Letter to Dr. Husak

In 1975, when the repression of the Prague Spring – called “normalization” – was more or less complete, Havel wrote an open letter to Gustav Husák, who was then the general secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, warning of the dangerous consequences of the repression of normal social life and the humiliation of human dignity.

From “Dear Dr. Husak”

“If every day someone takes order in silence from an incompetent superior, if every day he solemnly performs ritual acts which he privately finds ridiculous, if he unhesitatingly gives answers to questionnaires which are contrary to his real opinions and is prepared to deny himself in public, if he sees no difficulty in feigning sympathy or even affection where, in fact, he feels only indifference or aversion, it still does not mean that he has entirely lost the use of one of the basic human senses; the sense of dignity.

“On the contrary: even if they never speak of it, people have a very acute appreciation of the price they have paid for outward peace and quiet: the permanent humiliation of their human dignity. The less direct resistance they put up to it––comforting themselves by driving it from their mind and deceiving themselves with the thought that it is of no account, or else simply gritting their teeth––the deeper the experience etches itself into their emotional memory. The man who resists humiliation can quickly forget it, but the man who can long tolerate it must long remember it. In actual fact, then, nothing remains forgotten. All the fear one has endured, the dissimulation one has been forced into, all the painful and degrading buffoonery and, worst of all perhaps, the feeling of having displayed one’s cowardice––all this settles and accumulates somewhere n the bottom of our social consciousness, quietly fermenting.

“Clearly, this is no healthy situation. Left untreated, the abscesses suppurate; the pus cannot escape from the body and the malady spreads throughout the organism. The natural human emotion . . . is gradually deformed into a sick cramp, into a toxic substance not unlike the carbon monoxide produced from incomplete combustion.

No wonder, then, that when the crust cracks and the lava of life rolls out, there appear not only well-considered attempts to rectify old wrongs, not only searchings for truth and for reforms matching life’s needs, but also symptoms of bilious hatred, vengeful wrath, and a feverish desire for immediate compensation for all the degradation endured.”

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