have been trucked off to the gulag for rehabilita­tion. But Velikhov — who signed “From Russia With Love” on U.S. Defense Department booklets that called him “in­strumental in the development of ad­vanced ballistic missile defensive systems” — is a Kremlin favorite, the man who first showed Gorbachev how to use an IBM PC. He deals with his love of things American much in the way a newly dry alcoholic deals with booze — with a reluctant longing for something he desires, but knows he can’t have and wishes he didn’t want.

When asked how a nation that keeps its typewriters and copying machines un­der lock and key will control the free flow of information once the first wave of his 3.5 million computers hits the Soviet Union, Velikhov began speaking of barnyard animals. “We’ve put our first com­puters to work controlling cows,” said Velikhov. “They are much happier with PCs than people. Our cows don’t worry and they milk better.

“The problem with people and com­puters is the technomania that occurs once they understand how computers operate,” Velikhov stressed as he boarded a Mercedes limo waiting to whisk him to Madison Avenue Moscow. “Technomania led the U.S. to develop star wars. We must learn to control technomania.”

Controlling technomania, of course, is Soviet code for controlling the informa­tion fallout from the computer revolution they so desperately need to ignite if they hope to catch up with Western technol­ogy. And that’s the great irony of the Soviet Union, a country that yearns to give its people the tools necessary to com­pete with America yet remains frightened to allow them the personal freedom nec­essary for real growth. In a world geared for specialized and upwardly mobile technicians, the Russians are potential losers, and they know it. Kremlin leaders don’t want their people to submit quietly to their collective fate, but they are stone-cold terrified over what could hap­pen if the Soviet people start believing in the Kremlin’s American PR campaign.

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The interesting thing is that the Rus­sians, who have always been so blunt and colorless in their posturing toward America, wore the facile suit of marketing with real flair. They did it well, better than they expected, and by the time they left Geneva the world had been presented with a whole new Russia and was left hungry for more.

“America is a fascination for us,” said Julian Semonev, a Russian spy novelist and feature writer who recently took home the annual KGB award for artistic merit. “We disagree with you, but we must learn now to deal with you.” Se­monev is a Russian in a class by himself, and his opinions and popular screeds have meaningful reprecussions through­out the Soviet Union. So it was no won­der that Leonid Zamaytin brought Se­monev, a crew-cut stump of a man with the countenance of a Hell’s Angel and a striking resemblance to football coach Bum Phillips, out in front of the press at Madison Avenue Moscow to tell the world that the Soviets were concerned with getting out of Afghanistan.

The attention paid to Semonev was pure balm to the Russian ego. Semonev and his cronies were courted by the talk shows like Liz Taylor after her second divorce from Richard Burton. They bull­ishly defended their presence in Afghanistan, stopping just short of comparing their Afghani debacle to America’s war in Vietnam. “When a country is no longer in a position to defend its revolution,” ex­plained Soviet Justice Minister Alex­andre Soukharev, “we move in.”

Although this kind of propaganda was met with predictable cynicism and disbe­lief, the warmth and friendliness with which the Soviets packaged their spiel seduced the American media. Semonev, and others like him, came away from this experience with a sudden fame that con­firmed what they had always wanted to believe: recognition of the fact that the Soviet Union is a major world power, driven by people as fascinating and rare as those in America. The pleasing shock of this long overdue pat on the back made them giddy with pride.

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So much pride, in fact, that the Rus­sians were able to joke about the summit. “Is it not significant,” chuckled Vladimir Pakhomov of Komsomolskaya Pravda, “that Gorbachev arrived in the daylight and Reagan arrived in the dead of night?”

They were also able to laugh at the jokes the Western press played on them. At one point some reporters got their hands on a Soviet Press Group press re­lease letterhead and distributed a story that former KGB turncoat Vitaliy Yur­chenko had written to Gorbachev urging him “not to sell us out to Reagan.”

“Please beware of the pitfalls placed in your path,” read the bogus letter from Yurchenko, who actually told a Moscow press conference a few days earlier that the CIA had forced him to play golf and get a suntan. “The CIA is everywhere in Geneva. They have been known to kid­nap innocent Soviet ballerinas, chess masters, and shepherds, drug them into submission, force them to accept huge sums of money, and, at gun point, make them appear on the Today Show with Jane Pauley.”

With the first salvo of the Soviet PR barrage ended, it is unmistakably clear that Mikhail Gorbachev is not your typi­cal Kremlin boss. Nowhere did the image of Gorbachev as an enlightened manipu­lator of Western Culture express itself better than at the extraordinary press conference he conducted at the Soviet Mission the day after the summit official­ly ended. Gorbachev spoke more openly to reporters than any other Soviet leader in history, on issues ranging from space­based laser beams to radical cuts in stra­tegic and other nuclear weapons. But his most curious, and significant, comment came in a response to the final question of the press conference. Julian Semonev asked Gorbachev if he thought Hollywood might start acting in the spirit of the fireside summit and stop making movies that portray Russians as fiendish warmongers. Gorbachev glowed at the question and his face broke into a huge grin. “Yes,” said the general secretary. “The motion picture industry should start acting in the spirit of Geneva.”

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It was a perfect line on which to end the summit. And that statement will just sit there like a heavy hole card in Gorbachev’s hand. How can we have peace while Sylvester Stallone is making mil­lions greasing evil Soviet colonels and computerized boxers on the silver screen?

The summit was no more than a begin­ning to a new relationship between America and the Soviet Union. All that came out of the two-day meeting were a few harmless and loosely worded agree­ments that ranged from cultural ex­changes to bilateral cooperation on the development of fusion energy sources. But it came as no surprise to the Rus­sians that they were the stars of Geneva. Ronald and Nancy Reagan may have been movie stars, but Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev looked like movie stars.

“What I make of all this is change,” said Pavel Mamaev, a Soviet diplomat who was the ringmaster for the Moscow Circus during its 1976 tour of America. “My country is changing and your coun­try is changing. Hopefully it will all be for the good. Nobody wants to die.

“I woke up last night dreaming about what we accomplished in Geneva,” Ma­maev added with a laugh. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, wel­come to the Moscow Circus.” ❖

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Revolution in D Minor: How the Czech Philharmonic Toppled Communism

Revolution in D Minor: How the Czech Philharmonic Toppled Communism
June 19, 1990

On December 14, 1989, the leading sym­phony orchestra of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Philharmonic, gave a concert at Smetana Hall in Prague. It was probably the most famous concert in the history of that country. The orchestra played Beetho­ven’s Ninth Symphony. Václav Neumann, the Philharmonic’s principal conductor, was at the podium.

People in the hall were delirious with happiness. The overthrow of communism was halfway completed, already the communists were vacating seats in the govern­ment, and leaders of the prodemocracy Civic Forum were taking over one post after another.

Mr. Neumann wore a big Civic Forum pin in his lapel. The last notes of Beetho­ven’s final movement, the “Ode to Joy,” with its parts for chorus and solo singers, died away, and Václav Havel came on stage. Mr. Havel was not yet the president of his country; a communist still occupied that office. But everyone knew that Mr. Havel was the leader of the Civic Forum and ought to be president, and probably would be soon enough, once the last of the communists were finally pushed out.

Mr. Havel introduced the new Civic Fo­rum members of the government, who were sitting in the audience. He introduced the new foreign minister, Jirí Dienstbier, an old jail-mate of Mr. Havel’s and a famous dissi­dent. Mr. Dienstbier was sitting in the box of honor. And at the sight of the victorious dissidents sitting in the hall, the audience, the musicians, the chorus, the solo sing­ers — everyone, thrilled, applauded ecstatically.

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Three tiny paragraphs about this concert appeared in The New York Times the next day. Naturally the Times concentrated on the important political leaders like Mr. Ha­vel and Mr. Dienstbier. But in the last of the paragraphs the article turned to the orchestra.

In the reporter’s stony prose: “The members of the Czech Philharmonic are among the heroes of what Czechoslovaks have tak­en to refer to matter of factly as ‘our revolution.’ They were the first artistic en­semble to go on strike and have played several concerts as benefits for striking students.”

That was the orchestra’s entire mention. Then the Times went on to other things. The concert, the conductor’s Civic Forum pin, Mr. Havel’s introductions from the Smetana Hall stage, the “exuberant” ap­plause from a “jubilant house” — these de­tails sparkled for an instant and disap­peared into the waterfall of amazing information that has come pouring out of the countries of Eastern Europe.

Historical events as vast as the overthrow of world communism can be analyzed on a cosmic scale, the way astronomers study the universe by peering at whole galaxies. Or they can be analyzed in miniature, by focusing on a molecule.

Here is an analysis of the fall of commu­nism that examines one droplet of informa­tion: the exuberant applause at Smetana Hall on December 14, 1989, and why it was directed not only at the dissident leaders and the new democratic government, but also at the people seated in concentric rows to Vaclav Havel’s rear — those other “he­roes” of “our revolution,” the symphony musicians of Prague.

The Communist Cell

The Soviet Army, as is sometimes forgot­ten, cannot be blamed for every black shad­ow that has fallen across the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Communism was export­ed to Eastern Europe from across the Soviet border, but it was a local product, too. A bright inner core of the big-city intelligen­tsia, the writers and artists, the concert­goers, readers of literary and philosophical reviews, student intellectuals — these peo­ple, in the aftermath of the Nazi occupa­tion, showed no little enthusiasm for the communist idea.

Bolshevik habits like ferocity and disci­pline struck them as practical virtues, nice­ly adapted to an age of fascism. And they saw in communism what seems impossible to remember today — a cultural ideal, not just an economic program. For these people were the partisans of civilization against barbarism, they upheld the old notions of the enlightened European intelligentsia, they were the champions of ever-expanding liberations in every field of life — except that civilization and barbarism had ex­changed their customary geographies, and the Paris and Vienna of the golden future were going to be, in the postwar imagina­tion, Moscow and Leningrad.

These communist sympathizers, circa 1945, were not exactly well-informed about the Moscow and Leningrad that really existed. Or possibly they did have an idea of Soviet reality and were not especially dis­turbed. Their revolutionary project was al­ways faintly ambiguous. Were commu­nism’s sympathizers anti-obscurantists in the great liberal tradition? Or were they obscurantists like their leader, Stalin? Were they fascism’s bitter enemy, or its twin? Progressives or reactionaries?

It was impossible to say. The communist intelligentsia was a new twist in the history of ideas. Yet in the atmosphere of the 1940s, in the institutional rubble left be­hind by the defeated Nazis, these people­ — communism’s most important social base — found themselves with a good deal of power. And with a helpful shove from the Soviet army, one country after another followed them into the radiant future, and a whiff of uncertainty about communism’s meaning and intent always lingered behind, like exhaust fumes.

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The communist experience of the Czech Philharmonic began in something of that spirit. The young Václav Neumann, the same musician who later became world famous as the Philharmonic’s principal conductor, organized the orchestra’s original party cell in 1946 by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are forming the first communist organization in the Czech Philharmonic.” That was an odd way to usher in the new era, given that true Bolsheviks, enemies of the bourgeoisie, address one an­other as comrades, not as “ladies and gen­tlemen.”

Mr. Neumann was a true enough Bolshe­vik to put together a cell. But he managed not to be a comrade. The works he performed were those of the grand masters of the past, and he continued to wear the tails and starched shirts of ancient custom, and he would never abandon the Czech stuffi­ness that insists on “Mr., Mrs., Miss, ladies and gentlemen.” He was, everything con­sidered, bourgeois tradition’s stout defend­er — as well as Moscow’s. And in that same ambiguous way, the communist movement built popular cells all over post-Nazi Czechoslovakia.

A great bulk of the population leaned instinctively toward social democracy. And since the communists were not without a clever tactical sense, the party described itself as a sort of social-democracy-without­-bourgeois-illusions. The comrades spoke of a “Czechoslovak Road to Socialism,” something smoother and more civilized than the barbarous Bolshevism of the uncouth Soviet Union. By appearing to be democratic yet allied with Stalin, authenti­cally Czechoslovak yet pro-Soviet, refined yet tough, by cultivating the kind of ambi­guity that could prompt an earnest maestro into addressing his comrades as ladies and gentlemen, the communists managed to en­tice all but the shrewdest corners of the social democratic movement into a fateful­ly disastrous popular front. Large sectors of the working class joined with large sectors of the intelligentsia under communist aus­pices, and in a free election in 1946, the party managed to come away with no less than 38 per cent of the popular vote.

Had there been a second election a cou­ple of years later, communism would prob­ably have accumulated an absolute majority. Except that 38 per cent was quite sufficient, and soon enough the commu­nists did away with the bourgeois custom of free elections, and by 1948 the deed was done, not because of the Red Army. The Republic of Czechoslovakia metamorphosed into the Czechoslovak Socialist Re­public, member in good standing of the world communist movement.

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The meaning of communism’s rise to pow­er was not immediately obvious to most people (though there were a clear-eyed few who instantly fled into exile). The new gov­ernment expropriated the country homes of rich bourgeois and turned them into vaca­tion resorts for poor workers, which seemed, from a solidly progressive point of view, exactly what any decent person would have advocated. The communist notion of how to build an economy, the army-like system of administrative fiat, unwavering obedience, central planning, and mass ef­fort, worked well enough, so long as eco­nomic growth meant new steel plants and weapons factories. The economy under these principles expanded for a decade and a half even without the economists faking the figures.

Yet in the first years alone, the Czecho­slovak Road to Socialism — less smooth than anticipated — managed to execute 8000 people, according to literature put out by dissidents later on. The very first of the communist show-trials in Prague did away with the leaders of the duped and manipu­lated factions of democratic socialism. As many as 150,000 unfortunates ended up in prison, and the rest of the population found themselves dwelling among party cells and secret police informers and subject to less than civilized demands for conformity in every sphere of life and thought.

By the mid-1960s, the party’s own econo­mists began to notice that economic growth wasn’t what it seemed either (as one of those economists, the present ambassador to the U.S., Rita Klímová, has told me). The brute-force approach worked well enough at building steel plants, if you didn’t mind executing a lot of people, but was not so good at tuning the economy to any finer pitch.

The economy, having climbed upward for 15 years, began to climb back down. And when some of the top political leaders, not just the economists and technocrats, noticed the sorry effects of their own rule and tried to institute reforms — when Alexander Dubcek and his party comrades launched the “Prague Spring” of 1968 in order to liberalize their own system (though not so much as to permit opposition parties or normal democratic procedures) — in came the tanks and troops of “fraternal aid” from the Soviet Union and the War­saw Pact, and self-deception about commu­nism’s liberating potential became that much harder to maintain. The situation, as the Party leaders said, “normalized.” Nor­malization meant, after August 1968, that Czechoslovakia’s Road to Socialism was barely even Czechoslovak.

The Leonore Overture

The Czech Philharmonic, being a jewel of the national culture, not to mention a de­pendable source of six million crowns a year in hard currency, never had to endure the worst of these bleak developments. The party maintained its cell in the orchestra and ran the unions and controlled the con­cert halls, and by manipulating the differ­ent levers of power, had the musicians un­der firm control. Yet the Czech Philharmonic, like all the great orchestras in Europe, was by tradition a self-governing institution, and this tradition never entirely disappeared.

The communists asserted the right to veto any proposal made by the orchestra. But the orchestra retained a countervailing power of veto over the communists, which made for a bit of check and balance. Most of the elected positions in the orchestra fell into communist hands. But the musicians somehow kept the right to vote freely on one of the important jobs, the Representa­tive for Secondary Activities.

In most of the Czechoslovak orchestras, the secret police supervised the hiring of musicians in order to prevent anyone suspected of anticommunist sentiment from infiltrating, say, an important flute section. At the Czech Philharmonic, for instance, the police intervened to prevent the young winner of a cello competition in 1983 from taking a seat in the orchestra, due to the inconvenient fact that the cellist’s father had signed a notorious dissident manifesto, Charter 77, calling for human rights. Gen­erally, though, the Philharmonic retained the power to pick its own members, and the secret police didn’t interfere.

