THE VELVET REVOLUTION
Speaking of democratic revolutions… Play dedicated in memoriam of “Grovel” Havel for services to the Empire beyond the call of duty.
Act 1, Scene 1
(A cafe in upper west side of Manhattan not far from Columbia University. Grovel Havel sits with an editor of N.Y. Review of Books and a professor sympathetic to the New Left… drinking coffee… a cigarette hangs from his lip in the style of Jean Belmondo. He is wearing casual clothes.)
GH: Nothing works under Communism but everybody does his job. The workers pretend to work and the regime pretends to pay them. It is a form of resistance… Czech style.
NYRofB Editor: It must be terribly difficult to work under a Stalinist regime.
GH: They control everything: radio, television, book publishing; they have a small group of mediocrities who run the Writers’ Unions and the major journals. We survive, thanks to Western solidarity.
Prof: Doesn’t the financial speculator Soros fund many of the Czech dissidents?
GH: Yeah, what do you expect when you face a totalitarian monster, you take support from wherever you can. In the US, you can afford to question some of these foundations – for us they are a lifesaver.
NYR of B: Most of the Left in this country use double-standards, denouncing US policy in Indochina but they always have reservations about criticizing Soviet abuses in Eastern Europe.
Prof: (Indignant) That’s not true!
GH: (Grins) Come on.. .This is all in the family. I sympathize with the students’ rebellion, the Civil Rights movement in the United States. It’s the same libertarian spirit as in Prague 1968. We identified with Paris, Berkeley; we were all part of the same struggle against all the authoritarian crap. It’s all about freedom. Only it’s easier to fight in the West because, despite all the atrocities, you are democracies. I know… (he nods to the Professor) capitalist democracies.
NYR of B: Basically the Communists are “bourgeois” without our democratic values.
GH: (Grins) They like the old palaces, the neckties and shirts, and they fall over themselves to have a dacha in the countryside, while they condemn the “bourgeois life style” of the dissident intellectuals. They drool over the svelte daughters of the old aristocracy. .. ‘Ape and grope’ Communists.
NYR of B: How long did you stay in the Gulag?
GH: (Fidgets in his seat, hesitates) Well, it was a prison not a concentration camp – about 4 weeks.
Prof: Did they torture you?
GH: Psychological pressures – interrogations, repeating the same boring questions. The worst of it was they didn’t let me read or write or talk to my friends.
NYR of B: Just like the Chilean secret police that Washington put in power.
GH: (Hesitates, mulls over his response) Well, in a way, you’re right. Dictatorships have their own logic.
Act 1, Scene 2 – Cafe in Prague 1989
GH and four of his friends, a musician, a journalist, a philosopher and a free lance writer active in the human rights movement.
GH: They fell without glory and without regrets, like a big tree with rotten roots. The people were magnificent. What happened the last few weeks was historically unprecedented. Millions of people peacefully protesting and the regime in retreat… finally they admitted their bankruptcy and handed over power. A Velvet Revolution. Salud! (He raises a glass of whiskey, the others follow.)
Musician: We are having a concert to celebrate. Now we can play what we want, where we want. We can travel and read and talk freely. They thought just because we had paid, permanent positions that we should read our notes and have no opinions. Now we’ll have it all. ..freedom and a civilized life, just like the West!
Journalist: Yeah, maybe. Now you’ll compete with rock, video and cassettes from the big music companies in the US and England and Germany. But you’re right, I’d rather be starving than feed at the state trough and write lies in the Party Press.
Philosopher: This is a great opportunity to change things… to become like Sweden or Germany.. .a welfare state and freedom. I’ve been going from one assembly to another. It’s amazing, there are discussions everywhere. People want to talk and debate. All sorts of views have emerged, liberal, nationalist, democratic socialists, even free marketers, ex-landlords and pre-war right-wingers.
Free-lance writer: Maybe we’ll have a Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan for President. They are the most popular Western politicians (some frowns and laughter in the group).
Philosopher: That’s natural, they were the most anti-Communist. “The enemies of our enemies are our friends.” Most people don’t know anything about “the West” and if they don’t learn fast, they’ll get their pocket picked again.
