Monday, August 27, 2007

Secrecy and Power - Who will resist and who will serve? (Books - Children of the Arbat III)

While I couldn't find any images of original editions of Children of the Arbat, this is the original samizdat (see a definition here) of Czech writer Vaclav Havel's Letters to Olga. Havel wrote, largely for the theater, as well as leading a campaign to save a subversive literary magazine Tvar. In 1965 the StB tried to recruit Havel as an informant but his refusal led to his continual observation throughout the communist regime. In 1979 he was arrested for anti-state activities and imprisoned for months without a trial. He was imprisoned four times but remained no less subversive a voice. After the devision of Czechoslovakia, he became the first president of the Czech Republic. I give this very short summary of his political life to ask - what makes one person subversive and the other submissive?

One of the plot lines that I'm enjoying right now in Children of the Arbat is about Yuri Sharok, the son of factory workers, whose aim is to become a lawyer for the factory where he worked as a young man. He is among a group of students in school whose popular leader, Sasha, is expelled for anti-state activities and sentenced to three years in Siberia. He had been a rival to the popular Sasha. Following school, he is approached by the NKVD, Stalin's secret police who were the force behind the political repression, running the Gulags, as well as conducting espionage in other countries, including the assassination of Leon Trotsky.
Why had they picked him? He was an average student, he never got the best grades. And his social work was average, he only did what he was told. Average people had their uses, too, evidently...

Sharok had been created for this job, he was right for it, not open-hearted Maxim Kostin, or that spineless intellectual Vadim Marasevich, or that overconfident Sasah Pankratov. Nobody would be able to wriggle out from Sharok's grasp, or manage to justify tghemselves. He would not believe in anyone's sincerity - it was impossible to believe sincerely in this whole business, and anyone who claimed they did was lying...

He's be safe there, nobody would be able to touch him. He'd by one of those who could reach everyone else.

In this part of Rybakov's story, we observe the evolution of his choice - the birth of cruelty. Another one of those instances where it is easy to say "I would never...," but would we? I would like to think I would not. But would I lie in jail like Havel? Endanger my friends and family? My livelihood? My life?


Anonymous said...

Havel (one of my idols) wrote a great essay about how he decided to live "AS IF" he were free. (Very Stanislavsky-ish of him, huh? The magic "if"?) So he lived AS IF he were free - and therefore was continuously jailed and oppressed - and the entire world knew his plays better than his own countrymen.

He was an example for others - and the Velvet Revolution really took his lead. A soft crumbling of the power structure - as more and more people decided to live AS IF they were free ... and finally the Politburo just walked away, muttering, "Ah, screw this ... it's not worth it anymore ..."

I mean, I'm oversimplifying but still. Havel's behavior all those years is really inspirational to me.

I loved the Yuri storyline in Children of the Arbat as well.

Ted said...

To live as it he were free - no wonder he was a man of the theater. That is the ultimate act of resistance!
I didn't know Havel was an idol of your's - but it's no small wonder.

Anonymous said...


Let's MAKE BELIEVE we're free!

Bless him.

Anonymous said...

Havel wrote (and I have a lump in my throat as I type his words down):

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Ted said...

Ain't that the truth. Anything that happened can make sense - and hopefully we'll have the persistence we need in making some sense of it. but it's sure as hell different from the popular platitude that makes me absolutely crazy - "everything happens for a reason," both fatalism and pie-eyed optimism make me nuts. I suppose after working in both theater and the presidency, you get over the idea that things happen for a reason and just do your best to make sense of them!