In that way, the Philharmonic never lost control over what was, after all, the main thing — its own musical quality. Yet it could hardly be said that members of the orches­tra were free citizens. Over the years, the party cell in the orchestra hovered between 10 and 20 people and was always active and strong, either because some musicians honestly upheld communist principles, or because the pressure to join the party was too great to resist. Mr. Václav Junek, the principal trumpeter (until he went on half­-time, due to age), was a communist of the first type, a man of stalwart Leninist principles who kept the cell in good repair as a matter of political commitment.

In recent times, the cell — or the “swine,” as I have heard them called (“There’s al­ways the chance of one of those swine recognizing your voice,” Julia tells Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) — consisted of one flutist, one double-bassist, three cel­lists, five first violinists, and one second violinist, plus Comrade Junek. Strictly un­der the discipline of their own higher-ups in the party ranks, these 12 musicians domi­nated the orchestra, mostly by keeping tabs on their fellow musicians.

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The orchestra might travel to faraway con­cert halls in Switzerland, or further still, to remote New York, but not even distance offered relief. The Czech violinists or clari­netists who could be seen hurrying along Seventh Avenue or 57th Street on their way from the Wellington Hotel or the Holiday Inn to Carnegie Hall, canvas-covered cases beneath their arms, looking for all the world like free musicians from a free repub­lic, were under precise instructions not to engage in random conversation with strangers.

The bitterest injunction of all was not to converse with their own most fervent fans, the Czechoslovak exiles who flocked to Carnegie Hall in the hope of bathing their ears in Dvorák or Smetana, and who after­ward might want to stop by the dressing room for a nostalgic chat about the old country. Or, if such forbidden conversa­tions did take place, the musicians’ obliga­tion was to report on them right away. Perhaps to Comrade Junek in the trumpet section or to someone else in authority. Apart from the well-known members of the party cell, there must have been, as every­one knew, members of the secret police in the orchestra’s entourage, though possibly not among the musicians themselves.

It was not that if a musician fell out of favor with the party or showed a lack of enthusiasm for party projects, anything drastic was likely to happen. Repression was mostly a system of threats and infer­ences, like a color filter that could gradually make life a little darker. One of the orches­tra’s two harpists, Renata Kodadová, was invited by party leaders to establish a chap­ter of the Union of Socialist Youth, a com­munist enterprise. But Mrs. Kodadová, who didn’t approve of communist enterprises, indignantly refused — and found that her career as soloist dribbled to a halt, without any word of a blacklist ever being uttered. Invitations to perform simply no longer arrived.

Ludvík Bortl, the bass trombonist (a bass trombone is a regular trombone with extra heft and an extra tube), had a different problem. Mr. Bortl’s error may have been his patent honesty, which made him less than shy at expressing his democratic convictions. One day an anonymous letter ar­rived accusing him of embezzling funds from a recording contract — and for two years afterward, the police kept hinting to the trombonist about advantages he could enjoy by making himself quietly useful to the authorities.

Even Maestro Neumann, though he was an old-time parlor communist, had his dif­ficulties, just to show that no one stood above the party. Mr. Neumann’s error was to rush home to Czechoslovakia from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in East Germany at the time of the ’68 invasion­ — without fulfilling, according to the authori­ties, his contract with the same East Ger­mans who, from another point of view, had just invaded his country. Afterward Mr. Neumann could no longer count on official sympathy. He was invited to conduct the Munich Philharmonic at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, but on the day before his planned departure, official per­mission evaporated and the famous con­ductor found himself stranded — “desper­ate,” he told me — in his own country.

In order to go on a foreign vacation, orchestra members had to avoid arousing the enmity of the 12 comrades of the party cell. There was the fear that someone who fell out of favor might not, in a medical emergency, receive the best health care. There were the worries that everyone in Czechoslovakia had to entertain about their children — whether they would be locked out of higher education, the way that Václav Havel was as a young man, because of the anticommunist politics of his parents.

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How could orchestra musicians withstand a lifetime of pressures like that? They did it slyly, as Mr. Neumann now acknowledges, in musical code. Mr. Neumann and the orchestra became ever fonder of perform­ing works by Beethoven, notably the Leon­ore overture No. 3, which Beethoven origi­nally intended as the overture to an opera about liberals versus tyrants.

Did the authorities understand that refer­ence? Perhaps not, or perhaps they didn’t mind. Musical codes are notoriously unreli­able. Beethoven, the champion of freedom, was a favorite of the Czechoslovak dissi­dents, just as he was of the Allies in the Second World War, but then again he was a favorite of the Nazis, too. The conductor Herbert von Karajan conducted a Beetho­ven symphony back in 1938 to celebrate the Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland re­gion of Czechoslovakia. Slippery Beethoven!

In any case, the Leonore overture kept turning up on the Czech Philharmonic’s program. Other resistance, if that word doesn’t overstate the reality, was merely social: when the orchestra traveled abroad, no one wanted to room with the 12 comrades. That was prudent, too, given that a fit of overly frank late-night soul-bearing might do your life no end of harm.

Overt political protests on the orchestra’s part were out of the question. But as disaf­fection with communism grew more acute in the Eastern bloc, some quiet or clandes­tine resistance was not altogether impossi­ble. Mr. Bortl, the bass trombonist, was the key figure, joined by younger musicians like Jacob Waldman, a baby-faced double bass­ist, and a few others. This inner nucleus of activists gathered a secret list of 20 or 25 orchestra members who could be counted on to contribute money for the samizdat, or underground, publications that dissident intellectuals were putting out. Fundraising was a daring thing to do and had to be gone about conspiratorially, with no one but the top organizers knowing which of the musi­cians figured among the contributors.

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A more public resistance, when it began, came strictly in the name of musical values, though the line between politics and music wasn’t always clear, given the communist predilection for politicizing the nonpoliti­cal. The party had its musical demands, its preferred or proscribed performers and composers, about which, normally speak­ing, the orchestra had very little to say. Mr. Neumann was eager to perform a sympho­ny by Miloslav Kabelác, but the censors pored over the score and discovered the irksome Babylonian inscription, “Mene, mene, tekel, ufarsin” — the Bible’s “writing on the wall” — and Kabelác’s symphony disappeared into the black hole of the unperformable.

Yet on other occasions the orchestra ex­ercised its ancient prerogatives and refused to be manipulated. In 1986, the orchestra and the government decided to commemo­rate the 90th anniversary of the Czech Phil­harmonic’s founding, a grand moment in the history of Czech music. The post office issued a stamp. The state television sched­uled a concert. But what was to be performed at the concert? Commemorative concerts, by tradition, are supposed to re­-perform whatever was played at the origi­nal event — in this case, Antonín Dvorák’s Biblical Songs, which the composer himself had led back in 1896.

Biblical Songs was not a happy title, though, in an age of official atheism. The communist authorities proposed some contemporary Czech and Soviet composers in­stead. Since the orchestra had a veto, it refused on grounds of strict tradition to perform anything but Dvorak’s songs and the rest of the 1896 program. This backed the government into a corner. But there was nothing to be done about it, and the cultural officials, furious, canceled the broadcast in spite of the postage stamp and the publicity.

The Bass Trombonist

It has to be asked why the difficulties between the Philharmonic and the commu­nists tended to revolve around television and radio broadcasts. The answer has to do with the one important post that remained fully under orchestral control, the Repre­sentative for Secondary Activities, whose business was nothing other than to grant permission for radio and television broad­casts, along with recordings. In its wisdom the orchestra managed to elect to this re­sponsible but not very fascinating job the capable bass trombonist, Mr. Ludvík Bortl, otherwise known for quietly tiptoeing among the musicians to collect secret funds for samizdat publications.

The bass trombonist saw to his duties as Representative for Secondary Activities with zeal. One day the Ministry of Culture, in its eagerness to impose politically reli­able conductors for broadcast concerts, in­vited the Philharmonic to perform under the baton of Milosz Konvalinka, the con­ductor of Prague’s National Theater orches­tra. Mr. Konvalinka was highly regarded by the cultural officials of the Communist Par­ty, but less highly by the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic. Mr. Bortl, on the or­chestra’s behalf, declined to permit the broadcast concert to go on with Mr. Konva­linka conducting.

The ministry was aghast. The orchestra declined? Mr. Bortl was called in for a dis­cussion with the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He and the orchestra manager received threatening phone calls. But there was no backing down: In the opinion of the musicians of the Czech Phil­harmonic, as expressed through their freely elected Representative for Secondary Ac­tivities, the government’s preferred conduc­tor was not up to standard, and the Philhar­monic would not perform, and investiga­tions by the police and threatening phone calls and requests to confer with the Cen­tral Committee simply had no influence on their decision.

In choosing the bass trombonist to be the Representative for Secondary Activities, the Philharmonic had selected the sort of man whom management never likes to see sitting across the negotiating table. Mr. Bortl’s big arms, when they weren’t holding his oversized American-made King trom­bone up to play, lay folded across a large chest in the gesture that communicates im­movability. He sat in the back row at con­certs and waited for the bass trombone part to turn up in the score, and from a place in the audience you could easily imagine, with a little knowledge of what he was like, that the Czech Philharmonic consisted of 95 or a hundred musicians made of flesh and blood — and one granite boulder.

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At negotiations, he had a zest for driving other people crazy by repeating himself with stubborn inflexibility. The most infamous example came in February 1987, when the orchestra went on one of its tours to the Soviet Union. The musicians were scheduled to perform a concert commemo­rating the seizure of power by Czechoslova­kia’s Communist Party in 1948, a festive holiday for all friends of the Czechoslovak Road to Socialism. The Soviet Union scheduled a television broadcast, and the musicians arrived in the hall and took out their instruments and the television crews completed their preparations, and the great revolutionary concert was set to beam onto the television screens of the Union of Sovi­et Socialist Republics.

Mr. Bortl, however, as the Representa­tive for Secondary Activities, wondered why the Czech Philharmonic, on its Soviet tours, was expected to perform without pay. Nonpayment for Soviet concerts seemed to him an offense to the orchestra’s pride. He explained to the Soviet officials that when the Czech Philharmonic tours the United States, it never plays for free. So why should the Soviet Union be any different?

After many decades of communist rule, this may have been a foolish question on Mr. Bortl’s part. It was gloriously naive of him to raise such an issue, or rather, disin­genuous, since every schoolchild in the Warsaw Pact knew perfectly well why the Czech Philharmonic was expected to play for free in the Soviet Union, namely be­cause Czechoslovakia no longer figured as a sovereign nation and the orchestra no long­er constituted an ensemble of free musicians.

Mr. Bortl nonetheless asked the question, and by doing so, posed a delicate problem. The true answer to his question could never quite be said aloud nor even whispered by a kindly Soviet concert impresario in a corri­dor conversation. Yet what was to be done? Mr. Bortl, declining to give final permis­sion for the orchestra to perform, kept ask­ing his disingenuous question. Some kind of response was required.

The Soviet authorities got angry. They threw up their hands: the concert was sup­posed to go on and there was no time for stupid bickering. But Mr. Bortl was immov­able. In the United States, the damnable man kept saying, the Czech Philharmonic never performs for free. So why should the Soviet Union … and so forth through his idiotic but unanswerable argument until, with chaos in the concert hall and five minutes left to go, a Soviet official came dashing into the theater, contract in hand specifying payment to that most irritating of orchestras, the Czech Philharmonic.

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In his own thinking, the struggles led by Mr. Bortl had a definite political dimen­sion, which he described, in the case of the Soviet television concert, as “our own, per­sonal, very little protest against totalitarian­ism.” But this, too, was never said out loud. His reasoning was always phrased either as a worker’s demand for pay, or as a musi­cian’s insistence on tradition. And if Mr. Bortl’s mosquito attacks on totalitarianism were never stated in political terms, nei­ther, on the other hand, did anything seem to be political in the difficulties that the orchestra began to encounter in its dealings with the Czechoslovak government.

To begin with, where was the orchestra going to perform? This question, which grew ever more pressing, seemed merely to reflect a government tendency toward bu­reaucratic inefficiency and poor planning, without political meaning. Bohemia (the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, where Prague is located) used to be called “the conservatorium of Europe,” as Mrs. Koda­dová, the harpist, has told me. But in this century, nobody has bothered to erect any new halls in Prague. Nor has anyone re­paired the old halls. The Czech Philhar­monic traditionally performed in the Ru­dolfinum, named after the Emperor Rudolf, but in recent years the Rudolfinum had become so decrepit that nothing was left to do but pack up and move until grand-scale renovations could eventually be made.

The authorities, though, contrived these renovations in such a way that, when the work would someday be completed, computers and climate-control mechanisms would occupy crucial space in the cramped hall, which the orchestra would still have to share with the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Musical Arts. The computer­ized, air-conditioned concert hall was going to be a cattle car. So there was, from the Philharmonic’s point of view, no concert space for the time being, and there was not going to be a suitable hall in the future, and there were no plans for anything better.

The orchestra meanwhile scheduled its performances for Smetana Hall, a big creamy cavern, gymnasium-shaped, with skylight panes stuck in the ceiling like a giant emerald. Smetana Hall wouldn’t have been a bad place, except that the Prague Symphony Orchestra and other groups per­formed there, too, which made for a lot of traffic and inconvenience. Sometimes the Philharmonic was shunted into still another hall, the Zofín, doubtless the world’s most romantic concert auditorium, grandly lo­cated on a tiny island in the Vltava River. Only the Zofín, too, was pretty much in disrepair. Broken glass gaped from win­dows, stucco dribbled onto the grounds, the heating could not be counted on.

The musicians lugged their instrument cases across the stone bridge to the island auditorium, and they wore sweaters and coats to rehearsal and had to clear out be­fore a dance class got underway. Besides, the Zofín was too small for symphonic con­certs. So the problem of a concert hall was severe, even a little ominous. And in case anyone still didn’t get the point, the orches­tra office staff discovered, as the 1980s wore on, that the office, too, was less than securely housed.

An emergency eviction notice ordered the staff out of their own premises. The orchestra manager fought the eviction off. A second notice went out. Again the man­ager fought it off. He felt like he was “box­ing” for the orchestra’s life.

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The Petition

The orchestra’s uneasiness was not, of course, confined merely to the practical dif­ficulties of locating a decent hall and reli­able office space. The musicians had a sus­picion that musical quality in Czechoslovakia was slipping. The cultural grandeur promised by communism, the brilliance that was supposed to radiate from Moscow and Leningrad, the bright beam of communist civilization — this somehow cast a light that seemed to grow ever dimmer in the run-down concert halls of Prague. The Czech Philharmonic used to attract the greatest musicians of the world to perform as soloists or guest conductors. Was the orchestra imagining things, or were great musicians increasingly reluctant to perform in Prague? And if that was true, what was the explanation?

Different theories made the rounds. Some of the most influential orchestra members pointed, in their conversations with me, to Czechoslovakia’s foreign policy problems with Israel. In 1967, as part of the communist bloc’s anti-Zionist turn, the Czechoslovak government abandoned its historic sympathy for Zionism and came out in favor of Israel’s enemies, not just the peaceful ones. (It was Czechoslovakia that sent Semtex plastic explosives to Muammar Qaddafi for distribution to terrorist groups such as the Palestinian faction that appar­ently blew up the Pan Am jet at Lockerbie, Scotland.) And since people in Czechoslo­vakia never much approved of this anti-­Zionist development, there was, at any rate among the musicians, a resentment of the consequences that filtered back to Prague.

Great musicians like Erich Leinsdorf and Gerd Albrecht still came to perform with the Philharmonic. But there were others who held Israeli passports and could no longer visit Czechoslovakia, and still others who chose, in that case, not to. And since some of the best musicians in the world figured among those who took Prague off their concert tours, the members of the Philharmonic regretted the loss keenly.