GH: Come on, what do I hear some nostalgia for the fallen regime? We have our destiny in our hands. We have to be responsible. We can celebrate our independence, but we must also recognize that we are part of the West. Our culture, our traditions. Before Communism we were part of Western civilization not Slavic
Free-lance writer: Should we split off from Slovakia?
GH: (Dismisses him with a wave of the hand.) You’re impossible. We have a historic relation with the Slovaks. We will provide the leadership and they will follow.
Act 1, Scene 3 – Cafe in Washington, D.C
(GH sits with a group of US congress people and aides.)
Congressman for a Southern State: That was a wonderful speech Grovel – you’re not offended if I call you by your first name?
GH: Of course not, it is my name. (Jovial laughter)
Congressman from the South: “You know that critique you made of Marxism’s materialism was right on the mark. I remember when I was a poor kid on my father’s farm. I was inspired by the local minister who preached a similar lesson about how the spirit conquers bodily needs. I sure appreciated that because there were many time we didn’t have enough to eat.
GH: (Fidgets a bit uncomfortable.) Well, who knows if I don’t make it as President. I can turn to the pulpit (everyone laughs).
Senator from New York: That a brilliant turn of a phrase, turning Marx’s dialectic on its head. “Consciousness determines existence, not vice versa.”
GH: (Smiles). Yeah. A Russian writer in the fifties wrote a book called “Not by Brad Alone” that touched a sensitive nerve. (GH picks at a juicy morsel of filet mignon.)
Congressman from the West: (picks up a piece of bread) Well I agree to a certain point. Only I wouldn’t want to go too long without any material sustenance.
GH: Of course that was only a metaphor…
Congressman from Texas: You know Grovel we sure appreciate your recognizing the beauty of our democracy. I mean, we have some problems in our urban cities but you put it all in perspective. This is the best of all democracies and we know that, as an intellectual with a critical eye, you didn’t flatter us to get any foreign aid handouts.
GH: (a serious and sincere look crosses his face): I meant every word of it. You can’t reduce people to their class positions or class interests. People have other more basic spiritual and cultural identities.
(All in chorus – “That’s right!”)
Congressman from Northwest: I bet you got a lot of rebuilding to do. The Communists ran everything into the ground. I hear they gave you a parachute along with your ticket when you got into one of those Soviet made airplanes.
GH (laughs): Not quite. But it’s a good idea to bring a cushion to sit on (everyone laughs.)
Congressman from the Northwest: Well if you decide you want to upgrade your air fleet, give me a call and I’ll put you in touch with some friends at Boeing.
Congresswoman from the Midwest: Oh come on, this is no time for business.
GH (takes card from Congressman): I’ll keep it in mind. I greatly appreciate all the support the US gave us over the years in throwing off the Communist yoke.
And I don’t just mean the material support – the moral inspiration of a living democracy was just as important.
(Everyone lifts their glass to toast GH. They begin to chant “Grovel, Grovel.”)
Southern Congressman: “Morality determines existence”, isn’t that another way of saying it?
Act II – Scene I (Presidential Palace)
(GH with open neck sport shirt sitting on a desk covered with papers under a fine crystalchandelier besides gold gilded walls. His aides dressed in sport shirts and designer blue jeans stand around casually joking.)
GH: (Smoking) Where is the court jester, the honor guards? (He looks around at the lavish decor with an ironic smile.) So this is what the Velvet Revolution was all about?
(The aides laugh.)
Aide one: We are role models for the good life under capitalism.
Aide two: It isn’t the form, it’s the substance that counts.
Aide three: Nothing is too good for the democrats.
Aide four: What will my ex-trotskyist comrades in Paris say?
GH: (lights up a cigarette) Well, we’ll put up with it for now. This is Chat political people wanted. The President should live in the Presidential Palace. So we’ll put up with it. I’ll sleep in a different bedroom each night ‘till I get used to it.
GH: (Puts feet on the desk, puffs away on his cigarette) What’s on the agenda?
Aide one: A meeting with an executive from Volkswagen. They want to buy into Skoda.
