September 23, 2015
Guest blog post from Jakub Tlolka, postgraduate student of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
I was born in a country which no longer exists. So, too, were my parents, and their parents before them. I was born in post-revolutionary Czechoslovakia some time before the dissolution of 1993. My parents were born in Communist Czechoslovakia some time before the invasion of 1968, and my grandparents were born in democratic Czechoslovakia some time before the outbreak of the Second World War. Three generations have seen the curtain fall over three different establishments. There has been applause, and there has been silence.
I am inclined to believe that, if I ever have children in Central Europe, they, too, will have been born in transitional times; that they, too, will have first witnessed their immediate world on the eve of another convergence of historical circumstances. That appears to be the fate of our region. We build on seismic grounds, and every so often, a violent tremor rattles the foundations of our Sisyphean monuments and mutilates the landscape. All we can do then is scavenge the debris for a souvenir of our recent past. When we next fall victim to the vicissitudes of history, we will remember.
I have always thought that memory is essential to maintaining one’s moral integrity. Not because we should remember in order to distinguish right from wrong, but rather because we should remember that, more often than not, right and wrong are not easily distinguishable, and that our failure to make the distinction at the appropriate time does not make us any less human. If anything, it makes us more so.
I have long thought that in Central Europe, we perhaps remember with greater urgency; that, in a sense, we have a cultural duty to remember. Yes, we have often found ourselves sifting through rubble, but we could always recall how the edifice once cast its shadows over the landscape. We could all remember hearing as it came crashing down. And whether we had wept or rejoiced, we could never quite shake the rumbling out of our heads. This is what I have thought for a long time.
These days, however, my thoughts are divided, for it seems that we’ve become forgetful. As we are witnessing an exodus outside our threshold, some of us are sealing their doors, while others are hoping to force the same doors open. Some of us want desperately to be on the right side of history, while others want desperately to steer clear of the wrong side. Where making history is concerned, momentary passions always trump memory, and the distinction between right and wrong always seems more transparent than it actually is. And so, once more, the tectonic plates beneath our fragile social edifice tremble ominously.
I do not know how history will judge our current policies. However, I suspect that many people now passing our threshold were born in countries which, for all we know, will either cease to exist or become different than they remember. In all likelihood, most will not return to their countries to confirm my suspicion. For most, only a memory will remain.
Not long ago, many Central Europeans were in a similar situation. Some were guarding the very borders that others were attempting to cross. We therefore owe it to ourselves to remember. But let us be cautious not to legislate our memory, lest we should thus trivialise right and wrong.
I would like to think that I will remember what my country has been, both for my own sake and for the sake of posterity. And I would like to think that others, too, won’t forget. But I may be wrong. And perhaps, and I hesitate to say this, you simply cannot resuscitate a forgetful mind.Blogactiv Team