There were other explanations for the orchestra’s gloomy sense of its position in the world. Mr. Neumann told me (through the double medium of a telephone and an interpreter) that getting musicians to Prague was not, in his opinion, the prob­lem. His own feeling about Czechoslova­kia’s decline was vaguer, though more poi­gnant. He was haunted by the worry that the Czech Philharmonic, in its appearances abroad, might be greeted with hostility.

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He pictured an audience somewhere in the West welcoming the orchestra with whistles of disdain and contempt — not because of how it performed, but because of the coun­try it represented. The fear was unreason­able; never once was the Czech Philhar­monic greeted less than warmly. But the worry did express the feeling of isolation that overtook the Philharmonic, the sense that grand vistas of culture and quality lay elsewhere and that the conservatorium of Europe had become a pariah even in the world of music.

Then again, these plaintive feelings were merely the musicians’ version of what ev­eryone in the Eastern bloc began to feel. Czechoslovakia under communism had be­come a country whose best writers were either in and out of jail, like Mr. Havel, or in exile, like Milan Kundera and Joseph Skvorecky. A full 500 authors, according to Mr. Skvorecky, came under a ban. The country’s best filmmaker, Milos Forman, emigrated to the United States. Its industri­al economy, one of the strongest in the world, degenerated into the third or fourth rank.

Even life expectancy, due mostly to de­cades of cheap brown coal and dead rivers, shriveled to a level five years below that of Western Europe. The sense of musical me­diocrity and isolation, the effort to intimi­date the bass trombonist with secret police investigations, the blacklisting of the harp­ist from her solo career and of the cello­-competition winner from his rightful seat, the canceled commemorative concert, the inability of Mr. Neumann to conduct at the Olympic festival in Japan, the chipping plaster, broken windows, shrinking space, the eviction notices — all this was nothing but the national predicament.

The move toward open politics, the prog­ress that would make the Philharmonic the first important sector of Czech society to go into open opposition, came only last year, in fitful steps. In January 1989, Václav Ha­vel was arrested yet again and condemned to four and a half months in prison, this time for laying flowers on the grave of Jan Palach, the student who immolated himself to protest the 1968 Soviet invasion. And with Mr. Havel once again in jail, a petition began to circulate, addressed to the com­munist prime minister, requesting the play­wright’s release.

Naturally the bass trombonist, with his dissident connections, took his place in the ranks of secret petition-circulators. Togeth­er with Mrs. Kodadová and one of the bassoonists and certain of the others, he passed the document around to the more reliable musicians. But who would want to sign such a petition? A chair in the Czech Philharmonic was the best position any musician could dream of having. To play in a historic orchestra was an honor, not to mention a joy. Whereas to sign a petition, to court the wrath of the party and the government, to risk your hard-earned chair merely for a noble civic gesture — was that a sound idea?

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The petition clandestinely circulated, and each little group of musicians quietly went into existential crisis. Some musicians did sign, not just the young militants either. The silver-haired veteran cellist, Mr. Jan Stros, added his name, and there were, finally, 30 signatures on the petition. The organizers figured that if enough people got up their courage, the numbers would reach a critical mass, the orchestra would be un­assailable, and the petition could go public.

Mr. Bortl got along well with Maestro Neumann and hoped discreetly to ask him, too, for his signature, which would have heartened the timid. But Mr. Neumann who often toured abroad while guest conductors took over the orchestra, was in Vienna. Thirty turned out to be the upper limit. “Most of us,” as Mr. Stros recalled later on, “were afraid.”

Then the orchestra manager got wind of the document and brought it up at a general meeting. What was this idea of protesting, he wanted to know. Did the musicians un­derstand that the Czech Philharmonic was still trying to find a hall and the manager’s job was not made any easier by people going around signing petitions? Did the musicians understand that, if the petition went through their own wages might be in danger?

Mr. Waldman, the double-bassist, and some of the more militant and sophisticat­ed musicians regarded the manager as something of a bluffer. Wages were not, in spite of what he said, endangered; they came steadily from the state, no matter what. As for the hall, that particular sore point was not going to be resolved any time soon, no matter how cooperative the musi­cians became. The concert hall was a doomed issue, short of a Japanese investment.

But the manager’s statement had its ef­fect. Wages! The hall! A good half of the musicians who had signed the Havel peti­tion sneaked back to the organizers and asked to strike their names. Other signato­ries held firm, but the panic couldn’t be suppressed. The handful of remaining names was not enough to guarantee any­one’s safety, and the project of collectively signing the Havel petition in the name of the Philharmonic was shelved — a fiasco.

Mr. Bortl signed, in that case, on his own behalf, as a lone individual and not in any way as a representative of the orchestra. That was bad enough. From the City Com­mittee of the Communist Party came an invitation to come in for a discussion. His brother heard a rumor about the trombon­ist getting thrown out of work. Mr. Bortl was not, lucky for him, a soloist, and he had no trombone students on the side, which made him less vulnerable to official pressure. He did play sometimes in a quintet and had to wonder if it might somehow be made to suffer — though nothing like that came to pass. But already some of his colleagues in the Philharmonic recognized him as a marked man and stopped return­ing his hellos.

The failed petition nonetheless stirred up a feeling in the orchestra. For the first time since the stormy days of the Warsaw Pact invasion, the orchestra had tried to take an independent public position that had noth­ing to do with self-interest or money or musical values but was strictly political. And while the controversy over the failed effort was still vivid in everyone’s mind, a second more momentous development oc­curred. The revolutions in East Germany, Hungary, and even Poland were still in the future. But the Soviet Union, that glacier, was already beginning to show a few signs of change.

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Radicalism and Exhibitionism

In early 1989, as part of the Gorbachev reforms, the Soviets stopped jamming Ra­dio Free Europe. People in Prague had always listened to other, less important short­wave stations, like the Voice of America and the BBC. VOA was especially popular; people called it “Prague 3,” meaning the capital’s third station. But VOA devoted only so many hours to the Czech language, and its stories were too often about the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains and the exotic customs of the American Indi­ans, which was amusing and pleasant, but did nothing to inform the Czech people about their own circumstances.

Radio Free Europe, for all its origins in the CIA, was less of a propaganda station. Listeners could tune in a beloved Prague radio announcer who had fled Czechoslova­kia after the ’68 invasion and hear him read translated clippings from American jour­nals as far afield as The Village Voice and The Nation. RFE reported news of the dis­sident movement. People could learn what their own neighbors were doing, what argu­ments were being made, and whose famous or not-famous necks were being risked on the public behalf.

One day in June, Radio Free Europe’s Czech language broadcasts reported on a new dissident petition called “Several Sentences.” An announcer read the petition aloud —  and more important, read some of the signatories’ names, along with their pro­fessions. Listeners sat by their radios, trans­fixed. The announcer droned on, “So-and-­so, filmmaker; so-and-so, worker,” and as the names came sailing from the radio speaker, the listeners, each in the privacy of home, heard with astonishment the names of people they knew or respected, or at any rate the names of people from their own lines of work.

The kind of existential crisis that took place in the orchestra during the unsuccess­ful effort to gather names for the Havel petition now took place in society as a whole. Names floated from the radio, and individual souls sitting around living rooms wondered, “Should I, too, sign? Should my name, too, be broadcast over Radio Free Europe?”

No one doubted the risk in endorsing “Several Sentences.” In the performing arts, signatories of “Several Sentences” found themselves denounced over the offi­cial airwaves and blacklisted from Czecho­slovak radio and television. Everyone knew that the basements of Prague were full of coal stokers who used to be well-known intellectuals. Yet here came the RFE’s next broadcast, and the announcer turned again to the topic of “Several Sentences,” and still more names floated from the radio speaker.

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Among the listeners to Radio Free Europe were, of course, the members of the Czech Philharmonic. The musicians had gotten in the habit of tuning it in during their tours abroad, where they could receive the broad­casts without jamming, and they kept up the habit when Soviet interference miracu­lously disappeared. In October ’89, several months after “Several Sentences” ceased to be circulated, but while its signatories were still being singled out for punishment, the Philharmonic traveled to Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to perform under a guest conduc­tor. The musicians tuned in the news — and caught an amazing item. The name of their own principal conductor, Mr. Václav Neu­mann, came floating from the radio speaker.

Mr. Neumann was not himself a signato­ry. But like everyone else he followed the controversy over “Several Sentences” and he was infuriated at the official denuncia­tions of the very fine citizens whose signa­tures did go down on the civic manifesto. He was a little intimidated at the idea of making a protest of his own, since the retri­butions might endanger the orchestra and not just himself. Yet the itch was in him. He wanted to act; he only wondered how.

Czech television provided the answer. The television authorities invited him to give a telecast concert. Yet these were the very people, as he reflected, who kept broadcasting scurrilous slanders against the courageous signatories of “Several Sen­tences.” The television authorities had come to the wrong man at the wrong time. Mr. Neumann’s moment of moral courage had arrived. He informed the authorities­ — “with pleasure,” a delicious phrase — that he had no intention of accepting their invitation. Václav Neumann, principal conduc­tor of the Czech Philharmonic, a National Artist by decree of the government, a world figure, was not going to perform, thank you.

His refusal was in every respect a solitary act. Kurt Masur, the Gewanthaus conduc­tor from Leipzig, was not yet leading mass demonstrations in the East German streets. The violist who would soon enough become the secessionist president of democratic Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, was still unknown to the world. The leading conduc­tors and musicians of the Eastern bloc were holding no secret conspiratorial discussions arriong themselves. Mr. Neumann had sim­ply, on his own, reached his personal limit. And by October, while the members of the Czech Philharmonic were resting in their rooms at the Neuchâtel hotel, the news of this personal stand was beaming across the waves of Radio Free Europe to everyone who tuned in to the Czech language broadcasts.

What! The members of the Philharmonic couldn’t believe their ears. Their own Mae­stro Neumann on a one-man boycott? Per­haps the report wasn’t true. The concert tour took the orchestra to Stuttgart, West Germany, and only there was someone able to reach the maestro by telephone and con­firm the astounding broadcast. And at the news of this confirmation, a “fever” — that was the word Mr. Stros later used — broke out among the different circles of Philhar­monic players.

It is customary before rehearsals, when the Philharmonic assembles onstage, for of­ficers of the orchestra to address the ensem­ble on matters of practical business. At the rehearsal in Stuttgart, the Representative for Secondary Activities got up to say a few words. Staring up at him were the faces of his own friends and the secret donors to samizdat funds and the decent but fright­ened people who had discreetly begged him to remove their names from the Havel peti­tion. But there were other faces, too: the dozen “swine,” the people who turned their glance to the wall when he waved hello, the people whose political attitudes and re­serves of personal courage were, after years in the orchestra, still a mystery, perhaps even to themselves.

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To get up and speak to an audience like that was not in every respect an easy thing. Mr. Bortl was alive to the unhappy fact that while Václav Neumann was a revered ce­lebrity in the world of music, a figure of social weight, a person that Czechoslovakia’s government would never wish to of­fend, he himself, Bortl the trombonist, was not a celebrity, had no social weight, and was, on the contrary, the object of police persecution.

No matter. Mr. Bortl opened his mouth and began to speak. His talk was unprece­dented. Mrs. Kodadová, the harpist, think­ing about that speech several months later, after the revolution, considered it to have been an act of authentic heroism. Mr. Bortl reported Mr. Neumann’s boycott of televi­sion, which by then was no secret to any­one. He proposed that the orchestra should, in an act of solidarity with its principal conductor, join the television boycott. Not as individuals but all together, as an ensem­ble. And more: the orchestra should go fur­ther than Mr. Neumann and boycott radio, too, until the blacklist against the signato­ries of “Several Sentences” was lifted. Mr. Bortl was proposing, in effect, a protest strike on grounds that were explicitly political.

Did such a strike have any likelihood of success? The Representative for Secondary Activities was in no position to offer guarantees. Milan Kundera once wrote, in a polemic against Václav Havel, a cynical essay called “Radicalism and Exhibitionism,” about people with a fondness for glamorous gestures and lost causes. A Phil­harmonic protest might well be radical. But then again it might merely be spectacular, like some desperate East Berliner hurling himself over the wall. If the musicians adopted Mr. Bortl’s proposal, they would not only be, as The New York Times would later report, the single artistic ensemble in Czechoslovakia out on strike, they would be the only ensemble of any kind — artistic, industrial, academic, ethnic, religious, or political.

No great dissident movement was wait­ing to rally around the protesting orchestra. No one in Czechoslovakia was marching in the streets (though three days later, in Prague, the dissidents did get some 10,000 people out for a march — a paltry number compared to street protests elsewhere in the bloc at the time). And in that unpromising atmosphere, the orchestra proceeded to vote.

A full 97 musicians sat on the Stuttgart rehearsal stage, not counting the guest con­ductor and a soloist. Comrade Junek of the trumpet section set himself, of course, against the resolution. But where were the other members of the cell that Comrade Junek had done so much to consolidate, the cell whose history went back to Mr. Neu­mann’s fateful invitation to the ladies and gentlemen of 1946? Somehow this cell, in the aftermath of Mr. Bortl’s courageous speech, buckled and collapsed. (Later, after the revolution, with the Communist Party in disgrace and even considering changing its name, Junek himself, feeling betrayed by the Communist leaders, regretted his own vote against the resolution.)

Three of the musicians abstained. But the rest of the orchestra, all 93 of them, heroes, cowards, unknowns, voted — unbelievably! — with Mr. Bortl. The decision was just short of unanimous. And with the momen­tous vote behind them, the orchestra turned back to its rehearsal. The Stuttgart concert was performed, and the orchestra went about its Western European tour quite as if the meeting on the Stuttgart stage was noth­ing more than a business discussion like any other.

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The Revolution

The musicians returned to Prague after three weeks in Western Europe and had reason to know that their boycott decision was not, in fact, a bit of ordinary business. The leaders of the Communist Party took the trouble to articulate the matter with exemplary clarity. The director of the state radio, an object of the strike, explained that missed performances by the Czech Philhar­monic were nothing to regret since the or­chestra was not very good anyway.

The Ideological Secretary of the Czecho­slovak Communist Party, Jan Fojtík, har­rumphed and noted that the same Czech Philharmonic that was engaged in a protest was asking for a concert hall — and was go­ing to get “shit.” That was a shocking thing to say. The word “shit” from a high official had an intimidating quality, like a cop giv­ing the finger to a protest march. It was alarming. It convinced people that Czecho­slovakia was, just as everyone feared, sink­ing into savagery under rulers who lacked culture and education and who could no longer even open their mouths without butchering the beautiful Czech language.

Comrade Fojtík’s vulgar comment ap­peared in Tvorba magazine. Meanwhile ru­mor reached the orchestra that Fojtík’s mentor, General Secretary Milos Jakes, the party’s highest official, had decided to dis­band the Czech Philharmonic altogether­ — which seemed conceivable. For the link be­tween communism and the intelligentsia, the promise of communism’s cultural great­ness, the coming brilliance of the proletar­ian order — these things were no longer even a ghost of a memory. The Ministry of Culture, in those last decadent days of com­munist rule, was planning to sell off some of Czechoslovakia’s greatest cultural assets for hard currency — the magnificent Prague Judaica collection, for example, even if the collection was a thousand years old. What was a world-renowned orchestra to people like that?

Maybe other musicians, or the same mu­sicians in a less exalted state of rage, would have beaten a convenient retreat, figuring they had bravely made their point and had nothing more to win, except a reputation for “exhibitionism.” But by then, in those first days of November, the Berlin Wall had come down and the news spread across the eastern countries via American and British shortwave broadcasts, and the political air was electric. Or perhaps the explanation was that, among the musicians, Mr. Bortl’s speech on the Stuttgart stage had estab­lished him as the undisputed political lead­er of the Czech Philharmonic, democracy’s trombone.

In any case, the orchestra did not retreat. Messages went out to other orchestras around the world, appealing for solidari­ty — and statements of support promptly ar­rived, beginning with congratulations from the Kraków Philharmonic of Poland. The orchestra telephoned the press in Czecho­slovakia to announce the boycott and ex­plain its logic. The Czechoslovak press had no intention of publicizing the antigovern­ment actions of dissident organizations. The musicians followed up with letters, just so the reporters, those professional liars, could not pretend ignorance. Still, no an­nouncement ran in the press.