Aide two: A committee of former landowners who want to reclaim their farms.
Aide three: A representative from the Vatican who has a list of Church property to be reclaimed and reconstructed.
Aide four: Two unemployed women from the Actors Union who want us to restore the state subsidy to the theater. They are very good looking, by the way.
GH: (Smiles) Let’s start with the theater group. That’s what we know the best.
(Enter two attractive women. GH rises to greet them. Tthe aides stand exchanging greetings with them. Some of the aides seem to know them)
GH: (Jovial, with a wry ironic smile.) Welcome to the People’s Presidential Palace. Have a seat. (He sits casually on the edge of the desk.)
Actress 1: Thanks for responding to our petition so rapidly. Sorry to be so insistent, but the theater world is in turmoil; the elimination of the state subsidy has been a crushing blow Over 80 percent of the actors and actresses are out of work.
Actress 2: When we went to the Ministry of Culture they told us that we should forget about the old Stalinist system. They told us we are free and should find our own money.
Actress 1: You know Grovel, we were all in the struggle against Stalinist censorship. After I signed the Helsinki petition, I couldn’t get an acting job for a long time…
GH: (Interrupts) I know, I know. I had a girlfriend who was in your theater group. She told me all about your struggle. (He smiles.) That was a difficult time, but we managed to have some beautiful moments together. Sharing meals…
Actress 1: Yeah but we didn’t get any of the Soros Foundation dough either. It always went to the better known dissidents.
GH: (Slightly annoyed at what he perceives to be a poison dart.) Well look, the times have changed. Freedom has a price and if we are going to be like the West we can’t have the State do everything. It’s because the State funded everything that they could censor.
Actress 1: I don’t follow. That was the Communist state. This is a democratic state. You can subsidize without censorship.
GH: Of course, of course (he quickly interrupts her with a sheepish grin.) Look, I’ll talk to the Ministry and see if we can restore some kind of funding. But I suggest you talk to some private sources. You know in the US most of the cultural activity is funded by big corporations. Talk to Volkswagen. Yeah, why not Soros?
Actress 1: They left after the Communist regime fell.
GH: (Looks at his watch.) Look, why don’t you leave your telephone number with one of my aides and we’ll arrange another meeting with people from the Ministry. It’ll work out, take my word for it.
(As they leave, he lets out a sigh of relief.)
Aide 1: These artsy, fartsy types are still living in the past. Don’t you think? (The other aides look to see how Gil will react.)
GH: Well, they have a problem, but you know the transition is going to be very complex. A little pain before prosperity. We’re going to change a lot of hats before it’s over. (All the aides nod in agreement.) Especially the cultural issues in a market economy.. .that’s a thorny issue..
GH: (Becomes ironic again.) Bring in the German comrade from Volkswagen. That will be easier to deal with. What with German capital and technology and Czech skills we can do wonders.
Aide 1: And our wages are one-fifth of what they pay over there.
Aide 2: They’ll find markets.
Aide 3: We’ll have a foothold in the Common Market.
Chorus of Aides: We will become part of the West.
Act II – Scene 2 Cafe in Prague
(The two actresses sipping a coffee with a pair of writers.)
Writer 1: (Looking at the want ads in the paper.) The Housing Authority returned my apartment building to an ex-Nazi sympathizer and he immediately quadrupled the rent and tried to throw out some old retirees who have been living there for 30 years.
Actress 1: (Reading the newspaper.) Here’s an apartment just for you, “artistic studio in the old center” – only $500 (in dollars no less) a month.
Writer 1: That’s my salary for the month!
Actress 2: Price of freedom my boy, that’s what Grovel told us.
Writer 2: What did he tell you?.
Actress 1: Knock on the doors of Volkswagen, McDonalds – see if they’ll fund you.
Writer 2: Why not try the porno circuit. They have ads looking for “open-minded actresses willing to learn on the job.”
Actress 1: Don’t laugh. One of the ballerinas has taken up an occasional gig to pay the rent.
Writer 1: Who read books anymore? A friend of mine who is a bookseller told me they just warehoused Grovel’s last book, Consciousness and Existence, to make space for the latest Stallone and Schwartzenegger videos.
