Category Archives: Czechoslovakia

Tearing Our Eyes Out: What the "Springs" Have in Common

Blogging as Connected Writing- POST 2

Protestors in Iran during the Arab Spring

 I watched an animated video by Evegny Morozov called “The Internet in Society” that addresses how the internet may not help the cause of democracy. There were many things that struck me about this video, but in particular I was chilled by Morozov’s lecture point that currently in Iran, authorities are using the documents left online from the protests as evidence to crack down on the creators (bloggers, posters) and as tools to find the protesters depicted by re-posting pictures of individuals and encouraging people to turn them in.

It reminded me of Milan Kundera’s book/film “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” which takes place during the Prague Spring of 1968 when the Soviet Union and most members of the Warsaw Pact occupied Czechoslovakia to squelch liberal reforms that were taking place at the time. Kundera is Czech and lived in Prague during these historic events. A liberal communist and a patriot, he was deeply committed to Czech communist reforms along with other leaders such as Václav Havel.

Tereza, one of Milan’s main characters in the book, is a photographer struggling for inspiration and is deeply moved by protesters in the streets when the occupation begins. In frenzy, she shoots roll after roll of film and in the chaos, hands her exposed film to someone claiming to be a foreign journalist. The photographs are powerful- I have posted actual photos taken during this time period. With the exception of some suicides and incidents of self-immolation, protests were non-violent and there was no military resistance whatsoever.

Later in the story, Tereza is taken to a place where hoards of people are being interrogated in a large, open space by the occupiers. Scattered throughout the room, light boxes display the images she captured. The people in her photos are the people being interrogated. In Tereza’s photographs, each person is caught in a heroic and passionate movement or act of protest. In the room, the same people are beaten, injured, small and terrified.

Earlier in the film a public statement is made by Tereza’s husband Tomas (who seems to portray Kundera in his youth) asserting that despite lack of prior knowledge, people should be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions. He draws a metaphor that Czechs pandering to the Soviets should eventually claw their eyes out just as Oedipus did when their naïveté eventually and inevitably falls away.

When Tereza realizes the film she shot is being used as evidence, her hands fly to her eyes in horror of what her camera lens has revealed and the consequences her art has sown.

I still cannot look at the images from the Prague Spring of 1968 without getting tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart for the courage and obvious sense of mass betrayal and despair the Czechs collectively felt at the time of the occupation. When I look at Iranian protest photographs such as the women at the top of the page, I wonder if they are still alive. I wonder if any of the bloggers/posters in Iran or other countries like it, are feeling a sense of deep guilt or despair as a result of their online activism being used as evidence to punish those who dared to protest- that is of course, if these individuals themselves survived the subsequent response to their initial courage.

The media may change, but the tactics of oppressive regimes never do.