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So the musicians took a further step and prepared to communicate directly with their own audience, no longer in the sly code of the Leonore overture, but directly, and on the taboo theme of politics. The orchestra printed a special leaflet announc­ing the Philharmonic boycott, and the leaf­let went straight into the concert program for the homecoming performance, Novem­ber 16, 1989, at Smetana Hall.

The secret police, already suspicious, were lurking around the hall. But their in­formation was perhaps a little vague and they made no effort to stop the crush of concertgoers from lining up on the marble stairway to buy, for one crown apiece, the evening’s program. Or possibly the rebel program wasn’t even needed. The Philhar­monic’s audience, in the privacy of their own homes, had already heard the news over shortwave broadcasts from the West.

The musicians came marching from the wings onto the stage to take their seats beneath the giant medallion of Smetana and the organ pipes. And from the sea of wooden chairs on the unraked auditorium floor a huge, spontaneous ovation arose. Dr. Desidr Galski, Prague’s Jewish leader, who happened to be among the audience, recalled to me later how people jumped to their feet, which is a rare gesture at a Prague concert, merely at the sight of the musicians in their full-length black tails and starched white shirts.

“Thank you!” voices cried out. “Bravo!”

The next day’s concert was the first since the announcement of the boycott that was supposed to be broadcast over the official radio.

The 17th was also a day for student pro­test in Prague. The occasion was an official commemoration of a student who was killed by the Nazis. At least one of the musicians, Mrs. Kodadová, managed to at­tend. The harpist’s daughter, age 14, want­ed to march with the students, and since Mrs. Kodadová was already up to her el­bows in the Philharmonic boycott, she rath­er liked the idea of her daughter participat­ing too, and gave permission.

But since 14 is a little young to be left to the mercy of events, the harpist chose to walk at her daughter’s side, and the two of them went together with the 25,000 young people on the fateful day when the students sang “We Shall Overcome” in Czech and even in English. The police shadowed the marchers like a black cloud. And when Mrs. Kodadová figured that her daughter’s taste of life and protest had lasted long enough, she plucked herself and daughter from the ranks and went to Smetana Hall to dress for the evening concert and tune her harp.

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Naturally the Representative for Second­ary Activities refused to permit the state radio to broadcast the concert. So the deed was done. Again there was tension and ap­plause in the hall. And only afterward, when Mrs. Kodadová changed back into ordinary clothes and went out into the streets and saw that policemen and vehicles were prowling the downtown boulevards and the air was soggy with violence — only then did she have any idea that the student demonstration did not come to an end at the instant that she wisely guided her daughter away.

No, the students marched onward to Narodní Avenue, catty-corner to the House of Cuban Culture. The black cloud of policemen descended on them, plucking peo­ple from the ranks to be clubbed and kicked, and though later it was not clear if the beatings turned into killings, at the time, on the streets, the conviction arose that Prague had just undergone a Tiananmen Square assault and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia had just commit­ted a massacre on Narodní Avenue.

Only this belief did not, in Prague, send the people into a terrified retreat, the way repression did in China. Hardly! The fear and timidity that had stung Czechoslovak eyes for 40 years, like coal smog or tear gas, were somehow wafting away. The students were calling for a strike. No one quite knew it, but the revolution had just broken out. The next evening Mrs. Kodadová had tick­ets to the Realistic Theater, but instead of seeing a performance, she sat in the audience while the actors endorsed the students, and even the theater director got up to say that, although he was himself a member of the Communist Party, having a dialogue with communists was impossible.

Mr. Bortl, jolted by news of the massacre, went about calling on his various political contacts. These turned out to be usefully widespread, not just among musicians. An actress telephoned to keep him up on the theater front. And since Mr. Bortl happened to know the family of a student who was thought to have been killed, his con­tacts extended into the student milieu too. The trombonist hurried over to a high school to pick up the new student literature.

In this way, conferring with the actress, rushing over to the students, Mr. Bortl put together documents from one and another of the mobilizing groups, and by Monday, when the Philharmonic assembled for a meeting and rehearsal, the trombonist was ready with strike literature and proposals. A full 267 people, musicians and staff, turned up at the meeting. The trombonist introduced some students to the orchestra. The students said a few words about their strike. And Mr. Bortl launched into another of his speeches.

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The Universe of Music

He read something that he called the “Dec­laration of the Czech Philharmonic,” which was the product of his weekend’s work. The declaration protested violence and lawless­ness on the part of the government. It put the orchestra on the side of the students and the theater people in their strike. It demanded that the authorities who partici­pated in violent repression step down from power. And it affiliated the orchestra with the committee that Václav Havel and the theater people and other dissidents had put together over the weekend, the new Civic Forum. The statement was not too radical, not too mild, and the whole of it was ap­proved.

Jan Buble, one of the reliables in the first violin section, took the declaration and went to the telephone. He called the Vienna offices of “Prague 3,” the Voice of Ameri­ca, to read the declaration over the phone lines, even if the secret police might have been listening in. And having done their civic duty, the musicians headed out to Wenceslas Square to join the first of that epic week’s mass demonstrations. They chanted at the Communist Party, “We nev­er wanted you” — an odd chant, perhaps not an entirely true one, given the long dialectic of Czechoslovak history, but sin­cerely felt. And as the musicians chanted, they glanced sideways at their own ranks, and they saw the orchestra’s communist collaborators, and the people, too, the de­feated swine, chanted along with everyone else and wore Czechoslovak flags pinned to their coats, quite as if the flag had always been their symbol of choice.

The Czech Philharmonic’s Civic Forum committee consisted of several of the old crew of dissidents, namely Mr. Bortl, Mrs. Kodadová, Mr. Buble, and Mr. Waldman, to whom were added Maestro Neumann and representatives from the office staff, the choir, and the regular soloists. This committee set about painting posters and placards, establishing contacts, gathering documents, and publishing statements of the orchestra.

There was the crucial business of spread­ing the news to the larger Czechoslovakia that lay beyond Prague’s Oldtown center. For how was the rest of the population going to receive reliable reports about the amazing events going on among the students and their supporters? Apart from for­eign bands on the shortwave dial, all media in Czechoslovakia were under Communist control, and if here and there a newspaper wrested a little independence (as the news­paper of the formerly puppet Socialist Par­ty began to do), no system was in place to distribute the uncensored press runs out­side of Prague. Information about the po­lice attack and the strike, if it was going to circulate at all, would have to spread per­son to person. So there was the additional task of loading the protest literature into cars and driving out of central Prague to any place where the strikers had contacts.

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Here again Mr. Bortl, by happy coinci­dence, managed to play a distinguished role. He had not always planned on becoming a professional musician. He played the trombone in dance bands when he was in school, but his studies focused on chemis­try, and afterward he went to work as a chemical analyst at the giant CDK works in the Prague suburbs. CDK is a complex of a dozen foundries and electrical plants with 25,000 employees who manufacture loco­motives, diesel engines, semiconductors and other industrial goods. The place is called “the workers’ heart of Prague.”

Naturally when the student strike began, the communists tried to prevent any sort of contact between the university rebels and CDK. The party brought out the People’s Militia to seal off the industrial center. But some of the workers were themselves active partisans of democracy, which meant that CDK was already, so to speak, infected. Besides, sealing off 25,000 people is not so easy. Workers, too, knew how to tune in a shortwave radio. They went home to fam­ilies that included students. And among the active ties between CDK and the student strikers was, as it happened, the energetic former chemical analyst, Mr. Bortl.

He picked up the student strike literature in central Prague and drove out to CDK to deliver it to faces familiar from the long­ago days, before his knack at the slide trom­bone brought him to the Philharmonic. Wednesday night he was out at the plant. And every afternoon, he and the other ac­tivists joined the students in Wenceslas Square and gazed up at the balcony of the Socialist Party newspaper and listened to the speeches that Mr. Havel and his little group of intellectuals and theater personal­ities delivered according to the staging in­structions of the country’s best theater di­rectors, through sound equipment that was set up by the cleverest of rock band technicians.

Those of us who observed the Czechoslo­vak Revolution on television thousands of miles away saw those rallies grow ever bigger — 200,000 people on Monday, more on Tuesday, 300,000 by Wednesday — and we watched that progress with a too-easy satis­faction. We believed, because it was thrill­ing to believe, that the demonstrators in the square stood in no particular danger and were, on the contrary, destined to win. We had watched the events in Poland, Hunga­ry, and East Germany, and we saw the crowds in Prague as part of a European panorama, and the grandeur and vastness of that panorama seemed to speak of his­torical certainty.

But that was not how things appeared to the hundreds of thousands who stared up at the Prague balcony. Those people had some inkling of events in other countries and they felt themselves to be part of an inter­national movement. Yet the panorama that seized their own attention was mostly one of repression and violence. What did we, who lived a continent away, know of the repressive mechanisms of Marxism-Lenin­ism in Czechoslovakia? The empire of the secret police was so extensive that in Prague alone, the Ministry of the Interior maintained no fewer than 272 safe houses.

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Friday’s police attack on the students promised to be, if events took a wrong turn, only a first step toward a larger “Chinese solution.” The people in the square shook their key chains in a tinkled mass exorcism of tyrants and demons, and they took en­couragement from their own growing num­bers, and their hearts pounded with indig­nation, patriotism, enlightenment, rebellion, rage — with revolution, in a word. But those people were also, most of them, in terror.

When they got home in the evening, the television preached to them not about in­ternational backing but about their own isolation. The country’s main institu­tions — the trade unions, political associa­tions, farm groups, ethnic and religious organizations, the clubs and professional societies, the bearers of national legitimacy, the establishment, the official culture — all stood in adamant opposition to the subver­sive goings-on in the square.

Still, not every important national insti­tution was the enemy of those daily demon­strations. The Czech Philharmonic, the movement’s friend, was as grand and na­tional and above-ground an institution as Czechoslovakia could claim. It was the establishment by definition. So the musi­cians, together with the striking actors, took up the job of infusing those thousands of demonstrators with a feeling not just of courage and stalwartness but with some­thing that could be called a sense of nation­al legitimacy. After voting the strike resolu­tion at the Monday rehearsal and adopting Mr. Bortl’s “Statement of the Czech Phil­harmonic,” the musicians put away their instruments in order to honor their own resolution. But on Wednesday morning the orchestra shifted course and the instrument cases opened again and the musicians tuned to the A above middle C and the orchestra prepared to play — not to under­mine the strike but to bolster it.

The guest conductor that week was scheduled to be one of Maestro Neumann’s protegés, the Czech conductor Libor Pes­cek. He and the Philharmonic’s artistic council looked through the repertory for appropriate works and settled on Má Vlast or My Country, the Czech classic by Be­drich Smetana. The orchestra performed four of the six sections of that work on Wednesday for a student audience at the chilly Zofín on the Vltava island. Then they set out to play it again Thursday morning at Smetana Hall, where the auditorium was heated and the musicians didn’t have to bundle up in sweaters and coats and there was plenty of room.

Tense and agitated students filed inside until the hall, as the official report of the orchestra later put it, was “completely packed.” The musicians laid the score across the music stands. Mr. Pescek raised his baton. And from the moment that he silently indicated the rhythm, in that sec­ond of stillness before the first note sound­ed, the world of politics into which the Philharmonic should never have had to en­ter, the world of declarations and strikes and committees — that world came, so to speak, to an end. The baton flashed, and the orchestra stepped as if through a door into that other, higher place, its home, the seat of its authority, the universe of music.

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God’s Warriors

Revolutions generate extreme and exalted emotions. But normally there is nothing in a revolution or in any other mass political event that can give voice to those emotions. If people march in the streets, they find that parades are inarticulate. They chant­ — and complicated ideas shrivel into jingles. Orators step to the mike — and grand phi­losophies turn into slogans. Something of the popular emotion may get expressed; not much. The whole experience is frustrating, like shouting through a muzzle.

Music, perfectly articulate, has none of those problems. Mr. Pescek’s baton came down, and the first notes of My Country leapt into life, and the dimunition or cheapening that happens to abstract ideas and principles at a scene of mass politics, the muzzling of emotion — none of that occurred.

Those first notes were a solo by Mrs. Kodadová and her fellow harpist, sitting in the last row to the left, behind the violins. Stately, luxurious harp arpeggios sprang heavenward, feathery and implacable, as if from sword-bearing angels. Nor was there any doubt about the specific significance of those opening declarations. Smetana, ever forethoughtful, dispelled all ambiguity by writing down a clear programmatic expla­nation, like a nail to keep the slippery meanings in place.

Did the student audience pay attention to that programmatic explanation? The mu­sicians had it uppermost in mind. Mr. Stros, the silver-haired cellist, in recon­structing that concert for me, spoke of it almost entirely in terms of the composer’s careful annotations. These were on a strict­ly national theme. Smetana was once, in his own student days, a revolutionary in the streets of Prague: he participated in the 1848 uprising against the Austro-Hungar­ian Empire. And though the 1848 revolt went down to defeat and Prague continued to languish under the rule of hated foreign­ers, the composer came away with his patri­otic feelings intact, along with the revolu­tionary notion that one day, wrongs would be set right.

The opening harp solo represented, ac­cording to his specifications, the harp of the mythological Czech prophet, Lumir. The musical phrase in that solo, the implacable and stately melody, evoked the castle of Prague, symbol and center of Czech sover­eignty. And those opening ideas — prophecy and sovereignty, gusts from the revolution of 1848 — blew like a wind through every­thing that followed.

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The orchestra had only to play the work exactly as on every occasion in the past. In the version of the concert that was told to me by Mr. Waldman, that is precisely what they did. The Czech Philharmonic is, after all, a professional orchestra at the highest level of artistic competence and can be counted on to adhere to the strictest tradi­tions and standards in even the most ex­traordinary of circumstances. The gorgeous melodies of My Country‘s early sections, “The High Castle” and “The Vltava” (bet­ter known by its German title “The Mol­dau”), the ecstatic surging scale that evokes Prague’s river, the Bohemian heartbreak­ — these were performed entirely as they have always been, with steadiness, nobility, and force.

Even so, the performance was not exactly ordinary, either. There was the question of where to put the intermission. In the count­less performances of Smetana’s classic over the decades, the procedure was generally to follow “The High Castle” and “The Vlta­va” with Part Three, “Sarka” — then break, with parts Four, Five, and Six to come after the intermission.

But was that procedure appropriate for Thursday’s concert? The morning hour, the audience of edgy students, the street clothes worn by the musicians, the improvised na­ture of the scene, the nervousness that ev­eryone felt, the attention to matters that had more to do with the crowd at Wences­las Square than with music — everything in­dicated a less than formal approach. Be­sides, a technical crew was accompanying the orchestra to record its performances, and the crew’s requirements, too, had to be taken into consideration. Given those fac­tors, the musicians expected to run through several excerpts, as at the previous morn­ing’s concert, and not bother doing a com­plete version.

The decision, once they were out on stage, was up to Mr. Pescek. But at the end of the second section and again at the third, the conductor’s black baton once more rose up, and the orchestra went on playing straight through to the moment at “Sarka” ‘s climax that usually marks the break for intermission. Again the baton waved. The orchestra plunged into the fourth sec­tion too. “From Bohemia’s Fields and Groves” — and only when that was completed did the musicians get a chance to catch their breath and wander into the wings for a few minute’s rest.

Yes, every note was exactly as Smetana indicated. But already the piece was com­ing out in a slightly unusual form. Then they were back on stage and Mr. Pescek’s baton waved again and the first tones of the fifth section. “Tábor,” sounded, and some­thing new cropped up in the performance, a sort of overtone never previously heard. In Mr. Stros’s estimation. Smetana’s program had everything to do with this. My Country, lush and mythological until that point, turns grim and militant with the opening notes of “Tábor.” There arc echoes from 500 years ago, from a medieval chorale sung by the 15th century followers of Prague’s most famous rebel, the religious reformer Jan Huss, who was burned as a heretic.