Actress 2: That’s consciousness over existence for you.
Writer 2: Yeah, anybody who can forge a property title and get a credential verifying that they are a bona fide political exile coming back to claim their piece of real estate.
Actress 1: McDonald’s is negotiating with the bishop to lease space in the Cathedral.
Writer 2: The Pope’s coming to give a mass and mobilize the faithful. He has a long list of property to reclaim before the Americans and Germans gobble it up.
Actress 1: Hey, maybe. Disney will buy the State Theater.
Actress 2: Didn’t you hear it’s going to become a disco? The Russian Mafia and a group of NY real estate developers are buying it. It’s a good way to launder drug money.
Writer 1: (Sarcastic.) Rumors, rumors. The point of the matter is you have to adapt to the new times. I’ll go to work writing advertisement jingles to sell deodorants.
Actress 1: Plenty of malodorous smells.
(A group of tourists walk by, one asks to take a picture of them. They ignore them.)
Actress 2: Maybe we should charge to pose for the tourists. “Unemployed leftovers from Communism.”
Writer 1: No, they are American. We should advertise ourselves as “the Former Freedom Fighters turned entrepreneurs!”
Actress 2: Yeah, selling child porn to clean old Brits.
Writer 2: Are you going to call Grovel’s aide? Maybe they can send you on tour, if you sleep with him.
Actress 1: (Blows smoke in his face.)
Act 2 – Scene 3 The Presidential Palace
(Grovel is wearing a button-down pin stripe shirt with a subdued tie and dressy suspenders. His aides are dressed in suits and ties. His secretary, receptionist and administrative assistant file in and out of his office bringing him papers to sign, ushering visitors in and out.)
Secretary: Ms. Olc is here to see you President Havel.
(He rises and waves her in. She is a woman in her late 50s to early 60s, elegantly dressed with silver streaks of hair.)
MO: “Grovel, how good to see you. When was the last time? Wasn’t it at the fundraiser on the upper east-side with all those Peace and Democracy types and those wealthy Jewish investment brokers?
GH: (Cool and businesslike.) You have a good but selective memory. What can I do for you?
MO: (She looks him straight in the eye.) We have a property claim, you know. The Communists confiscated our country estates along with our financial assets and family holdings in Prague.
GH: That’s being looked into by our Commission to Return Properties.
MO: (As a teacher to a student.) My dear Grovel, that’s a start but its not good enough. You know there are still many old line Communists in positions of power – the current judicial process could take years. (Raises her voice, indignant righteousness.) In the meantime, all those state farmers continue to exploit our land.
GH: Do you want me to throw them off the land? (He becomes a bit testy.)
MO: (She fixes an icy glare.) I think it would be a positive signal to the World Bank and our friends in the US government and the European Union that this government really wants to make the change to a market economy irreversible.
GH: (Heaves a slight sigh.) You’re right, it’s very important to give the right signals to The EU. I’ll look into signing a Presidential decree.
MO: You’re a wise, President Grovel. The people will love you. We’ll invite you for dinner once we get the country house fixed up.
GH: (Murmurs under his breath.) The “right people” already love me. (She takes her leave). While Grovel calls in his secretary to dictate a decree “enabling former landowners to reclaim their land in order to prepare the soil for the planting season.”
(The receptionist announces the Finance Minister, Klaus Louce. The administrative assistant leads him into the office.)
KL: Good morning, Mr. President. I have the list of enterprises to be privatized
GH: (Glances at the list.) It includes everything except the water, air and pavement. (slightly ironic.) How did you miss them?
KL: We are working on finding a private water company, but the one in England has a record of high E. coli content and excessive rates.
GH: Of course, efficiency must be balanced with public safety.
KL: We’ll put them on the auction bloc shortly: 50% to foreign buyers, 50% for the wage earners.
GH: How will that work?
KL: The workers will get shares, but investors will run the firm – hire, fire, etc.
GH: That’s fair enough. What about the price?
KL: Mr. President, the price is secondary. It’s getting the firms into the market, making capitalism irreversible. It’s a good policy to sell cheap and get the connections with the Germans and the Americans.
