Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eduard Goldstücker and the Prague Spring

en:Liberec Townhall, Memorial to victims from ...Image via Wikipedia

As the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia approaches on 21 August, one wonders what the political map of Europe would look like, had the Prague Spring reforms been allowed to reach fruition.

Among the proposed reforms in the Action Programme of April, 1968 were freedom of expression, a federalised system, secret ballots, term limits and a sharing of power by the Communist Party. An Extraordinary Party Congress, set for 9 September of that year, would have debated the plan but this was pre-empted by the Soviet-led invasion, which toppled party secretary Alexander Dubček and crushed the Prague Spring. The reforms lay in tatters, leaving one to ponder what this democratic socialist state would have looked like.

Eduard Goldstücker, who had been a member of the Czech National Council, was one of the architects of the reforms. In an interview conducted on 16 August 1988 in London during his exile, he discussed his hopes for the Prague Spring and the promise it offered.

What political system did you envisage and what difficulties did you foresee?

We did not have at that time in mind the creation of a multi-party system on Western models, because our society in 1968 was completely different from western societies and we tried to create a participatory system, a democratic system on the basis of the society as it was, namely on the basis of the freedom to voice and to defend group interests and to harmonise these interests. That was an attempt. Whether that is possible at all or not is inconclusive, so far--whether it is possible to create a system which is democratic but in which one party has the leading role.

Would that be your ideal system?

In that stage in which we were that was the necessary step. Where that would have led we don't know and we will never know.

Wasn't the leadership thinking about it?

Of course they were. The key lies in the change of the Communist Party's position vis-a-vis society, that the Communist Party should give up its position as a mentor of society, ordering society. I called it a command system. The Stalinist system is a system in which society is being commanded as if it were an army unit on permanent alert or in battle conditions. There is the commander--Stalin or Little Stalin--who commands and says to every citizen, "You must do that and you are forbidden to do that". The Action Programme contains very important proposals of changing the Communist Party's position in society. They were not presented because the congress did not take place. They were taken out secretly after the invasion.

What kind of leader was Alexander Dubček?

The Stalinist system does not have a set-down order of succession and does not educate successors. The successors are chosen from those who there are at the moment. When [party leader Antonin] Novotný was deposed, there were various thoughts but Dubček emerged at the end of that discussion, and he was, under the given conditions, the best candidate and he really became that symbol of the great movement of democratisation which he is until today, in the eyes of many people.

For me, Dubček became characteristic... I was one of the vice-rectors of Prague University and as soon as he was elected I wrote a letter congratulating him and expressing our satisfaction that at last something is happening. And he immediately invited us for a talk and received us in his office and in the conversation--he was the first high party official able to poke fun at himself, to be ironic toward himself.


He said, "Oh, you see, I am here only by chance. And I know it. See, those who were here before me were trying to persuade you all the time how much you need them. As long as I will be here, I'll try to persuade you that I need you more than you need me." That was the difference. Then he appeared on television after all those heroical, triumphant people of steel and so on--a man, an ordinary citizen with a long nose, with spectacles which slipped on his long nose all the time, who read his speech and misread every fifth word and had to repeat it, a human man, like us. Everybody could identify with him. And he brought something which allowed people to take a deep breath and think, "At last, something decent is returning to our lives."

Image: courtesy of Rawac, Wikipedia

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Angelina Maccarone interview

Angelina Maccarone at LLGFF; photo by Christa HolkaPhoto: Christa Holka

Showing at the BFI next week is Angelina Maccarone's nerve-wracking drama, Unveiled, about an Iranian woman disguising herself as a man in order to stay in Germany.

A prolific director, currently, Maccarone has two films in development but is taking a bit of a break after a period of intense activity, with five films in three years.

The German-Italian director's latest work, Vivere, featuring three women and three interlocking stories, closed this year's London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which is where we spoke.

Who is the audience for your films? Arty? Queer? German? International? Do you think about that when you write the screenplay?

No, I think it's bad to think about who is my audience and try to write for a certain audience because it's always a bit vague, I think. In the first place I write stories that I would like to see and I'm interested also in international films and projects and art and whatever, and I have [had] the experience that my films travel quite well.

Regarding themes in your work, I have written down here: foreigners, relationships, travel. What would you say are themes in your work?

Yeah, I think you're right and crossing borders is always important. Also for me to think about things I would like to explore and meine Grenzen erweitern: to push the borders.

And feeling an alienation or feeling like an alien. When you mention foreigners, yeah, I think that this experience was very important for me when I grew up because I was not really German [laughs].

Could you speak about that? I'm just wondering because one of the last films I saw was Auf der Anderen Seite [directed by Fatih Akin]. Is there a kind of emerging cinema in Germany, with people from multicultural backgrounds bringing that into their work?

Yeah, the representation has changed, in that people who are second or third generation make their own films and not just appear in films, but I think it's still very complicated in Germany. The representation is more in the hands of people who have the experience of being actually second generation, but this doesn't mean that you are always telling the story about yourself and there are many traps because everybody is watching you when you do this and you touch upon ground that is not touched upon.... It is not that we are [a] happy big community. I know Fatih and I like him but it's not that we meet.

Talking about subjects in my films, I think the need or the wish, or the longing to belong, is one of the strongest subjects and the paradox is, on the other hand, not wanting to belong and not wanting to fulfill the expectations that a group might have.

You said you felt like an alien growing up.

Maybe I still feel like an alien [laughs]. I think it's very strange, this life on this planet.

Unveiled plays at the BFI in London on 12 and 17 August.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

X-Ray Spex Reunion

Continuing the unstoppable propensity of reunions, legendary punks X-Ray Spex have re-formed for one gig in September.

After a number of years out of the limelight, frontwoman Poly Styrene has been popping up of late, appearing in Zillah Minx's film, She's a Punk Rocker UK. She also made a cameo appearance at the Love Music, Hate Racism event in the spring, having played at the first Victoria Park event 30 years ago.

Last week she appeared on a UK radio station for an interview, which was a bit of a letdown, because the presenter insisted on focussing on the most idiotic of topics: gobbing and braces. Please.

The woman is a gifted lyricist, with trenchant observations about consumerism and identity that were decades ahead of their time, and he wants to talk about gobbing. Clod. She dealt with it in a dignified manner but it must be irritating to talk about such teen-era trivia.

I'd like to know what she's been doing all these years. There was a brief solo career in the '80s and an abortive band reunion in the mid-90s, which produced the album Conscious Consumer. And she joined the Hare Krishna movement, but it wasn't clear from the interview whether she is still a member.

The gig seems to be a one-off, a testing of the waters to see if there is an appetite for more. There is a lot of rehearsal planned and she promised an intense and tight live show. It's not clear who the band personnel are, but I'd quite like to see Lora Logic in there. Here's hoping.

X-Ray Spex play The Roundhouse on 6 September.

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