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The chorale was “Ye Who Are God”s War­riors.” It was not unlike Martin Luther’s terrifying hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” except older and bleaker. Huss’s most fanatical followers, the soldiers of Tábor, sang it when they marched into battle against anti-Czech and anti-Huss oppressors, and their message seems to have been, if you listen strictly to the melody: “Aban­don hope, anyone who opposes us.” The devil himself would quake at such a tune. Every note is a block of stone. No rippling ecstasies spring heavenward from the harps. There are boulders, one after anoth­er in rows and circles, like Stonehenge. “Stubborn inflexibility” was Smetana’s own phrasefor 1he messagein that Hussite hymn.

The initial tone in Smetana’s rendition was supposed to be a low, quiet, ominous D, played as if at a distance by the tympani, the bassoons, the cellos, and the double bass. Then the horns were supposed to sound a rhythm on a different note, the first stubborn rocks of  the Hussite melody, repeated softly on a never-varying discordant C, like this:

“Ye who who ARE … GOD’S …

“Ye who who ARE … GOD’S … ”

Except that when Mr. Pescek gave the signal and the first group of musicians bent over their instruments to produce the low, quiet, ominous D, the note did not come out as quiet as always, not, at least in the estimation of Mr. Stros. The musicians were ever so slightly too intense. The note was a tiny bit too strong, too heavy, too militant. It came out like a challenge. Per­haps the difference in sound would have been inaudible to most people even to mu­sicians. But Mr. Stros, who had performed those opening notes for decades, felt that ominous D like a jolt.

The low tone went on for two bars. Then the horns entered on the repeated discor­dant C of “Ye who ARE … GOD’S … ” But the horn players, too, were a little too intense.

Professionals, of course — some of the finest in the world. Yet those musicians were not, in fact, granite boulders, they were flesh and blood, and they were shak­en. In a matter of weeks, those musicians had, on the advice of a handful of orchestra politicos, taken their lives into their own hands; they had embarked on what would ordinarily have been a suicidal strike; they had seen their suicidal strike spread to hun­dreds of thousands of people; they had found themselves at the center of God alone knew what — a national uprising? A worldwide birth of freedom? An impending calamity on the scale of the Nazi takeover of 1938 or the Soviet invasion of 1968? And through all of those terrifying events, they had kept their fears to themselves and had gone about their protests and then their strike concerts with splendid discipline and control.

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To begin Part Five of My Country at that instant, to perform “Tábor” to an audience of the very students who had survived the police attack at Narodní Avenue and were now naïvely hurling themselves against the communist dictatorship, to perform the first ferocious notes of what was, after all their nation’s most historic and solemn call to arms — that was too much. In the experi­ence of those musicians, the political events had been, until that instant, half-articulate. But Smetana was perfectly expressive, and in bar three of Part Five, when the Hussite hymn began in a grim D-minor, he un­leashed the deepest feelings of those disci­plined symphony musicians.

So the horn players, too, pressing their mouthpieces to their lips, produced sounds that, at least in the veteran cellist’s estima­tion, were a little too determined, a little too much like a grim Hussite grunt. Those first musicians to begin “Tábor” had sud­denly, inadvertently, broken into a cry­ — though to be sure the cry was, in a technical sense, exactly what Bedrich Smetana had specified in his score.

Mr. Stros couldn’t believe his ears. And while still in shock over those strangely fervent first three bars, he heard a second sound, a rumble really, an indistinct loud­ness, huge and not at all musical. He tore his eyes from the conductor and the score and looked out into the audience. That single, piercing. anguished “Ye who ARE … GOD’S … ” from the orchestra passed through the hall like an electric boll. The noisy rumble was the audience’s response. The 1500 students, row after row, were shooting to their feet.

The students did, as it turned out, under­stand Smetana’s program notes. Nothing about that concert was a mystery to them. They shot to their feet to acknowledge the 500-year-old sacred battle song. And facing straight at the orchestra, row after row of solemn, frightened, determined students raised a hand above their heads and spread their fingers in the V-sign salute of the democratic revolution of 1989.

That single phrase from the agitated mu­sicians of their nation’s greatest orchestra made those students recognize that they themselves, in the circumstances of modem Prague, were God’s Warriors, and they stood at attention because they were ac­cepting their role, whatever the cost might be. For no one could imagine that a V-sign in November ’89 necessarily signaled vic­tory’s approach. The history of Czechoslo­vakia has not been such as to permit confi­dent eitpectations. The Táborite army of the 15th century went down to bitter de­feat, just as Smetana and the insurrection­ists of 1848 went down, and just as did every effort against the Nazis, too, then against the Communists — until that moment.

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Smetana’s program, faithful to his opening theme of prophecy and sovereignty, none­theless offered a prophecy that the defeated Hussites, having retreated for eternity to Blaník Mountain, would someday awaken and achieve the final redemption of their country. The last section of My Country evokes, as the composer explained, national resurgence: God’s warriors, singing the Hussite hymn, return at last for triumph and redemption. And with the students still on their feet, still saluting, the orchestra went from “Tábor” to begin My Country‘s sixth and final section, “Blaník.”

The same Hussite phrase, sounding this time almost like a march, introduced the section — loud at first, then tense and quiet, steadily advancing. Only to play those notes quietly, to control one’s instrument with unwavering precision — that was more than a human being could do in the face of an audience like those 1500 magnificent students. The violinists, when they went to bow a soft passage, found that their hands were shaking and the bows trembled on the strings. The windplayers put their instru­ments to their mouths, but their lip muscles were quivering.

The Czech Philharmonic was weeping. Yet it was playing. And at last the great symphonic poem that bad begun with implacable arpeggios from the courageous Mrs. Kodadová and her fellow harpist gave way, in the concluding passages, to Smetana’s final burst of national passion, and the rows of brass players raised their instru­ments to play, the trombonists lifted their golden horns, an oversized bell of a bass trombone pointed like a cannon out at the trembling, upright, saluting audience — and “Ye Who Are God’s Warriors” boomed with the spectacular solemnity of the Hus­site army rushing into battle. A million strands of tone and overtone, fireworks of sound, soared from the crowded weeping stage. “Glory Returns to Bohemia,” was the name that Smetana gave to these final explosive passages.

Mr. Stros, from the perspective of a cou­ple of months later, regarded that perfor­mance as the greatest experience of his life. “In such moments,” the cellist told me, “the nation realizes that it still exists.” Smetana himself had predicted exactly such a discovery, incredibly. “On the basis of this melody,” the composer wrote, referring to the motifs from “Ye Who Are God’s Warriors” in the sixth and final section, “will develop the resurrection and the future happiness and glory of the Czech nation!” How ridiculous those words must have seemed to anyone who bothered reading them during the century after Smetana set them down — how foolish of a composer to believe that melody could resurrect a nation.

Yet something like Smetana’s prediction did occur in the auditorium that bore his name. It was as if the great 19th century musician had written his masterpiece ex­pressly for the single concert that eventually took place on the morning of November 23, 1989. Or perhaps there was another way to interpret the morning’s events. Mr. Wald­man, when he spoke of that amazing morn­ing, recalled how, according to Hussite leg­end, merely the sound of that terrible hymn was enough to drive enemies from the field — a not unreasonable explanation for what turned out to have occurred. “We all understood the power of music,” Mr. Waldman told me.

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The CDK Workers

The stunned musicians and their audience, at the end of the performance, walked over to Wenceslas Square for another of the af­ternoon rallies that Mr. Havel and the dissident intellectuals were stubbornly running from their balcony at the Socialist Party newspaper. But the rally that afternoon proved to be a little different from the ones on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

During the morning, the atmosphere in Prague had somehow altered. The news spread that General Secretary Jakes, the Communist leader, that barbarian, the most hated man in Czechoslovakia, had resigned: the revolution’s first important victory. And the social composition of the revolutionary movement visibly changed. On previous days, the crowd at Wenceslas Square consisted mostly of Prague’s stu­dents, joined by actors and musicians and, generally, the intelligentsia.

But the agitation by some of the workers at the giant CDK works in the suburbs had continued; the leaflets smuggled in by Mr. Bortl and others had evidently begun to circulate, in spite of the People’s Militia; and on Thursday morning, while the con­cert went on at Smetana Hall, the political tensions at CDK finally overflowed. Lead­ers of the Communist Party went out to the plant, thinking to get up a progovernment demonstration.

Comrade Miroslav Stepan, the party boss of Prague, stood up to address the workers. It was an incredible moment in the annals of communism. Marxism-Leninism is, to make the most obvious judgment about it, a philosophy of oppression aimed against workers (though it didn’t begin that way)­ — but its special peculiarity is to blind its own proponents from ever quite recognizing that simple truth. “False consciousness” is Mr. Havel’s apt term.

Prague’s leading Communist visited the country’s largest factory complex believing that there, among the foundries and furnaces and the chemical tubing, were his stalwart supporters, his proletarian base, his legitimacy. Instead, one of the data pro­cessors and a couple of his friends went leaping through the corridors calling out to their fellows, and three or four hundred angry workers showed up at the Commu­nist meeting and broke it up with heckles and shouts.

The workers of CDK were not, as it turned out, the supporters of Comrade Ste­pan, an alarming fact, undetected by de­cades of Marxist-Leninist scientific analy­sis, as one of the Western reporters cheerfully noted. The three or four hundred hecklers swelled into two or three thousand, and the thousands headed out from the factory complex to the place where the na­tional fate was being decided, Wenceslas Square.

The distance was 10 kilometers, but in­stead of taking the subway, which would have been the normal way to go, they went on foot. Other people fell in with the line of march, which swelled the CDK delegation still more until, by the time the crowd reached Wenceslas Square, the outpouring onto the mall was immense. It was the Hussite army for real, as it seemed, not the student advance guard but the main corps, returning from Mount Blanik to redeem the nation. It was the working class of Prague.

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Until that afternoon, the balance of power in Czechoslovakia was far from clear, since no one knew what position the working class was going to take, whether the tradi­tional chasm between workers and the in­telligentsia could be bridged, whether the Communists perhaps did retain support in the industrial zones.

It was not as if anybody had ever taken a proper poll to find out what if anything in the Communist propaganda was true. Since 1946, not a single free election had been held. There was not a single free trade union, answerable to its members. The ac­tual opinions of Prague’s labor force were a mystery even to the workers themselves. Or perhaps the mystery can be stated a little more grandly. What exactly was the state of modem culture? The emancipatory impulse that ran like a current from Beethoven’s Leonore overture to the 1848 uprisings to My Country and beyond — did that impulse still exist? Is freedom merely a “Western” custom, unfit for the Slavic mentality or for people in other regions, something lacking in universality?

What evidence did anyone have that peo­ple in the eastern countries, Poland ex­cepted, despised their own totalitarian systems? Who can honestly claim to have seen the revolution coming? Any number of cat­aclysmic possibilities seemed far likelier than a democratic upsurge in Eastern Eu­rope. Nuclear war, if it had broken out, would have surprised no one. Doomsday books on that very theme have lined the bookstores for years. But where were the volumes that predicted the antitotalitarian revolution? Who can claim to have antici­pated a spontaneous march from the indus­trial suburbs into Wenceslas Square to sup­port a revolutionary movement led by a persecuted playwright?

The Praguers themselves, witnessing that huge congregation on the square, hardly knew what to make of it. Their own success seemed too incredible to believe. One tri­umph rose above of the last, like the climb­ing scale that Smetana used for his “Vl­tava” theme — the first demonstrations at the square, Thursday’s march of the CDK workers, the arrival Friday of the old re­form leader of 1968, Alexander Dubcek, the national two-hour general strike by la­bor on the following Monday. But afterward the scale began to climb back down, and the successes seemed to ripple away into the past — at least they seemed to in the eyes of the principal militants in the Phil­harmonic. And in that gloomy atmosphere, Mr. Bortl and a few others, sitting in one of the wine bars that are spread through cen­tral Prague, came up with the idea of ap­pealing once again to music by holding a further concert — the Philharmonic perfor­mance on December 14, the one that was finally reported in The New York Times — ­though not as a victory celebration. On the contrary, the idea was to fend off defeat by reviving some of the revolutionary spirit.

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The musicians put their idea to the main Civic Forum leaders, the leaders ap­proved — and only when the plans for the “Concert for the Civic Forum” were al­ready going into effect did the deeper reali­ty of what had already occurred in the week after the Massacre on Narodní Avenue be­come clear. The Communist Party, stalwart until that point, suddenly began to wobble, like a boxer who has been knocked out but stays on his feet for another few seconds. The Communists in the government one by one began to withdraw, the balance of seats passed to the Civic Forum, the talk of Mr. Havel becoming president got louder — and by then the concert, even before its first note was played, had changed meaning.

It was a victory concert. In token of that victory, the orchestra decided, through its Representative for Secondary Rights, to cancel the fateful boycott of state television and radio that had been approved on the long-ago Stuttgart stage. For what was the point in refusing to collaborate with a com­munist government when communism was already halfway gone? Why not invite the state television to come and record the im­pending triumphal concert? So the camera­men and the recording technicians took their place in the hall along with the faith­ful admiring audience.

The choice to perform Beethoven’s Ninth instead of Smetana again or Dvorak or some other Czech composer may seem a little odd, from a nationalist perspective. But nationalism, always significant, was never exactly dominant in the Czechoslovak revolution. My Country was a splendid and historic call to arms, the appropriate piece for a moment of crisis when everyone had to gird themselves against the possibili­ty of being swiftly massacred by the Peo­ple’s Militia. But exactly what did the musi­cians mean when they invoked Smetana’s call for “the resurrection and the future hap­piness and glory of the Czech nation?”

Everyone had a meaning of choice, and the meanings tended to stress themes and goals that went beyond mere nationalism. Mr. Stros, when he talked about politics, favored a Christian Democratic orientation and looked forward to the growth of a good solid Czechoslovak Christian Democratic party. Mr. Bortl, more in tune with the “antipolitical politics” of Václav Havel, felt himself to have gone beyond the conven­tional political ideologies — Christian dem­ocratic, social democratic, conservative, or liberal, not to mention communist. He was postideological. His historical heroes were “humanitarian personalities” like Dvorak and Smetana, or like Czechoslovakia’s pres­ident from earlier in the century, Tomas Masaryk. “Higher spiritual values” was the phrase that sprang from his lips.

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Maestro Neumann, the conductor of that triumphant performance, stressed values that were cultural above all — the ability to speak Czech properly, a knowledge of mu­sic, the sort of education and cultivation that communism had never been able to provide, despite the seductive promises of 40 years ago. And for people whose revolu­tionary thoughts wandered along paths like those, Beethoven — even granted the awk­ward slipperiness in matters of politics­ — was an obvious choice. Beethoven was above nationality or party. He was the com­poser of freedom, of pure idealism, of the transcendental sublime. Plus Beethoven was victory’s natural favorite, and never more than in the last choral movement of the Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy.”

The applause that rose up in response to that performance, the ovation whose exu­berance was so great as to echo in the distant columns of the Times, the ebullient noise of the “jubilant house” — that ap­plause was nothing if not Prague’s shout of victory. It was an ovation for civilization and spiritual values, for freedom, for the notions that sound silly and abstract if someone extols them at a mass rally but are wonderfully lucid at a Beethoven concert.

Of course the ovation was also for the individuals who had managed to embody and express those philosophies and aspirations. It was for the celebrated conductor who had mounted a one-man boycott of state radio. Czechoslovakia’s leading play­wright came on stage. The ovation was for him, too, and for the years he had spent in prison, and for his ad hoc Civic Forum, whose nonideological doctrine of gentleness and tolerance had translated the spiritual impulse into practical action.

