Global Context Winning Essays

October 10, 2017

Taylor Whitehead.

A study in red. 

 


1938.
what is the color of betrayal?
four allies meet to discuss the nature of

promises. the fifth chair was empty, just like those promises

turned out to be. partnerships turned sour by a pact made in Munich,

letting the Czechoslovaks fade to

red

at their borders.


*


1969.


what is the color of resistance?


red

does not define this nation,

Jan decided. Jan was twenty one. he studied history.

he noticed the people in the streets,

the way they had all dimmed.

spring had wilted into dead summer

from the heat and pressure of

red.

voices that once sprung forth in ferocity,

now dulled.

eyes that once sparked with spirit,

now empty.

red

would not consume this nation,

Jan decided.

in Václavské náměstí he stood and

sought out the spark,

the one that would call them to move.

he burned up his body

to bring light back to the people,

to wash the

red

out of their eyes.
1989.


what is the color of revolution?
velvet is not a color, but a feeling

that hangs in the air over the square.

it is the feeling of Czech flags unfurled,

finally, over years and years of

red.

the red was spilt blood,

dissidents engulfed by flames,

parents afraid to sign charters

for the good of their children —

but what good is a future full of

red?

Vaclav stood proud in this square

shadowed by St. Wenceslas

where so much happened —

42 days of protest until

the regime burst

into freedom,

leaving everywhere the scraps of

red.

Vaclav began

to pick up the pieces

and build,

from fire and velvet,

from spirit and blood,

the foundations of democracy

to carry them to a future

that is many things —

confused, emerging from struggle,

learning, growing —

but the one thing it is no longer is

red.

 

 

 

Katie Glasgow

Lake Untersee

 

 

 

 

 

