In Prague: Sadness and Uncertainty, Joy and Hope

Editor's Note: Jaromir (Mirek) Matousek is a Czechoslovakian citizen and college chum of Monitor theater critic, John Beaufort. They have corresponded since the end of World War II, and the following is Mr. Matousek's first letter from a free Czechoslovakia. DEAR JOHNNY, We keep living in an extraordinary time. Each day reveals something new about destructive consequences from four decades of communist totalitarianism, a flood of current events reflected in daily press, radio, and TV is difficult to overcome. Sadness and uncertainty, joy and hope. The 40-year-long communist rule has devastated the country both materially and morally. I don't doubt about the nation's resurrection, but how long will it take?

The communist regime has taught people - especially the young generation born after World War II - to cheat, pretend, to shirk one's duty (thus to live at the state's expense), and to prefer the materialistic way of life.

With such a background, how will they accept a market economy? What great losses communism has done to Czechoslovakia - once called ``the island of democracy,'' i.e., a country of decency! Speaking of sad heritage of communist political monopoly, I don't despair, of course. The sound core has survived, no doubt, and I am sure that a free-market economic system as the best remedy will help us take up again a proper place among free states....

The joy I mentioned above is mostly derived from the return of liberty with its numerous beneficial consequences. Czechoslovakia has returned to Europe and the world again. After decades of suppressed initiative, [President Vaclav] Havel and his team are busy 18 hours a day to help heal wounds the state suffered under irresponsible and selfish communist rule. Havel travels abroad and receives important guests and heads of state in Prague again. Just today, West German President Richard von Weizs"acker is having talks with him at Hradcany Castle (on the very day of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia 51 years ago - Havel likes symbols), then Havel goes to Paris to Mr. Mitterrand, and to London to meet Mrs. Thatcher and the Queen; on April 21-22, Pope John Paul II is coming to Czechoslovakia.

In the meantime, economic and financial experts from the US, Great Britain, Switzerland, and other countries have been coming to Prague as well to study how to rebuild best the up to now centrally controlled economic system into a market economy. Deprived of its monopoly, the Communist Party is in defensive; its members, however, are still holding important positions, not willing to lose them. That's the element of uncertainty delaying the necessary progress toward a normal democracy. Nothing can be done, however - it is one of the prices paid for the ``velvet'' revolution. First the free parliamentary elections set for June 8 (and June 9, respectively) are going to resolve the situation. Legally, democratically.

Thanks for your feeling an intense personal emotion with events in Czechoslovakia. Despite the fact that for decades we were not able to correspond openly, I have always felt your sympathy with mine and the majority of the nation's lot under communist domination. As I had written already in my previous letter, I took part in a number of huge demonstrations, especially those in Wenceslas Square. Unfortunately, I was never close enough to TV cameras to enable you thus to see me.

Numerous and fast-moving events make it impossible to follow them. Out of the town, standing in shadow, Prague begins to flourish into the previously vital ``Heart of Europe.'' (I don't like the Western press to put us in a row with ``East'' European countries. Just like Germany, we have always been a ``Central'' European state and anation with clear cultural ties with the West down our whole history.)

I read daily press. In contradistinction to recent weeks it's worthwhile to read it entirely - but how much time it takes - - and try not to miss the evening transmissions of the Voice of America (which brings me daily to Washington, D.C.), and then our local news on TV. ... Sometimes we go to the cinema - last week we saw Milos Forman's ``One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'' with Jack Nicholson. More American films are shown here again as well as the Czech ones previously not allowed under communists....

I greet you and Francesca most sincerely from liberated Czechoslovakia. Pleasant spring to you both.

As ever, Mirek

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