The playwright introduced the Civic Fo­rum’s new Foreign Minister, Mr. Dienst­bier, the veteran dissident, who sat in the box of honor. Vigorous applause greeted Mr. Dienstbier and honored him for his own time in jail, and for the new, non­-Soviet foreign policy he would conduct. Well-known émigrés, just back from exile, were introduced to the house. They, too, received a grand ovation.

The ovation was for the audience itself, the faithful music lovers, citizens of the conservatorium of Europe. It was for the chorus. And the ovation was, not least, for the people who sat in concentric rows to the rear of Maestro Neumann under the huge medallion of Hedrich Smetana — the anonymous members of Czechoslovakia’s leading symphony orchestra.

Nearly a hundred musicians gazed out­ward from the stage into the cream-colored cavern of Smetana Hall. Then the Czech Philharmonic, too, “heroes” of “our revo­lution,” the first ensemble in Czechoslova­kia to go on strike, the vanguard of the vanguard — they, too, an orchestra of free musicians, burst into applause. ■

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

1980-1989: Poland Leads Eastern Europe Into the Abyss

The Path of Most Resistance

During the season of its first flower­ing, at the outset of this decade, Halina Bortnowska, one of the foremost theorists of Polish Soli­darity, characterized the move­ment as an expression of the country’s “subjectivity,” by which, she went on to explain, she meant Poland’s renewed ca­pacity for acting “as the subject instead of the object of its history.” The distinc­tion was a fertile one — and perhaps most evocative at a purely grammatical level. Almost continuously for the past two centuries, and certainly throughout the last two generations, Poland, tragically wedged as it was between the German and Russian dynamos, had been forced to receive the actions of other people’s sen­tences, hardly ever being allowed to initi­ate any of her own. Things were done to her, not by her. If, starting in 1980, Po­land recovered her subjectivity, it was precisely through the projections of soli­darity — through the astonishing transfor­mation made possible when 10 million atomized objects began surging as one, demanding as such to be taken into ac­count, indeed to be the ones doing the accounting.

That grammatical formulation in turn helps to clarify what General Jaruzelski and his colleagues were up to with their imposition of martial law, back in De­cember 1981 — they were trying to turn all those pesky renascent subjects back into good little objects once again, just so many passive bricks ready for slotting back into The Wall. The drama of much of Polish history during the rest of the decade came to reside in the contest be­tween those two opposed ambitions: the regime’s relentless repression and civil society’s stubborn resistance. To varying degrees, speeded-up versions of this same drama have been taking place all over Eastern Europe the past few months. If I choose to focus on Poland in these re­marks, it is in part because I know Po­land best, and in part because Poland is out in front, leading the other countries, encountering the difficult and perplexing ironies of victory first. And, indeed, it is one of the most perplexing ironies of Pol­ish society’s recent triumph that that vic­tory may now be opening onto a new atomization, a new objectification.

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WHILE SOLIDARITY, in its first flower, was a decidedly egalitarian phenome­non — its very name tapped into a centu­ry-old reservoir of socialist rhetoric, re­claiming it as its own, demanding in fact that it be made real — the Solidarity that emerged from the half decade of repres­sion is much less selfless, much less com­munitarian, much more individualistic, much more in thrall to the romance of the free market.

In part this transformation is one of desperation — the economic situation, al­ready dire at the outset of this decade, has been rendered all the more calami­tous by the hapless paralysis of the last several years. The zloty is plummeting in value, the country sits poised on the verge of a terrifying hyperinflation. Something drastic clearly has to be done, and classic communistic central planning, as it has been practiced everywhere in Eastern Europe over the past 40 years, has proved itself utterly incapable of fac­ing the challenge; it has caused the chal­lenge; the old model is obviously bank­rupt. Meanwhile, Solidarity’s onetime socialist theoreticians no longer feel they can afford to experiment with such un­proven approaches as worker self-man­agement or decentralized community control. Over and over again, they’ve tak­en to explaining how they feel they have to go with the one system that’s been tested and proven, and that’s the wide-­open free market.

As a result, ironically, Solidarity’s lead­ers are about to launch the country into perhaps the most harrowing macroeco­nomic experiment ever attempted by anyone — a virtually immediate, wholesale shock transition from a centrally planned economy to a vigorously open market. Even the optimists are anticipating at least momentary dislocations for upward of 30 per cent of the country’s workforce, as inefficient, once heavily subsidized in­dustrial behemoths are forced to shut down: the optimists insist that most of those suddenly unemployed will quickly find other, more sensible and more pro­ductive, work. The pessimists aren’t so sure: they anticipate an explosion of worker unrest, the sort of thing they’re seeing over in Bolivia these days.

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THE CRASH PLAN Solidarity will be at­tempting to force through in the weeks ahead is a variation on one first proposed this past summer by Jeffrey Sachs, a bril­liant young Harvard economist who first introduced himself to Solidarity’s parlia­mentarians as, among other things, the man who a few years ago helped bring an end to Bolivia’s horrendous hyperinfla­tion, virtually overnight, through the ap­plication of a similar sort of radical ac­tion plan — combining sudden cutbacks in government subsidies, a balanced budget, stabilization of the currency, privatiza­tion of government-owned monopolies (and, incidentally, suspension of payment on the foreign debt, a twist that has hard­ly endeared Sachs to Western bankers).

A few weeks ago, the Bolivian govern­ment, responding to the growing labor unrest that plan has in the meantime engendered, ended up having to declare a state of siege, and incarcerated over 3000 labor leaders. I called Sachs to ask him what happened. He reminded me that even when he’d first proposed his Boliv­ian plan, he’d told the Bolivians that they lived in an appallingly poor, atrociously unlucky country, one which was further afflicted by hyperinflation, and that all he could promise them was that after they’d instituted his plan, they’d live in an appallingly poor, atrociously unlucky coun­try, one no longer afflicted by hyperinfla­tion. If anything, he went on, their luck had proved even more appalling during the last few years than ever before.

But Poland was different, Sachs as­sured me, Poland had possibilities — if only it could move quickly to stabilize its economy, as difficult as that process might initially be. And how, I asked him, did things seem to be going over there in that regard? “Well,” he said, “they’re inching their way closer and closer to the edge of the diving board, and their knees are trembling.”

The question that comes to mind, of course, is: Is… there… any… water… in the pool? And the answer, frankly, is that no, there is none, at least not at the moment. Even the plan’s proponents in Poland admit as much. They assure their countrymen, however, that the mo­ment they leap, water will start flooding in — that it won’t start flooding in until they do leap, that in effect it will be the leap itself that will provoke the flooding, but that there will be just enough water in the pool by the time they reach the surface to cushion their fall.

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Thus, for example, as quickly as possi­ble, Poland intends to create a stable currency at a unified rate. Today, while it’s true that the average wage in Poland is the equivalent of about $25 a month, it’s also true that subsidies and various currency deformations result in the avail­ability of such things as energy, housing, transportation, and food staples, for zlo­ties (granted, often at the end of long lines), for a fraction of their Western cost. That’s how people survive. Those deformations, however, all but cripple the possibility of profitability for any indige­nous entrepreneurs, let alone for foreign investors. Get rid of those deformations, immediately, and while it is true that coal will suddenly cost the same in Poland as it does in West Germany and Polish sala­ries will not have risen anywhere near enough to make up the difference — still, it can be hoped that the new economic conditions will foster a sudden upsurge in entrepreneurial spirit, both domestic and foreign, and that within a few months, in the nick of time, salaries will start rising fast enough to make it possible for people to live.

That’s the idea. That’s the wager. That’s the experiment. “But really,” Ha­lina Bortnowska, the Solidarity theorist who coined the subject-object distinction almost a decade ago, told me last summer as these ideas were just starting to be bandied about, “we’re not laboratory rats here, and really we’ve had enough of grand experiments.”

But actually Poland is indeed about to revert to being an object once again — this time, the object of a grand economic ex­periment. (“Really,” another theorist commented to me, “economists are too much to the fore these days. It’s like the rabbi and the chicken farmer. You know the story? Chicken farmer goes to the rabbi and says, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi, my chick­ens are all sick,’ and the rabbi says, no problem, just do such and such. Guy comes back the next day and says, ‘Rab­bi, I did exactly like what you said, and, Rabbi, two of the chickens died!’ Oh, says the rabbi, in that case you’d better do this and that. Next day, the guy comes back and five of them have died. Rabbi says, oh, in that case you’d better do this that and the other. Next day the guy comes back and 11 of them have died, so the rabbi offers yet another variation. The next day the guy comes back and says, ‘Rabbi, I did exactly what you said, every single detail, and Rabbi, they’re all dead.’ The rabbi is flabbergasted: ‘All of them?’ he stammers. ‘All of them? Ach, and I had so many more solutions.’ ”)

The point about this specific experi­ment — even assuming it does work — is that it requires that the Poles abandon their earlier solidarity, that they start be­having as atomized, ruthlessly self-inter­ested free-marketeers: each workplace squared off against the next, each indi­vidual squared off against his neighbor, as little government intervention as pos­sible — survival of the fittest. “The Tri­umph of Capitalism.”

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THERE IS NO doubt that some Poles will do well under the new system — perhaps many Poles will. Assuming the experi­ment works, a great deal more wealth will be generated (the old system, in any case, proved woefully incapable of generating any wealth whatsoever). The trouble is, the distribution of wealth across society will become more and more polarized, and many Poles will fall ever farther be­hind. (In capitalism, only the wealthy get to be subjects.)

It is one of the ironies of our age that capitalism appears to be “triumphing” al­most everywhere in the world at the very moment when most of those living under its purview are witnessing, for the first time in several generations, a distinct shrinkage in their own standards of living. Some are getting much richer, but the middle class is being whittled away, and the poor are falling ever farther be­hind. And that’s in the “successful” capi­talisms — Reagan’s America, Thatcher’s Britain. As for the Third World, go ask Brazil or the Philippines or Mexico about the Triumph of Capitalism.

During the past several years it has become fashionable to speak of “real so­cialism” — socialism as it really came to be lived in the world as opposed to how it was supposed to be lived in some ideal­ized simulacrum. But in exactly the same way as one should consider the opera­tions of “real socialism,” one ought to consider those of “real capitalism.” And real capitalism — as a world system — con­sists not just of Germany and Sweden and Japan and the boutiques along Madi­son Avenue; it also consists of Mexico and Brazil and the Philippines and the homeless along Madison Avenue. The latter make the former possible.

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I say this not out of ideological petu­lance. Rather, the question the Poles should be asking themselves at this juncture is what role international capitalism has in mind for them. Are they going to be Sweden (as they so fondly imagine, as they are being invited to imagine), or are they going to be Mexico (a continuous source of cheap labor for the emerging Western European powerhouse, a handy threat that its capitalists will be able to use whenever they need to bludgeon their own uppity workers back into line­ — “Watch out, because we can always just pick up and move our operations to Po­land”)? It might even be better to be Mexico than to be Poland mired in con­tinuing “real socialist” stagnation; cer­tainly it will be for many people. There may, if necessary, be fresh ways of bat­tling out of the terrible contradictions of Third World–style polarization and ex­ploitation — and if there are, the remark­able Poles, if anyone, show promise of finding their way clear to them.

But those are the sorts of issues that lie ahead. (And now, with the simultaneous “openings” in all the other Eastern Euro­pean countries, international capitalism is going to start playing each of them against the others — not only telling indi­vidual Polish workers to accept substan­dard wages and working conditions or else accept unemployment, but also tell­ing all of Poland to accept such ground rules or else Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria or Romania — or the Philippines or Mexi­co or Brazil — certainly will.)

And I just end up wondering how con­cerned Western media are going to be, five years down the line, about the plight of Polish workers laboring, for example, in West German plants in Gdynia or British-owned factories in Lodz, or for indigenous millionaires in Wroclaw and Poznan. What will become of that romance? ■

NEXT…

Strange Angels Flying Into the Next Century
By Laurie Anderson

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From The Archives From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Security THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Washington, D.C.

Annals of the Age of Reagan: Missile Mess in Europe

True Story of the SS-20 and Pershing II

In the last few weeks, some of the larg­est demonstrations in the postwar history of Western Europe have surged through the streets of London, Brussels, Bonn, Rome, Milan, and Paris. With varying em­phasis, they have been directed against the growth of so-called “theater nuclear” weaponry — primarily the U.S.-made Pershing IIs and Cruise missiles to be deployed by NATO, and the SS-20 missile deployed by the Soviet Union. 

Western European fears are not hard to explain. The Reagan administration, rabid on the topic of the Russian threat, has escalated bellicose rhetoric to a level which quite simply terrifies people. Ensuing assertions by the administration that deployment of the new NATO missiles will go hand-in-hand with talks with the Rus­sians on reduction of these and the Soviet missiles seem either specious or ludicrous. 

Reaganite rationale for the Pershing IIs and the Cruise, following the line of the Carter administration — which promulgated the policy — is that something had to be done about the threat posed by the fearsome SS-20s, and that it was in fact Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Ger­many who asked for the new weapons in the first place. In a talk with U.S. journal­ists on October 29, Schmidt denied this, and said Carter had proposed the plan at the Guadeloupe summit in January 1979. 

Whatever the truth of Schmidt’s asser­tion, the proposed deployment of the new missiles threatens his own leadership and has posed enormous problems for NATO, confronted by a peace movement broader by far than the campaigns of the late 1950s. 

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Crisis at Nadiradze
Acres of newsprint in recent years have been covered with spine-shriveling ver­biage about the Soviet SS-20 medium­-range missiles, invoked by U.S. and Western European arms lobbies as the most conspicuous evidence of Soviet de­termination to Finlandize the continent from the Elbe River to the Bay of Biscay, and as a threat which had to be countered. 

But in all the high-minded discussion about the famous SS-20s and the NATO response to them, much essential data has been omitted. 

Arms debates, as conducted by politi­cians, strategists, and the press, invariably ignore an important point: weapons are made by people who want to make money out of them. And if these people have no weapons to make, they will be out of a job. 

Such was the grim prospect faced by at least some of the comrades at the Nadiradze Design Bureau in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, and by their op­posite numbers in the Martin Marietta Corporation in the United States. 

The Nadiradze Design Bureau has, for the last 20 years, been charged with the responsibility for constructing a solid­-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile for the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Soviet Union. Other bureaus in the Soviet Union, such as the Yangel and Cholomei, have been briskly turning out liquid-fueled ICBMs (the SS-11, 17, 18, 19), all of a type abandoned by the U.S. some 20 years ago. 

After herculean efforts, the Nadiradze Bureau finally managed to come up with a prototype for the SS-16 in the mid-’70s. It was not a success. Test-firings, monitored by the U.S., almost invariably went wrong, and the SS-16 never went into production. Glum faces in the comfortable dachas inhabited by Nadiradze bureaucrats and engineers — and in the adjacent dachas inhabited by the generals of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, who had been promised up-to-date missiles of the sort flaunted by the Americans.

From this crisis emerged the SS-20, hailed by Nadiradze salesmen and by U.S. threat-inflaters as super-accurate and terrifyingly MIRVed with up to three warheads. In fact the SS-20 is our old friend, the SS-16, chopped down by a third. The Russians began to deploy it in the late 1970s across the breadth of the Soviet Union, aimed at both the Chinese and NATO hordes.

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…and at Martin Marietta
Meanwhile, in the early 1970s, a crisis rather similar to that afflicting the Nadiradze/Strategic Rocket Forces complex was brewing between the Martin Marietta Corporation, headquartered in Florida, and the U.S. Army. 

By 1970, Martin Marietta was in danger of losing its treasured status as a “prime contractor” for military aerospace items. A prime contractor makes complete systems — a plane, a missile, a ship — thus lording it over humbler accomplices making subsystems: parts. One of the corporation’s more successful recent products had been the Pershing I medium-range nuclear missile, contracted for by the U.S. Army and deployed in Europe. But the days of Pershing I production were ebbing. Martin Marietta was faced with the disaster of no follow-on contract, and the U.S. Army with the prospect of being without an up-to-date nuclear missile and losing the last vestiges of nuclear missile turf to the enemy — the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. 