Following​ ​the​ ​Prague​ ​Spring​ ​(1968),​ ​a​ ​time​ ​in​ ​which​ ​censorship​ ​was​ ​abolished​ ​and the​ ​grip​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Soviet​ ​Union​ ​was​ ​loosened,​ ​the​ ​Czech​ ​people​ ​faced​ ​in​ ​return​ ​a​ ​new​ ​and brutal​ ​period​ ​of​ ​communist​ ​rule.​ ​This​ ​time​ ​became​ ​known​ ​as​ ​“normalization”.​ ​The activities​ ​of​ ​citizens​ ​were​ ​monitored​ ​by​ ​Secret​ ​Police​ ​and​ ​informants,​ ​systematic persecution​ ​kept​ ​people​ ​in​ ​a​ ​constant​ ​state​ ​of​ ​terror,​ ​and​ ​uprisings/protests​ ​were repressed​ ​(Miklov​á​).​ ​Many​ ​people​ ​did​ ​not​ ​fight​ ​back​ ​because,​ ​in​ ​some​ ​ways,​ ​if​ ​you​ ​followed the​ ​regime​ ​and​ ​stayed​ ​out​ ​of​ ​political​ ​discourse,​ ​you​ ​could​ ​lead​ ​a​ ​decent​ ​life.​ ​And​ ​the alternative,​ ​speaking​ ​out,​ ​would​ ​risk​ ​not​ ​only​ ​your​ ​life​ ​but​ ​the​ ​life​ ​of​ ​your​ ​children,​ ​your family,​ ​and​ ​your​ ​friends.  A​ ​metaphor​ ​I​ ​found​ ​striking​ ​in​ ​explaining​ ​the​ ​feeling​ ​of​ ​petrification​ ​and​ ​immobility of​ ​this​ ​time​ ​was​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Czech​ ​Republic​ ​was​ ​under​ ​a​ ​thick​ ​layer​ ​of​ ​ice​ ​-​ ​totally​ ​frozen,​ ​but appearing​ ​at​ ​first​ ​glance​ ​somewhat​ ​‘normal’.​ ​In​ ​Global​ ​Orientation​ ​class​ ​we​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​some photographs​ ​from​ ​this​ ​time​ ​where​ ​people​ ​seemed​ ​so​ ​cold​ ​and​ ​removed,​ ​walking​ ​to​ ​work, going​ ​through​ ​the​ ​motions.​ ​It​ ​truly​ ​did​ ​appear​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​at​ ​least​ ​in​ ​these​ ​photographs,​ ​that there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​complete​ ​coldness,​ ​removal​ ​from​ ​life,​ ​petrification.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​interested​ ​in this​ ​metaphor​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​a​ ​little​ ​deeper​ ​to​ ​draw​ ​some​ ​parallels​ ​for​ ​my​ ​own​ ​understanding. I​ ​found​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​permanently​ ​frozen​ ​body​ ​of​ ​water​ ​in​ ​Antarctica​ ​called​ ​‘Lake Untersee’.​ ​It​ ​gains​ ​its​ ​name​ ​from​ ​the​ ​clear​ ​glassy​ ​ice​ ​that​ ​allows​ ​you​ ​to​ ​look​ ​straight through​ ​the​ ​surface.​ ​An​ ​article​ ​by​ ​Alexandra​ ​Witze​ ​of​ ​Wired​ ​Magazine​ ​writes​ ​that​ ​they​ ​have remarkably​ ​discovered​ ​of​ ​life​ ​at​ ​the​ ​very​ ​bottom​ ​of​ ​this​ ​seemingly​ ​in-habitable​ ​lake.​ ​She writes​ ​“​understanding​ ​what​ ​makes​ ​Untersee​ ​different​ ​would​ ​help​ ​scientists​ ​better​ ​figure out​ ​the​ ​limits​ ​on​ ​life,​ ​both​ ​today​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​long-distant​ ​past”​ ​(Witze).​ ​This​ ​reminded​ ​me​ ​so much​ ​of​ ​what​ ​we​ ​have​ ​learned​ ​about​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of​ ​resistance​ ​here​ ​in​ ​Prague.​ ​The​ ​people that​ ​were​ ​brave​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​risk​ ​it​ ​all​ ​and​ ​fight​ ​against​ ​the​ ​communist​ ​regime​ ​can​ ​teach​ ​us​ ​a 
lesson​ ​on​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​to​ ​live.​ ​Looking​ ​into​ ​this​ ​not​ ​so​ ​distant​ ​history​ ​brings​ ​up​ ​the question​ ​of​ ​the​ ​values​ ​of​ ​freedom​ ​and​ ​mobility,​ ​and​ ​on​ ​what​ ​we​ ​should​ ​be​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​risk​ ​for truth​ ​and​ ​free-will​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​the​ ​impressed​ ​limits​ ​on​ ​life.  Personally,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​drawn​ ​to​ ​question​ ​what​ ​the​ ​word​ ​‘freedom’​ ​really​ ​means​ ​to me.​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​in​ ​some​ ​ways​ ​the​ ​current​ ​political​ ​climate​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States​ ​abuses​ ​the​ ​word freedom.​ ​From​ ​where​ ​I​ ​stand,​ ​the​ ​place​ ​of​ ​privilege​ ​I​ ​have​ ​grown​ ​up​ ​with,​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​know that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​qualified​ ​to​ ​really​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​levity​ ​of​ ​freedom,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​fear​ ​many​ ​of​ ​the​ ​loud voices​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​that​ ​throw​ ​the​ ​word​ ​around​ ​as​ ​if​ ​it​ ​could​ ​mean​ ​anything,​ ​that​ ​use​ ​it​ ​to justify​ ​hatred​ ​and​ ​bigotry,​ ​do​ ​not​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​levity​ ​of​ ​it​ ​either.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​so​ ​much​ ​more sensitive​ ​to​ ​this​ ​now​ ​after​ ​beginning​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​what​ ​it​ ​really​ ​means​ ​to​ ​lose​ ​it​ ​and​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​for it.  I​ ​explore​ ​my​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​the​ ​metaphor​ ​by​ ​writing​ ​a​ ​song​ ​titled​ ​‘Lake​ ​Untersee’. It​ ​is​ ​still​ ​a​ ​work​ ​in​ ​progress.​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​it​ ​demonstrates​ ​my​ ​respect​ ​and​ ​admiration​ ​for​ ​those, such​ ​as​ ​​Václav​ ​Havel​ ​and​ ​many,​ ​many​ ​others,​ ​that​ ​put​ ​their​ ​lives​ ​on​ ​the​ ​line​ ​for​ ​the​ ​sake​ ​of truth​ ​and​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​-​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​encouraged​ ​a​ ​world,​ ​seemingly​ ​permanently​ ​frozen under​ ​water,​ ​to​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air.  
 
