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Prize Duds

Apr 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 31 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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As I write this, Soviet tanks are stationed in a large park under my windows. The barrels of their guns are trained on a government building adorned with a huge sign: “For Socialism and Peace.” .  .  . For seven months, my country has been led by men who wanted to prove, probably for the first time in the history of mankind, that socialism and democracy can exist side by side. Nobody knows where these men are now. I don’t know whether I shall ever see or hear them again. There is much that I don’t know. I don’t know, either, whether I shall be able to finish my studies or ever again meet my friends from abroad. I could carry on and on like this, but somehow everything seems to be losing its original value. .  .  . You will think, perhaps, that the Czech people have behaved like cowards because they didn’t fight. But you cannot stand up to tanks with empty hands. .  .  . We may be broken physically, but not morally. This is why I write. The only way you can help is: Don’t forget Czechoslovakia. Please help our passive resistance by increasing the pressure of public opinion around the world. Think of Czechoslovakia even when this country ceases to be sensational news.

After completing his studies, Cerny went on to become a children’s book editor and to translate foreign films into Czech. He also spent much of his life being harassed by the secret police for his sub rosa activities, including providing vital help to the CIA and MI6 during the Cold War. Henry Porter of the Observer wrote that he once asked Cerny how he survived his years fighting authoritarianism. “He said something on the lines of: ‘Well, there was love and sex and friendship and books and drink and cooking.’ ”

When the Velvet Revolution finally came, Cerny was one of the first people that Havel called and asked to join him in Prague Castle running their newly free country. It took quite a bit of arm twisting before Cerny relented and became Havel’s national security adviser. After Czechoslovakia split in 1993, he became director general of the Czech Office for International Relations and Information. A man who had spent his life being harassed by the KGB now found himself in charge of the Czech intelligence service.

Porter further notes that Cerny quickly formed a tight bond with British intelligence, and ironically spent much of his time combating former KGB agents who, post-communism, were now playing a leading role in Eastern Europe’s criminal activities. By all accounts, Cerny did a laudable job protecting the Czech Republic and its allies from outside threats. At Havel’s request, Cerny later worked with Elie -Wiesel and Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa as the head of Forum 2000, an organization dedicated to finding ways to keep conflicts around the world from escalating. In 2002, Cerny cofounded the Prague Security Studies Institute, which is now a leading European think tank dealing with national security issues and international relations.

Cerny never gave up fighting, even when it appeared that the rest of the world did forget about Czechoslovakia. It would further compound the tragedy of communism if we failed to remember Oldrich Cerny.

Recommended Reading

The Scrapbook has been reading, with great interest and profit, not one but two stellar recent publications of that stellar journal, -National Affairs.

The first is the Spring 2012 issue. It features excellent pieces by frequent Weekly Standard contributors like James Capretta (with Robert Moffit) on “How to Replace Obamacare,” Adam White on independent federal agencies, and Peter Wehner (with Robert Beschel) on “How to Think about Inequality.” We were particularly struck by our staff writer Jay Cost’s essay on “The Politics of Loss,” emphasizing and explaining, in a big historical frame, the particular need for the GOP in 2012 to have a serious and comprehensive economic growth message. And then there’s George Weigel on “The Handwriting on the Wall,” using Pope Leo XIII’s “acute analysis of political modernity” as a guide to the crisis of our time—an unusually thought-provoking essay.

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