At the time, there were no plans in NATO to purchase a fresh range of nuclear missiles for deployment in Europe. NATO was amply equipped with nuclear bombs on planes, on the aforementioned Pershing I, and on Polaris submarines. Undeterred by the absence of a policy decision by the NATO powers (and certainly undisturbed by the SS-20 threat, which had yet to be invented by the Nadiradze Bureau), the U.S. Army funded the development of the Pershing II, which, it claimed, would have a longer range than its predecessor and unprecedented accuracy.

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A Blessed Threat
Development of the Pershing II went limping along, to the gratification of the army and Martin Marietta but unbeknownst to all but the most assiduous readers of U.S. military budget statements. No production contracts had been awarded. Then came salvation, with the news that the SS-20 was being deployed. Threatmongers, notably Richard Burt — then at the Institute for Strategic Studies, subsequently defense correspondent for The New York Times, and now a Haig deputy in the State De­partment — and Uwe Nerlich, a West Ger­man defense analyst, began to bewail a NATO “escalation gap” which supposedly had opened up, requiring the deployment of a fresh generation of missiles in Europe. 

Thus, in the face of the dreadful SS-20 threat, began the campaign for installation of Pershing II and Cruise missiles — every­one conveniently forgetting that in the ’60s the U.S. had withdrawn medium-range missiles capable of hitting the Soviet Un­ion from Europe in favor of missiles of equal prowess based on submarines cruis­ing in the North Atlantic and Mediter­ranean. 

The advantage of the Pershing II over the Pershing I is that it will be capable, if deployed, of hitting the Soviet Union — a fact not lost on the Soviets, who are less worried about the slow-moving and wildly inaccurate Cruise than the Pershing II, which can reach their territory in five min­utes. 

NATO proposes to deploy 108 Pershing IIs and 464 ground-launched Cruise mis­siles. The Soviets have about 259 SS-20s deployed in the Soviet Union. 

It goes without saying that both the Pershing II and SS-20 have far fewer technical capabilities than those usually pro­claimed on the printed page. Veterans of Pentagon procurement say that even by the usual relaxed standards, the tests of the Pershing II guidance system were “outrageously faked.” The SS-20, some­times called “highly mobile” but with the relative speed of movement of an oil rig, has also turned out to be much less ac­curate than claimed. 

Today, the collective lunges at self-preservation and profit of the Nadiradze Bureau and Martin Marietta have led to the rebirth of the disarmament lobby and a mass movement in Europe, and the corresponding derogation of NATO. 

The uproar has greatly benefited the Russians. For years, the Soviet Union has been trying to get forward-based tactical nuclear systems included in arms-limita­tion talks. For years, the U.S. has stoutly resisted. Now, under pressure from Western European allies, the U.S. may at last have to enter into serious limitation talks about these very systems. 

If the U.S. decides to abort such talks, the Russians come out ahead once again­ because European disarmament cam­paigns will continue with redoubled force. 

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From The Archives From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Beyond the Tiananmen Massacre

June 13, 1989

The Seeds of Civil War
By James Ridgeway

By yesterday, the battle be­tween the army and the stu­dents had died down, but the battle for control of the Peo­ples’ Liberation Army was just beginning. 

In Beijing, elements of the crack 38th Army, renowned in China for routing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, was believed to have come to the aid of the students. In early skir­mishes, the 38th reportedly engaged units of the 27th Army, the instrument of the Party hierarchy in Saturday’s massacre. An exchange of gunfire was reported in the western suburbs at a military airport, followed later by an attempted assassina­tion of Li Peng. 

In downtown Beijing Tuesday morn­ing, Michael Morrow reported a general strike had shut down the city. Emotions were running high. The people are rebel­lious, defiant, and determined above all to liquidate the 27th Army, now viewed as an army of assassins. “They can kill as many of us as they want,” a resident said, “but they can’t kill us all.” 

The troops of the 27th are skittish, moving along streets in patrols, usually under covering fire. Passport control and airport security are lax at the Beijing airport. Troops (possibly from the 38th) along the road into the city are friendly, and not until visitors reach the down­town does a sense of great tension take hold. 

“You must be careful how you walk in the streets, being careful not to gesture or speak, lest you come under fire,” Morrow said. “People are being killed by stray shots. The people place perhaps undue hope in the 38th, believing that troops loyal to the people of Beijing will arrive to liquidate the 27th.” 

Although sporadic firing could be heard in the streets of the city as well as rumors of firefights between troops from the dif­ferent armies, it was difficult to pin down any actual exchange. Some of the firing may have come from snipers. Visitors and reporters in Beijing found it difficult to move around the city, and watched troop movements through binoculars from their hotel windows. But they were getting their best information on what was going on at a nearby street corner from CNN out of Atlanta. 

To begin to understand the maelstrom of events in Tiananmen Square, one must have some idea of the complex organiza­tion of the Chinese Army. From now on, the outcome of the struggle could depend on the army. 

***

The Chinese armed forces number about three million peasants, no more than a third of whom are in the air force and navy. About half the remainder are regular forces, whose job it is to maintain internal order. The other half are specially trained, heavily armed members of some 40-odd field armies. 

The country is broken down into seven military regions, each one including sev­eral different provinces. The Beijing re­gion, for example, encompasses four provinces. Each region includes several field armies trained to be deployed against foreign invaders. In addition, each region maintains separate and dif­ferently trained troops to maintain inter­nal order, not unlike the state National Guards in the U.S. Finally, there are the local police. 

The Beijing region has the largest con­centration of military forces in the coun­try, including eight different field armies. Among them is the 38th Army, which refused to attack the students during the hunger strike two weeks ago; instead, the soldiers deserted, dropped their guns, or simply burst into tears. Based 40 miles south of Beijing, the 38th is the best-equipped army in the country, forming a strategic reserve in the event of a possible Soviet attack. 

The 38th consists of six divisions total­ing about 60,000 men, including three in­fantry divisions, one tank division, an anti-aircraft division, and an artillery di­vision. The army not only is well­-equipped, but has high morale. 

When the 38th refused to move on the students, Deng traveled to the southern part of the country to recruit military support. During the civil war in the late 1940s, Deng was political commissar to the second of four big front armies, which were deployed in the south after the war. Deng turned to his old comrades for as­sistance in implementing martial law last month, quietly moving their troops north to the capital. In addition, he enlisted the support of commanders of other field ar­mies, apparently including elite units sta­tioned along the Soviet border. These battalions were then dispatched to Beijing and the troops prepped to put down a student revolt. 

On Saturday, June 3, when the troops moved into Beijing, the first units were from the 27th Field Army, whose former commander, Chi Hao Tian, is now head of the general staff of the Liberation Army. The 27th’s current head is Yang. Chin Qu’un. The 27th is intertwined with top party leadership, and very hard-line. It ferociously attacked the students and played a major role in the savagery mounted against them. Following the 27th came the 38th, whose soldiers again refused to fight, and instead shouted, shot into the air, even gave their guns to the students. Appearing next were ele­ments of the 79th Independent Division, a vicious attack force from the coastal city of Jinan, which proceeded to chase down students and civilians, shooting them in the back. The 40th Army, from Shenyang to the northeast, and the 42nd Army, from Canton in the south, were both reportedly deployed in the capital streets. The 42nd was thought to be tak­ing positions in support of the 38th. ■

This article is based on additional report­ing and analysis by Yu Bin, a political scientist from Beijing University now studying in the United States. He served on a divisional planning staff in the 38th Army, and is currently a commentator for the Pacific News Service. 

 

Revolution Without Borders
By Yuen Ying Chan

The Tiananmen massacre has generated a giant wave of pro­tests among Chinese-American communities across the country. Thousands of Chinese students and long-time U.S. residents of Chinese heritage have taken part in demonstrations condemning the regime for premeditated murder and atrocities against its own citizens. Taking their cause to the White House, the steps of Congress, and the United Nations, they have issued an urgent appeal for international support. 

Gone are the pleas for government re­form that dominated student discussion only a week ago. In their place, Chinese studying at American universities (the largest single group of foreign students in the U.S.) openly call for the overthrow of Deng Xiao-ping and Li Peng. “The task is to overthrow the fascist and reaction­ary clique ruling China. This is the agen­da of the day,” said Xia Wen, an organiz­er of student protests in New York.

The New York Chinese community­ — which has always been torn between alle­giance to Beijing or its arch-rival, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan — has come full circle to discover common ground in the politics of their homeland. Since the student protests erupted almost two months ago, New York Chinese newspapers representing opposite politi­cal orientations are suddenly speaking the same language; Chinatown organiza­tions that were suspicious of or antago­nistic to each other in the past now find themselves voicing their indignation in a similar pitch and tone. The selflessness and ultimate martyrdom of the Chinese students have struck a universal chord among Chinese around the world. 

This Friday, thousands of Chinese im­migrants and students will gather at the United Nations and march across town to the Mission of the People’s Republic of China at West 66th Street near Lincoln Center. Billed as the largest Chinese­American demonstration ever, the coffin-­carrying march is expected to include ev­ery part of the Chinese community spectrum — millionaire entrepreneurs and toilers working at below-minimum wage, immigrant mothers and their American-­born daughters, the communist sympa­thizers and the anticommunists, the “up­towners” and the “downtowners” — who will converge in a massive outpouring of anger against the Chinese government. 

“This is your time to do something for China,” said Peter Lee, a protest organiz­er and former Chinatown reporter who quit his job two weeks ago over his pub­lisher’s call for a crackdown on the stu­dents in Beijing. “If you don’t stand up now, you may never stand up for any­thing else in your life.” Chinese students in New York are racing to construct a replica of the “goddess of democracy” crushed in Tiananmen Square for the march, to show that Chinese around the world have taken up the cause. 

Accusing President Bush of a double standard in his human rights policy — his angry and very specific denunciations of rights violations in the Soviet Union con­trast sharply with his guarded warnings to the Chinese leaders he befriended as envoy there in 1974 — has become the vogue since the recent turmoil began. One might as well go for a field day hunting down double standards in Chinatown. 

***

In the face of the monstrous criminal acts committed by the Chinese gov­ernment against its own citizens, the lines between the genuine and the fake in Chinatown have been sub­merged — at least for the time being — by the higher call for freedom and democra­cy. In the past month, the leaders of the Chinese Consoliuated Benevolent Associ­ation, an umbrella organization of 60 family organizations in Chinatown, has become a strong advocate for democracy in the People’s Republic — even though it has maintained a stony, 40-year silence on the military rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan. 

No less ironic is the case of Fred Tang, one of the chief organizers of Friday’s march for justice. As president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, a multimillion-dollar social service agency, ‘Tung oversees a revolving-door cheap la­bor program for the City of New York. In the name of “training,” the CPC, a con­tractor for the city, pays immigrant workers $5 an hour (without medical in­surance or other benefits) for doing reha­bilitation work in rundown neighbor­hoods. The CPC also sets a limit of six months of employment. Prevailing wages for similar work in the general construc­tion industry run between $12 to over $20 per hour. 

Thus, the massive show of strength and unprecedented unity by the Chinese community masks the real contradictions and challenges confronting the city’s Chi­nese-Americans. For the last hundred years, events in China have always had tremendous impact on Chinese commu­nities overseas. “Since Chinese immi­grants were denied the right of natural­ization [until after World War II] and thus effectively disenfranchised from the democratic process, most Chinese in the United States channeled their energy and resources into strengthening China as the only means for achieving full protection and respect from Americans,” said Berkeley professor of Asian-American studies and community activist Ling-chi Wang. 

It wasn’t until the tail end of the civil rights and antiwar protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Chinese began to fight for equal rights in this country. In the past few years, with the easing of tensions between Taiwan and the main­land, divisions based on loyalties to the motherland seemed to give way to healthy disputes over local Chinatown is­sues like city politics and school board elections. 

But against the backdrop of the epoch­al tragedy in China, issues such as the city’s charter revision or minimum wage enforcement in Chinatown seem mun­dane. Yet it is precisely these concerns that would empower the Chinese-Ameri­can community. After all, the most far-­reaching impact of the events in China will be in matters of daily survival, such as jobs, housing, and education for one’s children. 

Already, residents of Hong Kong, due to return to China in 1997, are talking in hushed voices of massive emigration to any country in the world that might take them. Many Hong Kong students here, who were undecided over whether to re­turn or make a career in the U.S. just one week ago, have received midnight phone calls from panicked parents at home. The messages are all similarly direct: “By all means, stay. Find a way to get residence papers. You are now the hope of the whole family.” 

Dick Netzer, senior fellow at New York University’s Urban Research Center, says that if Hong Kong is persuaded that things will really be “bad” after the Chi­nese takeover in 1997, “an enormous wave of immigration from Hong Kong could be triggered very quickly.” He esti­mates that perhaps one million people would emigrate, of whom 300,000 to 400,000 could settle in the New York re­gion. It can hardly be disputed that events of the past week in China would meet the “really bad” criterion.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the recent tragic events in China will act as an explosive push factor in the global Chinese diaspora. Statistics from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services between 1983 to 1987 showed that Manhattan’s Chinatown had attract­ed the largest number of Chinese immi­grants (mostly from the mainland and Hong Kong), while the more affluent im­migrants from ‘Thiwan prefer Chinese neighborhoods in Queens. An influx of legal or illegal immigrants will put addi­tional strains on housing, the schools, and social services in the area. 

At the same time, one cannot expect the new money pouring in from the other side of the Pacific to filter down to the bottom of the community. Indeed, past experience has shown that the new riches have in fact created a community polar­ized between the haves and the have­nots. Real estate in Chinatown is such a high-stakes game now that local brokers admit that, increasingly, only the trans­national consortiums with big cash and “staying power” can manage to buy. A local store owner cannot even dream of buying a modest building in the neighbor­hood in case his lease expires. 

Already, the influx of money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest of Southeast Asia is drastically changing the face of Manhattan’s Chinatown. In 1984, the BCC building on Canal Street became the first dilapidated factory loft building to be converted into a modern office com­plex on the Canal Street corridor. Now at least eight more major factory buildings within the 12-block area around the La­fayette-Canal intersection have under­gone similar conversions, with another seven targeted to go. Along Canal Street, squalid, century-old brick outer walls are giving way to glittering glass facades, and their tenants, mostly immigrant women who work at Juki sewing machines, are being replaced by young pin-striped Chi­nese yuppies (called Chuppies) who sit at computer terminals. A Chinese developer pointed out with glee that the center of Chinatown is shifting from good old Mott Street to Lafayette and Canal, where in­vestors have found good housing stock, better access to the subways, and room to grow towards Soho, Tribeca, and the City Hall area. 

In other parts of Chinatown, new con­struction is booming. Chinese developers, many in partnership with Hong Kong investors, are rushing to build on any empty lot they can lay their hands on. Learning from their defeat in a mid-’80s zoning battle that effectively killed the city’s plan to give luxury high-rises a free ride in Chinatown, developers are build­ing “as-of-right” to avoid the hassle of seeking variances or community approv­al. The slogan of the industry now is to build and build fast. The new construc­tion is for the upper-middle class never­theless, selling at $300-350 per square foot, and the Hong Kong gentry are a prime marketing target. Working people who cannot afford the high prices of these condominiums have no choice but to double up in crumbling Chinatown railroad flats or move to Ridgewood, Sun­set Park, and the few remaining afford­able neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. 

Even before the massacre, major banks from the colony had already landed in New York in a big way, in part to provide a more convenient conduit for the ex­pected influx of money in 1997. At least two premier Hong Kong banks are plan­ning major expansions in New York’s Chinatown. The Bank of East Asia, which is owned by the most affluent and influential Chinese elite in Hong Kong, has just moved from its Fifth Avenue offices downtown to Mott Street and in­stalled a full-service branch. And if all goes according to plan, East Asia will have the distinct honor of being the only bank in Chinatown housed in new, cus­tom-designed headquarters at Canal and Mulberry, the heart of old Chinatown, by early 1991. The new bank, estimated to cost $10 million, will replace the loft building now standing at the site, which the bank bought for $5.5 million in 1986, a bargain in retrospect. 