Lake​ ​Untersee 5

50​ ​feet​ ​below

It​ ​breathes,

Its​ ​murmuring 
 
Underneath,

Silenced​ ​by​ ​the​ ​layers  

Inbetween,

Someone’s​ ​trying 


 Just​ ​to​ ​move​ ​-​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​of​ ​some​ ​truth

The​ ​hands​ ​to​ ​reach​ ​for,​ ​tremble​ ​cold​ ​blue

A​ ​little​ ​heat,​ ​what​ ​does​ ​it​ ​take?

It​ ​risks​ ​it​ ​all  

To​ ​whisper: 
 
Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air

Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air. 


 Lake​ ​untersee

If​ ​someone​ ​says​ ​you’re​ ​living

But​ ​you​ ​can’t​ ​breath

Do​ ​you​ ​believe? 


The​ ​word​ ​free

Twisted​ ​and​ ​abused

Across​ ​the​ ​sea

But​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​-  


Not​ ​sure​ ​I​ ​know,​ ​not​ ​sure​ ​I​ ​can

There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​need​ ​I​ ​won’t​ ​understand

To​ ​start​ ​a​ ​fire,​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​end  

And​ ​risk​ ​it​ ​all

To​ ​whisper: 


Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air

Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air

Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air

Come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up,​ ​come​ ​up​ ​for​ ​air. 

 

 

Shannon Yu

Ember in Ashes

Intertwined,

Whether Pole, Czech, Hungarian,

Whether Slovak, whether tainted by the past,

All synced in spirit and culture.

 

Yet uncertain in identity.

Caught between the West and the East,

At once both. At once neither.

The dilemma of Central Europe.

 

For with it thrives the culture of Western Europe,

But politically, stained by Eastern power.

In the words of Milan Kundera:

“A West…kidnapped, displaced, and brainwashed”.

 

Slowly chipping away…

Time and war has eroded its essence.

The cost of conflict is not only in blood,

But the tragedy of a broken identity.

 

Invisible to loved ones,

The remnants of rusted chains cling,

Branding the valiantly resistant nations,

With the scars of its oppressors.

 

Even in this haze of uncertainty,

Even faced with a threat to existence,

A small ember survives,

Viciously protected at all cost.

 

It is the flame of knowledge, of culture, of tradition.

It is the heart of Central Europe, for which it could not exist without.

Charred cities, persecution, and war cannot harm the spirit of the people,

As long as hope perseveres, as long as this flame survives.

 

These nations who felt most acutely the consequences of oppression,

Thus know of Europe’s vulnerability best.

Wandering through darkness,

It is easy to lose identity.

 

But with the flame of culture,

Even in times of darkness,

This identity will be revealed.

And the spirit of Europe thrives.

 


