22.7.2012 kl. 20:24

Knowing no one in Prague, I asked a friend, a historian who specialised in the Iron Curtain countries, if there was anyone he'd recommend me to see.

He replied that Prague was still the most mysterious of European cities, where the supernatural was always a possibility. The Czechs' propensity to 'bend' before a superior force was not necessarily a weakness. Rather, their metaphysical view of life encouraged them to look on acts of force as ephemera.

'Of course,' he said, 'I could send you to any number of intellectuals. Poets, painters, film-makers.' Providing I could face an interminable whine about the role of the artist in a totalitarian state, or wished to go to a party that would end in a partouse.

I protested. Surely he was exaggerating?

'No,' he shook his head. 'I don't think so.'

He would be the last to denigrate a man who risked the labour camp for publishing a poem in a foreign journal. But, in his view, the true heroes of this impossible situation were people who wouldn't raise a murmur against the Party or State — yet who seemed to carry the sum of Western Civilization in their heads.

'With their silence,' he said, 'they inflict a final insult on the State, by pretending it does not exist.'

Utz, Bruce Chadwin (1988)