Friday, February 26, 2010

Roger Scruton and the Fall

I missed these excellent Scrutonian reflections when they were published back in November, to commemorate the two-decade old fall of the Berlin Wall. His piece is shot with poignant remembrances of his persecuted colleagues behind the Iron Curtain, who struggled to keep alive the flame of Western culture in an inhospitable environment:

For ten years before 1989 I was in the habit of visiting Eastern Europe to support the fragile underground educational networks there. I would meet my contacts on street corners at prearranged times, to be taken by tram to some smoke-filled room in an outlying apartment, where a group of whispering “students” had gathered to meet me.
Every knock on the door was followed by a frozen silence and, from time to time, someone would lift a corner of the curtain and peer anxiously into the street. Books in many languages lined the walls and as often as not, a crucifix would be fastened to the wall above the shelves.  
The people I met were of many different casts of mind. Some, among the older generation, still maintained a belief in the “socialism with a human face” that had been announced by Alexander Dubcek, the Czechoslovak President, during the Prague Spring of 1968. Most of the younger people did not believe that socialism could wear a human face or that, if it tried to do so, it would look any better than one of those monsters with a human face painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

For the most part, the people I met were quiet, studious, often deeply religious, attempting to build shrines in the catacombs, around which small circles of marginalised people could gather to venerate the memory of their national culture. This was especially true of the Czechs, from whom their national culture had been officially confiscated after the Soviet invasion...
Participating in these clandestine meetings, Scruton confirmed a lesson he'd already learned when he witnessed the rioting of Parisian students in 1968, that love and honor for Western culture, coupled with a critical and discriminating attititude, were safeguards, even if only personal, against the worst depredations of collectivism, liberalism, and totalitarianism
[L]earning, culture and the European spiritual heritage were, for them, symbols of their own inner freedom, and of the national independence they sought to remember, if not to regain, they looked on those things with an unusual veneration. As a visitor from the world of fun, pop and comic strips I was amazed to discover students for whom words devoted to such things were wasted words, and who sat in those little pockets of underground air studying Greek literature, German philosophy, medieval theology and the operas of Verdi and Wagner.
But what of the dreams nurtured in the Slavic catacombs? Read Scruton's potent little editorial, and ponder.

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