GH: That means entry into NATO and the EU. You have my support. (They shake hands. As KL leaves, Grovel mutters) “as if it mattered, he announced the privatization in yesterday’s newspapers.”
(The secretary announces a Party leader from a Czech nationalist group. He enters boldly – they embrace.)
Otto Benclic: Greetings President Havel.
GH: Let’s not be formal. What’s on your mind?
OB: The Slays and their emotional nationalism, their inferiority complex will wreck the country.
GH: (Looks pensively.) Too close to Russia too far from the West.
OB: They say we are hogging all the government subsidies, that we are closing all their defense industries.
GH: (He rises from his chair and paces the room, stroking his tie.) Let them go their own way. It’s a tragedy. I have tried to convince them that this transitional period will be painful for all of us and that they have to share their part of the burden.
OB: All they talk about is the fact that their economy depends on the arms industry. That unemployment is double the rate here.
GH: (Yawning, a bored look.) We can only try to persuade them to stay with us. Ultimately they will decide and have to live with the consequences of a separation. We have Germany, We don’t need them.
OB: But a break up will make us a smaller country.
GH: (Putting on a grave face.) Yes it will be a tragedy. They are stuck in the old Stalinist model of heavy industry and arms exports. Isn’t it more humane to have more unemployed and fewer arms? It’s a tragedy.
GH: (Strokes his silk tie. Walksaround the desk and leads OB out of the room. Walks around the office engaging in a soliloquy.) So much has changed. Who would have imagined that we democrats would be leaving the Warsaw Pact to join NATO; choose to be junior partners with Germany rather than stay with the Slovaks. Evict collective farmworkers to return land to the landowner. (He stops and brightens up and becomes ironic.) Yeah and the Marxists would say that my policies or consciousness reflects my bourgeois existence. Who needs to bother with them anymore… they don’t exist. Whatever the social costs, they are secondary. We are becoming a civilized Western country again.
Act III – Scene I
(Prague a former cafe turned into a fast food hamburger joint. It’s a get together of GH’s old intellectual friends, the musician, journalist, philosopher and free lance writer. They sit on plastic chairs, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups, under neon lights.)
Journalist: So you’re off to New Zealand. Volkswagen won’t pay for a second violinist at the Prague symphony?
Musician: It was that or playing background music in an upscale bordello for visiting Italian businessmen.
Journalist: And you my versatile philosopher, you converted your mother from a Communist to Judaism and are off to Israel.
Philosopher: They offered me a post at Negev University teaching re-educated Palestinian prisoners the ethical imperatives of new Jewish land settlements around Jerusalem.
Journalist: Very ecological. You will lower the electrical bill for the Shin Bet.
Philosopher: It’s a job with a decent apartment and beautiful view of the desert.
Journalist: (Ironic) And I stay around here and try to uphold the principles of the Velvet Revolution. Yesterday I was almost lynched when I wrote about all the Marxist books that were removed from the library and all the professors kicked out of the University. They said I was a Stalinist nostalgic.
(The Musician looks off at the next table at a teenage hooker who is drinking a coke. Her dress is up by her umbilical, her boots half-way up her thighs.)
Musician: Ah, this is the new Prague spring. All the orifices are being ventilated.
Free-lance writer: I am paying the rent writing subtitles for soft core porn that features Lithuanian adolescents and unemployed Romanian soccer players.
Journalist: ‘What a cosmopolitan culture. What do you think Grovel would say about it?
All together: “It’s the price of democracy.” (They laugh a bit too long )
Philosopher: (looks out the window as a funeral car goes by) Someone died and they’re stuck in a traffic jam.” (Car horns blare, people curse…)
Free-lance writer: As Grovel would say, “we have become a civilized nation again.”
Musician: But you know despite the lay-offs after privatization and the collective farmers getting kicked off the land, Grovel is still very popular in the polls.
Philosopher: Why not? The harder you kick them the better they like it.