Arifa Abrahim

Prompt 3: The Historical Trauma of Czech Identity 
 

 At the cross-roads of a sanctimonious battle between an appropriated and forged identity, 
the inhabitants of the Czech Republic struggled through a traumatic history of invasion by 
foreign entities, perpetually submissive to external forces and influence.  
In search of a solidified national identity, the Czechs victimized themselves under the 
“politics of cultural despair,” a phenomenon coined by Fritz Stern that classifies the turbulent 
instability reducing the Czech national identity to language, an enemy complex and a sense of 
belonging to an elusive force. With the cultural uprooting plaguing the Czech Republic, its 
citizens were deprived of the opportunity and collective willpower necessary to cultivate a 
decisive national identity defined by common morality and shared values.  
From the industrialization of Prague to the World Wars to the Communist takeover, the 
Czechs rode on the coattails of imperialist pursuits initiated by the major world powers, who 
envisioned a future for Central Europe beyond the consent of the citizens occupying the area. 
Therefore, inherently vulnerable by central geographic location, the Czech Republic endured 
repression of their national identity and submitted to a wave of transformation as political 
turmoil surrounded the country on all fronts.  
Innately ambiguous, the concept of “nationalism” pertains to an implicit belonging to a 
community with a common language and moral entrenchments. However, the disappearance of 
communicators in Czechoslovakia – individuals who integrated the community through a 
common language – impeded the development of statehood and any collective moral compass. 
As a preexisting condition for nationalism, statehood serves as the internal framework for an 
outward identity. Thus, in the absence of statehood, the potential for nationalization collapses. 
Traumatizing its citizens with a fallible history, the tendency for the Czech Republic to 
remove reminders of control by external powers – whether by renaming a street sign or 
destroying a statue of Stalin – represents one of the nation’s most disturbing obstacles to identity: 
the preference to cope with national suffering through suppression of facts rather than acceptance 
of tragedy. As an alternative coping mechanism, this cyclical blame-game of shifting 
accountability to an imminent threat rather than accepting personal responsibility for historical 
failures, cultivates a xenophobic culture lacking moral nationalism. By rejoicing through the 
notion of a common enemy, the Czech citizens united under false pretenses and patience rather 
than a genuine and urgent positive cause.  
After a history of deferred action and submissiveness, the Czech citizens reclaimed 
authority in 1989 over their political destiny during the Velvet Revolution. Although the promise 
of revolution and eliminating communism appeared as a solution to the Czech identity crisis, the 
nation’s citizens remained attached to the self-victimization and sentiment of undirected blame 
haunting their history. As Vaclav Havel proposed for a post-totalitarian recovery, the welfare of 
the community and national identity may be restored through personal accountability; however, 
without a collective consciousness, the eradication of communism and promise of a newly forged 
identity is futile against a stagnated attitude.  
Plagued by cultural uprooting and tragic invasions, the city of Prague endures a deep
rooted, historical trauma from past to present. Evidenced by a prevailing, irretrievable morale 
and a continuous search for belonging, the Czechs’ internalized battle to cultivate a national 
identity represents the country’s greatest historical trauma. Although collective action and the 
promise of revolution offers a glimpse of optimism for national identity in the future, the 
ongoing battle for solidarity in spirit and a decisive democratic vision persists.  
 

 

Callum Amor

this​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​story​ ​about​ ​prague

nor​ ​is​ ​it​ ​about​ ​germany

or​ ​the​ ​ussr 


 this​ ​is​ ​a​ ​story​ ​about​ ​the​ ​people

the​ ​people​ ​of​ ​prague

the​ ​forgotten​ ​ones 


 This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​story​ ​about​ ​the​ ​old​ ​ladies​ ​who​ ​sit​ ​on​ ​the​ ​trams​ ​with​ ​no​ ​smile.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​about​ ​what​ ​is

forgotten​ ​after​ ​the​ ​war.​ ​The​ ​trauma​ ​and​ ​memories​ ​that​ ​torture​ ​the​ ​insides​ ​of​ ​their​ ​soul.  


 Buildings​ ​can​ ​be​ ​restored,​ ​trees​ ​can​ ​be​ ​replanted,​ ​but​ ​lives​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​repaired.​ ​The​ ​dead​ ​are dead.  


 Yes,​ ​nobody​ ​is​ ​bleeding​ ​out​ ​anymore,​ ​they're​ ​all​ ​just​ ​bleeding​ ​internally​ ​asking​ ​​god​,​ ​what​ ​on earth​ ​did​ ​i​ ​do​ ​to​ ​deserve​ ​this​ ​hell.​ ​What​ ​did​ ​i​ ​do​ ​to​ ​deserve​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​injustice​ ​in​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of the​ ​world? 


 he​ ​answers 
 
 
 so​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​for​ ​you,  
 i​ ​ask​ ​what​ ​did​ ​the​ ​people​ ​due​ ​to​ ​deserve​ ​eternal​ ​hell? 
 He​ ​answers  
 
 

 so​ ​I​ ​answer​ ​for​ ​you 
 Nothing.  
  