Not to be outdone, the Hang Seng Bank, the leading consumer bank in Hong Kong, is completing its rehab of the five-story cast-iron building on Canal Street that it bought for $7 million last year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bank, the de facto central bank of Hong Kong (which has nine branches in New York), recently switched its advertising agency and is launching a new market campaign. 

Canal Street now boasts eight bank branches within a 10-block area. On the other side of Chinatown, East Broadway, with another nine banks, competes with Canal for the title of the “Chinatown Wall Street.” And the banks are still roll­ing in — two more branches are currently under renovation on East Broadway. 

The construction boom has not given Chinese immigrants, among whom skilled construction workers number in the hundreds, a chance to enter New York con­struction unions. In major construction work in Chinatown, elite plumbing and electrical jobs remain in the hands of mostly white union workers. When Chi­nese workers are lucky enough to be hired, they can only expect to work at wage scales far below those prevailing in the industry as a whole without benefits or job security. Just last year, an undocu­mented Chinese worker from Malaysia was killed in a Queens house under reno­vation when slabs of concrete collapsed from the ceiling. The Chinese employer boldly announced that the unfortunate victim was “just a visitor” who happened to be there, looking for work. 

Such inequities render the cheap labor program run by the Chinese-American Planning Council even more repugnant. Is there a link between the real estate industry and the CPC, which operates a separate Local Development Corporation and has publicly stated its interest in sharing the city’s $500 million in public housing money? By staunchly defending its practice of paying $5 an hour for con­struction jobs, CPC institutionalizes cheap labor and does a service for real estate interests — and tries to give coolie labor a good name. 

Only two weeks ago, a protest against martial law at the Chinese consulate in Washington, D.C.­ — attended by 3000 Chinese stu­dents from across the eastern seaboard — had an almost surrealist air as the students marched under fluttering red flags in this belly of the beast of capitalism. Over and over, the marchers sang the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China and the Internation­ale, the battle hymn of international communism. 

This past Sunday, the day after the massacre, a march by many of the same students in New York City took on a decidedly different mood. Mourning the dead in Tiananmen, angry students with black arm bands carried wreaths and wore white paper flowers pinned to their chests. The red flags and cries of “Arise, ye prisoners of starvation…” are gone. 

Gone too was the national anthem, a song written in the first years of the Chinese Communist Party. But at the same time, isolated shouts of “Down with communism!” seemed to receive little support. 

One can only surmise that the shift of symbols signifies a profound soul-search­ing among these young democrats of the republic. The problem they face is noth­ing less than the viability of world com­munism itself. 

As chants of “Down with the fascist clique” roared through the crowd and re­ports on the mounting toll in Beijing were circulated, Xia Wen, a doctoral stu­dent in sociology at Columbia, said, “It’s irrelevant to count the dead now. The important thing is that we are continuing the struggle. China will not be the same China, and the people will no longer be the same people.”

That determined optimism is shared by Ming Ruan, a deputy director of the theoretical office of the Chinese Commu­nist Party Cadre School until he was purged from the party in 1982. “The fas­cist ruling group is unable to control the situation with their reign of terror. The people are more angry than scared by the bloodshed. And they are still defiant and fighting. The days of the hardliners are numbered.”

Ming now believes that it is not enough to change the party’s political line. Chi­na’s governing institutions must also un­dergo fundamental reform to introduce freedom of the press and checks and bal­ances.

“This is a transition point for the Chi­nese people and a new beginning,” Ming said. “Today’s winners are bringing their own demise, and will be tomorrow’s losers.”

 

It All Started With Jan & Dean
A Chronology

The student movement in China didn’t begin with the hunger strikes last month. James Ridgeway pieced together the following account, drawing statements made by students and professors from Orville Schell’s recent book, Discos and Democ­racy. Schell recorded these texts during numerous trips to China over the last two decades.

In December 1978, Chinese students began to express themselves for the first time since the Cultural Revolu­tion, and their elderly leaders found it to their advantage to appear to support dissent. At the time the pro­tests were limited to putting up posters on a street wall, called Democracy Wall, in downtown Beijing. “Democracy Wall is good,” Deng told visiting journal­ist Robert Novak.

Among the famous posters was “De­mocracy: The Fifth Modernization,” written by Wei Jingsheng, a young for­mer solider who worked as an electrician at the Beijing zoo. It was sharply critical of Deng’s modernization efforts: “Do the people enjoy democracy nowadays?” Wei Jingsheng wrote. “No! Is it that the peo­ple do not want to be their own masters? Of course they do. This was the very the Nationalist Party… The slogan of ‘people’s democracy’ was replaced by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ making a very small percentage of the hundreds of millions of people the leaders. But even this was cancelled, and the despotism of the Great Helmsman took over. Then came another promise. Because our Great Leader was just so great, we arrived at the superstitious belief that a great leader could bring the people far more happiness than democracy could. Up until now, the people have been forced time and time again, against their will, to accept ‘promises.’ But are they happy? Are they prosperous? We cannot hide the fact that we are more restricted, more unhappy, and the society is more backward than ever…

“If the Chinese people wish to modern­ize, they must first establish democracy and they must first modernize China ‘s social system. Democracy is not a mere consequence, a certain stage in the devel­opment of society. It is the condition on which the survival of productive forces depends… Without democracy, society would sink into stagnation and economic growth would encounter insuperable obstacles.”

In the autumn of 1979, Wei was brought to trial on charges of leaking military intelligence on China ‘s war with Vietnam and “openly agitating for the overthrow of the government of the dic­tatorship of the proletariat and the so­cialist system in China.” He was convict­ed and sentenced to 15 years in a Beijing jail, where Amnesty International report­ed he died.

***

Among the main supporters of the student movement was Fang Lizhi, vice-president of the university in Hefei, where early protests broke out in the fall of 1986. In November of that year, Fang Lizhi gave a speech at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“We now have a strong sense of urgen­cy about achieving modernization in Chi­na,” he said. “Chinese intellectual life, material civilization, moral fiber, and government are in dire straits… The truth is, every aspect of the Chinese world needs to be modernized… As for myself, I think all-around openness is the only way to modernize. I believe in such a thorough and comprehensive liberaliza­tion because Chinese culture is not just backward in a particular respect but primitive in an overall sense… And frankly, I feel we lag behind because the decades of socialist experimentation since Liberation have been — well, a failure! This is not just my opinion; it is clear for all to see. Socialism is at a low ebb. There is no getting around the fact that no socialist state in the post-World War II era has been successful, nor has our own 30-odd-year-long socialist experi­ment… I am here to tell you that the socialist movement from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong has been a failure…

“Clearing our minds of all Marxist dog­ma is the first step… We must remold our society by absorbing influences from all cultures. What we must not do is isolate ourselves and allow our conceit to convince us that we alone are correct…

“The critical component of the demo­cratic agenda is human rights. Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consid­er these rights dangerous. Although hu­man rights are universal and concrete, we Chinese lump freedom, equality, and brotherhood together with capitalism and criticize them all in the same terms. If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere, but at present they are noth­ing more than an abstract idea [enthusi­astic applause].

“I feel that the first step toward de­mocratization has come to mean some­thing performed by superiors on inferi­ors — a serious misunderstanding of democracy. Our government cannot give us democracy by loosening our bonds a bit. This gives us only enough freedom to writhe a little [enthusiastic applause]. Freedom by decree is not fit to be called democracy, because it fails to provide the most basic human rights… In a demo­cratic nation, democracy flows from the individual, and the government has re­sponsibilities toward him… Science should be allowed to develop according to its own principles, free of any ideological straitjacket… The products of scientific knowledge should be appraised by scien­tific standards. We should not be swayed by the winds of power. Only then can we modernize, and only then will we have real democracy.”

***

Almost simultaneous with the pro­tests at Hefei, students in Shang­hai took to the streets. The first wave of protests followed the ap­pearance of the American surf rockers Jan and Dean in November and December 1986. In Shanghai, the pro­tests brought downtown to a virtual halt for four days.

One Shanghai handout, an “Open Let­ter to All Fellow Citizens,” said, “Be­tween the past and the future, there is only the present. We cannot rewrite his­tory, but we can change the present and create the future. In the face of the reali­ty of poverty and autocracy, we can en­dure. However, we cannot just allow our children to grow up abnormally in shack­les and in the absence of freedom, democ­racy, and human rights. We cannot just allow them to feel poor and abused when standing together with foreign children. Fellow citizens, please understand! Bu­reaucracy, obscurantism, and the lack of democracy and human rights are the roots of backwardness.”

At People’s Park in downtown Shang­hai, a political science student addressed the crowd: “So long as there is one-party domination and no rule of law, the enter­prise of liberation is not finished.” He ended by saying he would shed blood “for the early achievement of real democracy in China.”

***

Soon after the student demonstra­tions abated in Shanghai, they broke out in Beijing. Students de­manded a debate with university officials over democratization, and soon marched into the streets chanting such slogans as “Long live freedom and human rights ” and proclaiming solidarity with their fellow students in Shanghai. A small group broke away to march on Tiananmen Square, but were turned back by the police. As the days went by and the students continued to march in Beijing, the demonstrations spread to at least 11 other cities. Alarmed, the government took steps to ban demonstrations.

But the students were determined, and before dawn on December 29, 1986, stu­dents marched from Beijing Teahers’ University to Beijing University, shout­ing, “We want freedom.” More wall post­ers went up. Some were exhortations: “Beijing University comrades: The cir­cumstances for democracy are ripe. Raise your hands in an iron fist. What we must now do is act like heroes.”

Others were sarcastic: “…In the United States there is the false freedom to support or not to support the Commu­nist Party. In our country we have the genuine freedom of having to support the Communist Party. In the United States there is the false freedom of the press. In our country we have the genuine freedom of no freedom of the press.”

On New Year’s morning, several thou­sand students began a march on Tianan­men Square. A few got through security lines. Most of them, turned away by po­lice, dissipated.

By the end of 1986, student demonstra­tions had engulfed more than 150 univer­sity campuses in 20 cities across China, representing the largest mass movement in the country since the Cultural Revolution.

In interviews the protesting Chinese students have never been especially spe­cific about what they mean by democra­cy. Perhaps two Shanghai wall posters in the winter of 1986 came close:

“I have a dream, a dream of freedom. I have a dream of democracy. I have a dream of life endowed with human rights. May the day come when all these are more than dreams.

“When will the people be in charge?” ■

 

 

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Cannes CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES

Music, Madness, and Memory at Cannes, Part Two: “Cold War,” “Sorry Angel,” and the Mysteries of Love

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War begins with close-ups of folk musicians loudly playing for the camera — a curiously in-your-face way to start such a carefully modulated film of shimmering, classical precision; it’s as if Casablanca had kicked things off with a raucous gypsy band. But this opening also presents a subtle clue to reading the rest of Pawlikowski’s picture. Narratively, the music in Cold War is a means to an end; emotionally, however, it’s everything, often expressing what the characters cannot say themselves.

Something similar could be said for a number of films to premiere in the first half of this year’s festival. As I noted in my review of Gaspar Noe’s remarkable Climax, over and over on Cannes screens, it seems, we’re watching the elaborate dance between music and memory, between emotion and containment, between personal desire and social transformation. One film from the opening days that I missed, Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto (Summer), is a straight-up musical biopic about Viktor Tsoi, the underground Soviet rock icon who had a seismic impact on the country’s youth culture in the early 1980s. (Serebrennikov himself isn’t here; he’s still under house arrest in Russia. His previous film, The Student, which is excellent, is currently available on iTunes; you should see it.)

Pawlikowski’s film also looks at the tension between artists and the state under Communism, though it reaches back a bit further. Cold War begins in 1949, as Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), an urbane, educated musician, travels the Polish countryside with colleagues, putting together a folk ensemble. During auditions, he meets Zula (Joanna Kulig), a provincial girl with a striking voice and a no-bullshit attitude. We’re told that she was imprisoned for stabbing her father; as she explains it, “He mistook me for my mother, and I used a knife to show him the difference.”

Soon, Wiktor and Zula are entangled with each other. But there’s a sublimated quality to their passion: She is preternaturally calm in his presence, while his intent, seductive glances rarely edge into outward emotion. This is, after all, Communist Poland, and sincere feelings, one suspects, are best kept under the surface. As the years pass, and their relationship becomes ever more complicated, music becomes Wiktor and Zula’s bond — an emotional space they’ve created in which they’re able, to some extent, to be themselves. (Late in the film, Wiktor refers to an album they’ve recorded as their “child.”)

The music does the feeling for them — and the music, like their relationship, changes. We have folk chorals that speak of lost loves, sweetly wounded jazz twinkling in French cafés, and the furious, overpowering charge of rock ’n’ roll. The one point in the film where both the camera and the characters let loose, in a frenzy of whipsawing, handheld close-ups, is a sequence in a nightclub playing “Rock Around the Clock” — as a drunken, embittered Zula, frustrated that Wiktor has lost interest in her, throws herself at other men on the dance floor.

The “cold war” of the title may refer to more than the geopolitical struggles of the twentieth century. Wiktor and Zula’s relationship is a war of sorts as well — one in which they battle each other and the world. Pawlikowski refuses to establish the couple’s passion early on, the way a more typical love story might. Instead, he lets us discover it, gradually. In fact, this may be something more than mere love: It’s a compulsion, a codependence, a mutual assured self-destruction. The more we see this relationship, the more its mystery grows. That is the profound, beguiling truth with which Cold War ultimately leaves us.

That kind of romantic ambiguity works wonders in Cold War. It is less successful in Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel, a decidedly more mixed bag. In previous films like Love Songs and Beloved, Honoré found a way to pay homage to the classic French musical while pushing it in new directions — creating moody, understated romantic roundelays in which the songs served not as showstopping numbers but as recitativo connections between the stories’ emotional peaks. Sorry Angel is not a musical, but at times it feels like it wants to be; I was ready at several moments for characters to burst into song. They do, however, play songs to express themselves, and at times a casual dance might crystallize a relationship dynamic. Honoré still has the soul of a maker of musicals, even if he does seem to be trying to break free of his former style.

Sorry Angel takes place in the early 1990s, and follows the burgeoning romance between Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps), a 36-year-old gay author fond of meaningless sexual encounters, who falls for Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), a young, idealistic student living in Brittany. As in Cold War, the relationship unfolds casually; it’s not a great, passionate love affair, at least not at first. Jacques may be in his late thirties, but he’s got the soul of a child — irresponsible, petulant, fragile. Arthur, by contrast, mixes a young man’s wide-eyed wonder about the world beyond with a refined wariness: Early on, a girlfriend asks him to spend the night with her; he replies that she doesn’t have any books. This young man has standards.

Honoré’s scenes feel at once composed and curiously mundane, as if he’s trying to take the precision of his earlier work and mix it with a more realist impulse — or, if we’re being less charitable, as if he’s trying to will his aesthetic into something more “mature.” This occasionally does pay dividends: Sorry Angel is filled with moments of genuine, lived-in tenderness. Ironically, they often involve secondary characters in the film: Jacques’s upstairs neighbor Mathieu (Denis Podalydès), a newspaper journalist whose relationship with him seems to alternate between avuncular concern and domestic ease, or Thierry, a former flame of Jacques’s with AIDS who has nowhere to go, and whose grim, dying presence serves as an existential warning sign for Jacques.

This uneasy stylistic blend lends a disjointed quality to the film that prevents it from fully coming alive as we lurch from incident to incident. As a result, the main relationship between Jacques and Arthur feels curiously inert. In some ways, I’m happy to see Honoré trying to move out of his comfort zone and expand his palette. But it’s also hard not to feel like something has been lost. Watching Sorry Angel, I found myself longing for the dreamy melancholy of Beloved, Love Songs, or Dans Paris.

 

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