Free-lance writer: Wisdom from the future sheepherder’s violinist. Come on that’s émigrés sour grapes. He’s a great President; he told us we would resurrect a national culture and we are inundated with Hollywood trash and a quartet of middle age Englishmen singing 1960s songs in falsetto voices, short pants, emerging paunches. He said we would have an independent policy and, we run with the begging cup to the Germans, go on our knees to be buggered by NATO. Grovel’s a fantastic dialectician.
Journalist: The visit of the American Secretary of State evokes an erotic image. Albright mounting Grovel while he tells the world it’s different from when the Bear squeezed us.
Philosopher: (Musing and in relation to nothing.) Everyone is out for himself today.
Musician: And before?
Free-lance writer: You had an apartment you could afford, a month’s vacation, a secure job and sense of solidarity against the authorities. Now we suck up to the West Germans, run to three different jobs and get evicted to make room for a U.S. investment broker who want to ‘imbibe European culture in the old quarter of Prague’.
Musician: You’re an incurable nostalgic. (Pretends to play a violin and sings “Bring back the good old days!”)
Free-lance writer: If we succeeded in ‘68 with Dubcek it would have been different.
Journalist: Would be.. .could be… You got Grovel so forget Dubcek. You got Klaus and not Sik. So make the best of it; learn German, English and get a job writing press handouts for the new men of power. That’s what intellectuals do in the free market these days.
Musician: (Gets up.) I prefer the New Zealand shepherds.
Philosopher: I prefer the sunsets over the Negev.
Free-lance writer: I think I’ll ask that teenage hooker if she wants me to find her a clean Canadian diplomat.
Journalist: What happens when you pick up crap with a velvet glove?
Act III – Scene II
(In the Office of the President. Grovel paces the floor anxiously awaiting his next visitor. The receptionist announces US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.)
Grovel: (Moves forward to meet her, arranges his tie, puts on an ingratiating smile. She nter. He extends his hand a bit prematurely.) Secretary Albright, what a pleasure to have you visit us. (They shake hands.)
Albright: Yes, I enjoy being back here after so many years. You know, the city has changed, so much traffic and pollution.
Grovel: That’s the cost of prosperity – everybody has a car now.
Albright: Of course! Let’s get to this business about your application to join NATO. Is your government ready to abide by the rules of NATO?
Grovel: (Sententiously.) It’s a great opportunity for, us to be part of the West. It’s the best way to consolidate our democracy and deter the Russians if Yeltsin drinks himself into the grave.
Albright: (Smiles for a second and then becomes business like.) We provide protection but there is a price; reciprocity. We want to be able to build bases and to relocate missiles and nuclear warheads when we decide its a strategic necessity.
Grovel: (Frowns for an instant) That will have to be discussed with the parliament and…
Albright: (Interrupts him.) Grovel. This isn’t a literary exercise. You’re the President. Do you want to be part of the West? You have to shoulder part of the burden.
GH. (Fawning) Of course. Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection but we have a democracy. I’ll have to call the party leaders. There won’t be any problems. It’s of the utmost importance for our independence to be under US leadership in NATO.
Albright: (A mixture of cynicism and thinly veiled contempt.) There’s only one superpower today, Grovel. Your are making the right choice. The only choice.
Grovel: (Smiles weakly) It’s our own free choice and the great majority of the people support it.
Albright: (She gets up, shakes hands and starts to walk out.) Goodbye.
Albright: (Soliloquy in the doorway) Where does he get off with all that spiritual bullshit and holier than thou attitude? Telling us what the “real meaning” of NATO is all about.
Ha. We only organized it, put it under our command and showed our European allies how to shine our boots. (Stops, reflects.) I guess he’s so used to, mouthing all that mushy gook to his liberal camp followers he really believes he can walk on the Danube. How did he put it in that article of his… “We the free people of the Czech Republic will provide a new definition of the purpose, mission and identity of NATO…” Listen Grovel, NATO is about U.S. power, get it, telling the world we are ‘Number One’. (Face reddens, stops, reflects and brightens up.) I guess there’s no harm in letting Grovel put a moral varnish on our march to the Russian border. Sometimes I wonder if he’s bucking for my job, describing the “new NATO” as “a guarantor of Euro-American civilization and thus as a pillar of global security.” I like it… Makes you feel good while we’re sticking it to the Russians. Oh Grovel, if you ever lose your job I’ll get you a position at the United States Information Agency. S till he’s a pompous ass. Every time you talk to him it seems like he’s reading a draft of a piece he’s submitting to the New York Times op-ed page or an open letter to New York Review of Books Still that high-falutin rhetoric makes it easier for liberals to swallow our power politics. (Smirks.) For a guy with such high moral standards, he could borrow Monica’s knee pads. (She laughs gleefully.)