 
Last​ ​year,​ ​I​ ​traveled​ ​to​ ​cambodia​ ​and​ ​witnessed​ ​what​ ​it​ ​felt​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​love​ ​with​ ​a​ ​country.​ ​Was​ ​it the​ ​massive​ ​soccer​ ​game​ ​we​ ​played​ ​half​ ​drunk​ ​against​ ​the​ ​local​ ​10​ ​year​ ​old​ ​boys​ ​team​ ​for​ ​500 riel​ ​or​ ​the​ ​rich​ ​culture​ ​found​ ​deep​ ​in​ ​the​ ​jungles​ ​of​ ​Angkor​ ​Wat.​ ​I’m​ ​sure​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​both,​ ​I remember​ ​telling​ ​my​ ​friend​ ​over​ ​our​ ​morning​ ​iced​ ​coffee,​ ​everyone​ ​seems​ ​so​ ​happy​ ​here.​ ​it​ ​is pretty​ ​remarkable​ ​considering​ ​the​ ​country​ ​lost​ ​almost​ ​half​ ​of​ ​its​ ​8.5​ ​million​ ​citizens​ ​in​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the most​ ​heinous​ ​genocides​ ​in​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​What's​ ​even​ ​crazier​ ​is​ ​I​ ​had​ ​only​ ​just​ ​heard of​ ​this​ ​genocide​ ​when​ ​I​ ​came​ ​to​ ​Cambodia.​ ​Why​ ​wasn't​ ​this​ ​taught​ ​to​ ​me​ ​in​ ​highschool?​ ​Where were​ ​the​ ​cries​ ​for​ ​justice​ ​here?​ ​#asianlivesmatter 


 Anyways​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​point,​ ​everyone​ ​seemed​ ​so​ ​happy… 


 What​ ​i​ ​did​ ​not​ ​see​ ​were​ ​the​ ​old​ ​people,​ ​the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​lived​ ​through​ ​seeing​ ​their​ ​babies​ ​beaten on​ ​trees,​ ​the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​lived​ ​through​ ​seeing​ ​there​ ​pregnant​ ​wife​ ​raped,​ ​then​ ​butchered​ ​at​ ​the neck​ ​with​ ​repeated​ ​clubs​ ​from​ ​the​ ​blunt​ ​knife.​ ​Because​ ​they​ ​were​ ​forgotten,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​lost 


 Almost​ ​8​ ​months​ ​later​ ​I​ ​would​ ​go​ ​on​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​a​ ​ngo​ ​worker​ ​from​ ​germany​ ​at​ ​Sara's​ ​Gur​ ​Camb, 50​ ​km​ ​outside​ ​Ulaanbaatar.​ ​I​ ​told​ ​her​ ​profusely​ ​about​ ​my​ ​love​ ​for​ ​Cambodia​ ​and​ ​the​ ​happy​ ​spirit carried​ ​by​ ​its​ ​citizens.​ ​She​ ​replied​ ​with,​ ​PTSD​ ​you​ ​can​ ​not​ ​see. 


 While​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​the​ ​country,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​culture​ ​moves​ ​on,​ ​PTSD​ ​do​ ​not.​ ​PTSD​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most severe​ ​mental​ ​diseases​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​as​ ​there’s​ ​truly​ ​no​ ​escape.​ ​You​ ​become​ ​a​ ​prisoner​ ​in​ ​your own​ ​mind,​ ​trapped​ ​to​ ​this​ ​image​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world​ ​crumbling​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​you.​ ​Whether​ ​it's​ ​your​ ​best friend​ ​being​ ​an​ ​undercover​ ​informant​ ​or​ ​your​ ​classmate​ ​burning​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​you,​ ​it​ ​can​ ​happen​ ​to anyone.​ ​Where​ ​is​ ​the​ ​treatment​ ​for​ ​the​ ​people?​ ​Where​ ​is​ ​the​ ​mass​ ​camps​ ​for​ ​mental​ ​disease treatment?​ ​We​ ​ignore​ ​the​ ​problem​ ​at​ ​hand,​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​try​ ​to​ ​move​ ​on​ ​and​ ​forgot,​ ​leaving behind​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​who​ ​can​ ​not. 


 so​ ​i​ ​put​ ​a​ ​Pilsner​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sky​ ​as​ ​a​ ​write​ ​this​ ​and​ ​say​ ​to​ ​the​ ​people​ ​of​ ​Prague 


 You​ ​Are​ ​Not​ ​Forgotten. 

 

 

Jesse Gan

 

 History inevitably shapes the future of a country’s culture. These events, or even moments, change how people act, speak, and think as society adapts to the situation. These adaptations that a society makes – by choice or by force – become engraved in the culture as the change becomes the norm.

            The traumatic event, or rather period, that shaped Czech culture was the communist era of Czechoslovakia. This era of Czech history was a scary and restricting time. Fears of prosecution led people to become conscious about everything they did and said. Censorship shut down the spread of free thought in the media while the fear of Communist spies shut down the spread of free communication among the people. The Czech voice was silenced. People kept their thoughts within tight groups, often just family, and private information become very personal.

