Prague-Spring

Man bares his chest in front of a Soviet T52 tank in downtown Bratislava, August 1968. I cannot begin to imagine his anguish.(Photo courtesy: Ladislav Bielik – Safarikovo Namestie, Bratislava)

There’s no question about it. I am a vuvuzela. I would have liked to be a craxiola, but I am a loudmouth. Remember the vuvuzela, that trumpet-like plastic thingummy that sounds like the braying of asses when you blow through it? We Bengalis have just the right word for it – bhepu.

The World Cup has begun and suddenly there is silence from all the protesters over there. Oh, the poor sods in those favelas (Brazilian for jhopad patti).

It seems like the ‘Rio Spring’ didn’t quite take off. Like Anna Hazare’s ‘New Delhi Spring’. Hazare did not realize that Indians now are way different from the Indians of 1947. When he saw that folk couldn’t give a crap whether he lived or died fasting, he withdrew into obscurity.

I’ve just about had it with this insistence on adding ‘spring’ to every protest. ‘Arab Spring’, ‘Tehran Spring’, yuck!

Let me tell you about the kid who lives in my house. The other day I ate the last Oreo ice cream in the freezer. Hey, it had been lying there for a week, begging to be eaten. Even ice creams have a half-life, man. How would I know that the kid was planning on having it that very afternoon? He had simply misread his inventory data.

When he opened the freezer door, he found only legs of a chicken , Italian meat balls, frozen peas and a bag of pistas (I don’t know why that Persian woman who also lives in my house insists on stuffing pistas in the freezer). And numerous spice pastes that the aforementioned woman makes and stores for cooking.

The kid protested loudly. Screamed bloody murder, he did. Understandable. He’s a kid and ice creams still occupy a massive section of his consciousness, like militant Shiites do, in Sadr City. He refused to talk to me that entire afternoon. But then he had to quickly rethink his pozishun and tone down his rhetoric, when the pizza man rang the bell. Getting this kid to grin is a cinch. I could be a Rhodes Scholar writing about it.

What would I call the kid’s pre-pizza protest? ‘Oreo Spring’?

When the term, ‘spring’, was first used in anything other than a meteorological context, it was actually not meant to depict protests against the government. It was coined to depict a change toward an openness on part of the government, toward encouraging fresh ideas and the freedom to express them.

In January 1968, the reformist government of Czech Communist leader, Alexander Dubcek, tried to be more liberal toward ordinary Czechs, allowing them to congregate and raise their voices about things they saw and didn’t like.

This was the height of the Cold War and to the Soviets it was like committing treason. Reform is a contagious thing. See it happen next door and you’ll ask ‘why can’t I have it too?’ Things were tense till August, when the Soviets decided they had had enough of all that openness shmopenness. They rounded up an invasion force of 200000 troops and 2000 tanks and rolled into the streets of Prague. Dubcek was replaced by a hardliner.

The Americans at the time were bogged down in the quagmire of the Vietnam War and couldn’t even find their own richards to hold, let alone the ordinary Czechs’. Czechoslovakia went back under the iron curtain.

‘Prague Spring’ was a term first introduced by the American news magazine, Foreign Policy, to depict those brief months of free speech, between January and August 1968, when the ordinary Czechs began to believe they would be freed from the communist totalitarian yoke, keeping their movement a peaceful one all the while.

Why do certain ‘springs’ succeed while others fail? I would tell you, if you transferred a million into my numbered account in the Bahamas.