Grovel: (Soliloquy) She’s more of a mediocrity than I thought. But you know if you represent a great power, you can spell your name backward and still get respect. Look at Reagan, he fell asleep at meetings and still everyone in Europe thought he was a genius. Ach… What an opportunist she is. Anything to curry favor. First she is a hatchet person at the U.N. for the Neanderthals in Congress. Then she is a woman and gets in the Cabinet, then she is a Czech to talk to the Europeans, then she discovers she’s Jewish to verify her credentials to make Middle East policy. (He throws hands up in a dramatic gesture.) What I have to sacrifice for this country…
(Knock on the door.)
GH: Come in.
Secretary: (Walks in.) There is a group of writers. They claim they have an appointment.
Grovel: I don’t want to see them. They’re probably looking for a job. Send them to the Ministry of Culture.
Secretary: They said they got purged for their ideas.
Grovel (Indignant) Part of the nomenclature hacks probably from the Stalinst Writers Union. (Presses buzzer, an aide rushes in.) Escort those unemployed Stalinists out.
Aide: You mean those middle-age professors of literature?
Grovel: How do you know they teach literature?
Aide: One of them was my professor. He supported Dubcek and got kicked out by the Stalinists and taught classes in his tiny apartment for a while.
Grovel: Alright, you go talk to him. Maybe find him a job in some high school.
Act III – Scene 3
(3 years later, 4 intellectuals return to cafe. Noisy background of US music, neon lights, plastic tables, Starbuck coffee.)
Free-lance writer: Welcome to the class reunion. Or maybe we shouldn’t use such outmoded jargon.
Musician: I came back because the airfare from the US has been discounted and I need to sell my deceased mother’s apartment.
Philosopher: You left New Zealand?
Musician: Yeah. The Labor government, following in the footsteps of Grovel, ended the state subsidy for the symphony. We were told to find a patron among the sheep farmers to subsidize our chairs.
Philosopher: And in the US there is public funding?
Musician: Some, but mostly there are professional fundraisers who get money for all of us. The moneybags deduct it from their corporate taxes and get their names written into the program with their spouses. (Turns and faces the philosopher.) And you my dear Maimonides, do you still give lectures at the Negrev on the justice of blowing up the family houses of suspected terrorists?
Philosopher: (Stiffens up.) The anti-Semitic undertones in Central Europe are surfacing again. I now teach at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have a chair endowed by a distinguished New York garment manufacturer and his family. It’s wonderful. I give only one graduate seminar a year and a series of lectures for philanthropic groups like the Hadassah on topics like “What it Means to be a Jew” or “Mixed Marriages: Threat or Opportunity?”
Journalist: That’s very exciting. Almost as exhilarating as my rewriting scripts of old US soap operas for Czech TV audiences. But it pays well and I got my kids in a private school with all the brats of the junior managers working for multinational corporations.
They now speak Czech with a German or English accent. They’ll do better than I’ve done.
Free-lance writer: I’m out of luck. I wasn’t circumcised. I couldn’t find a CEO to subsidize my computer and I didn’t have the stomach to drink myself into refrying US soap operas.
Philosopher: You’re an anti-Semite and full of resentment.
Musician: You’re stuck in the past.
Journalist: So, how do you ‘make a living?
Free-lance writer: Selling Grovel’s books on the street corner at a 90% discount.
Writer: How do you make a profit?
Free-lance writer: I get them free from a warehouse.
Musician: Just selling Grovel? Do you sell that many?
