The End of the Economic Miracle

Within five years our economy will reach the level of Austria!, shouted the man with the tannoy. I was beside myself with joy, and so were the crowds around me. It was on a freezing November day, I was thirteen years old and the man was Milan Kňažko, actor, people’s tribune and one of the leaders of Slovakia’’s democratic opposition. For many inhabitants of Bratislava, a city just 60 kilometres from Vienna, the non-aligned neighbour Austria was a model, a dream country, an idyllic world of make-believe, a way out of the isolated prison of their really existing socialism. The […]

Inhumanity Is Part of Human Nature / Part II.

Jean-Paul Sartre once shocked the reading public by making the paradoxical claim that the French had never been as free as during the German occupation. It was, he claimed, only a seeming paradox since one gets trapped by free choice that disguises necessity – and for the French were deprived of the temptation of this trap by the German occupiers who left them no choice. And if the French were left with no choice, the same applies to the Poles a hundred times more so! After all, some of the German satraps tried to woo the French, promising them a […]

The Gift of Freedom

  I don’’t remember much in detail from those days. I forget how much I had to pay for a tram ticket or how much bread used to cost. However, what I remember perfectly well is that, as staff member of Gdańsk University, I was earning more or less the equivalent of 17 US dollars. My wife, our young son and I shared one tiny room. Only after they went to bed did I turn on the TV to watch the Round Table negotiations – or rather, a summary of them. I remember committees, sub-committees, discussions. I remember faces – […]

A Peaceless Democracy

Hungarian democracy is in crisis. It is in crisis is because it lives in fear said political thinker István Bibó (1911 – 1979) in the summer of 1945. His aphoristic diagnosis alluded to two dangers: that of a restoration of the authoritarian pre-war regime and of the imposition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The second threat proved to be more real, not surprisingly, given the presence of the Soviet army in the country and the free world’’s acceptance of the post-Yalta world order. A few years later the Moscow-controlled communist party did away with the short-lived parliamentary democracy and […]