It is no surprise that one of the most noticeable differences between Czech culture and American culture is the comfort level of sharing personal information. Things like how you are and what you are doing later, questions that are common courtesies in the US, are more private and sensitive in Czech culture. This cultural difference can no doubt be traced back to the Communist era of Czechoslovakia and the cultural toll that the communist lifestyle left.

However, these cultural shifts driven by traumatic events are in no way permanent. As time goes on, generational shifts begin to break down the cultural adaptations from traumatic events in history. These new generations reject the culture because they are not emotionally tied to the historic events that created the culture.

In Czech history, the generation of young university students rejected the lifestyle of the Communist era. They grew up during the time of tight restrictions and wanted more. Unlike the older generations, whom adapted to preserve their current livelihood, the younger generation wanted to form a better future for themselves. Without fear, young university students broke through the cultural barrier that was beginning to form which led to events like the Velvet Revolution and the eventual liberation of Czechoslovakia.

This generation transformation is still happening today. New people to the Czech Republic are told to always be careful about asking questions may be common in other cultures but are too personal to ask in Czech culture. At the same time, having spent time with many young Czechs on a local club ultimate Frisbee team, it seems the perception of Czech people being closed is being broken down by the younger generation. Everyone was very open to talk about their personal life and about their interests, even within minutes of meeting me. It was a pleasant surprise that also revealed that culture, although greatly shaped by history, is a transformational construct. As generations pass, the culture shifts. Traumatic events are forgotten and habits are erased. Although Czech history and the road to Czech freedom will never be forgotten, no longer are Czechs living under the shroud of their communist era selves.

 

 

Daniel Martinez

Conflict of Ideas

 

A society whose population in border areas once included minorities with diverse cultural backgrounds, geographically trapped and homogenized by global conflict, the Czech Republic continues to battle internal and external ideals that define a true Czech identity. Throughout the first week of school we were immersed in Czech history and modernity.  I felt a sense of dissonance between academic idealism and current polling results.

 

We learned about the atrocities committed by the elected communist party and the regime imposed by Russia in following years. Then we looked at the modern political climate and noticed an increase in communist nostalgia and the current placement of the communist party in the Czech Republic as the third contender. We learned about the Jewish and Roma holocaust, followed by a modern analysis of an increasing sense of anti-semitism, FEAR OF ROMA and xenophobia in the Czech Republic. A country whose astounding progress lies in the hands of its connections to the West yet also has the highest EU disapproval rate (even higher than Britain).
 

The picture above shows a piece by the controversial Chinese deportee Ai Weiwei. It consists of a rubber boat with dozens of rubber replicas of refugees.  For the last decade, Ai Weiwei has been raising awareness about the refugee crisis. He chose to display this piece in the Czech Republic because of the Czech complete refusal to host to refugees despite EU pressure. Ai Weiwei  makes the point that during times of crisis in the Czech Republic, whether it be during World War II or the communist oppression, there were always allies in the west and overseas who were willing to provide refuge for Czech political fugitives. But now that crisis has struck elsewhere in the world, a sense of radical nationalism is rising, and the country is shutting itself off from the outside world.

Economically the Czech Republic depends on immigrants, whether they are from Vietnam or nearby former Soviet countries. Cities like Prague have a rapidly growing economy with thousands of job openings that remain unfilled every year. The country has the potential to speed up the rate of construction projects that would increase infrastructure and households, but the country does not have enough people.

Similar political developments have been seen around the world in the last couple of years: the United States' neo-conservative uprise, Britain's Brexit. This has slowly been shutting down life- changing opportunities that hundreds of thousands of displaced individuals would have had otherwise.

There's the question: can we realistically change such an ideology?   I'd like to believe so. Ai Weiwei does a terrific job in the telling of individual refugee stories that evokes a sense of  empathy from the audience. On the other hand the National Art Gallery, where the boat is displayed, remains half empty day after day. An artist that has otherwise gotten great amounts of public and press attention is going under the covers, unnoticed by many. I am sure that this stage in history is not permanent, as nothing is, but me and many others remain hopeful that an ideological change may come soon.

 

 

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