Free-lance writer: The foreign tourists buy the translated versions of Grovel especially when I forge his signature and dedication. It’s strange, a lot of Americans with a peculiar drawl ask for a book called the “Spirit Over Existence” that one of their politicians recommendes. I sell them what I got and tell them it’s a problem of translation. But I also sell the old Marx, Lenin collections to antiquarians. Those cheap editions of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gorky sell for at 50 cents a copy to a few grey haired Czechs who still read. I write in the morning and sell in the afternoon.
Philosopher: And in the winter?
Free-lance writer: My wife works for an advertising agency and I write travel stories about places I never visited.
Journalist: That’s imaginative writing. What happened to your novel on the Velvet Revolution?
Free-lance writer: (Starts to talk, but notes that there is little interest. The philosopher is watching the thinly clad tourists. The musician is glancing at the Financial Times and the journalist is suppressing a yawn.) It’s about two-thirds finished. It’s about the betrayal of the revolution. How everything we fought for has been perverted. (He stops.)
Philosopher: Well gentlemen. I have to be leaving. I have a meeting with a joint businessmen-philosophers’ conference on ethics and leverage buyouts.
Free-lance writer: How to say you’re sorry when you get caught, eh?
Musician: I’m off too. We are rehearsing a special performance for Grovel and his honored guest the Viceroy Albright.
Free-lance writer: Stick a cigarette in his mouth and tell him he hasn’t changed a bit.
Journalist: (Tightens his lips and nods his head in dismay at the writer..) You’re so self-destructive. You know it was clever to be an outsider when you were younger and fought the good fights against the Stalinists, especially when you had the West by your side.
Soros pouring millions, Amnesty running around publishing reports, National Endowment for Democracy paying the rent. Anything you wrote, creative or crap, that was critical was picked up by the N.Y. Times, Le Monde or the New York Review of Books (Stops and speaks slowly and emphatically.) But that time has passed. They got what they want. The CEOs squat around the boardrooms in their high rises making deals with Klaus, Grovel and the rest of them. They aren’t interested any more in dissidents criticism. Now it’s time to be a promoter, an entrepreneur, a celebrant of the good times.
It’s self-destructive to keep writing about the new porno-culture, the inequalities, the ripoffs of privatization, the new rich. Who cares? Not the young people. Look around you. The high school girls trying to seduce German businessmen so they can buy Calvin Klein jeans and spend the night in a disco, while their boyfriends piss their beer on the side of the Cathedral. And the, Pope praises Grovel and present him with a list of 327 rent-yielding properties to be reclaimed.
Free-lance writer: You’re an inspiration. You should write my book.
Journalist: Look, I know what you think of our former comrades. They sold out and I have too, but at least I know it.
Free-lance writer: The old Czech way, fight the battle inside while conforming on the outside. Isn’t that what we railed against for so many years during the post-Dubcek years?
Journalist: You’re right, but you got nothing to show for it. And worse, who’s going to back you today? When you’re fighting global capitalism? It’s better to try to fight for little things on the inside.
Free-lance writer: Like have one of your soap opera hero’s recycle his condoms – green safe sex.
Journalist: Meanwhile you’re on roller skates going from one job to another and selling the books of your arch enemy, Grovel Havel.
Free-lance writer: Don’t you see, I’m getting back at him selling “Consciousness Over Existence” for 25 cents.
Journalist: You think he cares? He can’t even remember the title of that book. He’s writing a new book called Green Velvet. The opening sentence begins, “Here come the stock brokers – open your legs and enjoy it”.
Free-lance writer: (Wry smile.) This will run its course. The Czech people are not donkeys. The workers will someday wake up to the fact that they make one- fifth what they make in Germany and work longer hours.
Journalist: You’re really a dreamer. The older workers know they lost something: security, health plans, vacations, but they are holding out for their pensions. The younger ones work to consume. The last thing they think about is rebelling. They want their stereos, their own Volks, even if they beat all the work norms to get them. The capitalists get out of the workers what the Communists only tried: higher productivity, bigger profits..
Free-lance writer: It’ll take time. Meantime if you need a ghostwriter to help you re-write a soap or two give me a call.
Journalist: No way. If you didn’t exist, I wouldn’t include a hero recycling condoms.