- Vladimir Tismaneanu: What are your personal memories of 1989?
- Bradley Abrams: Which explanation for events in 1989 is most compelling?
- Bradley Abrams: Why was there a communist/socialist return to power in Czechoslovakia?
- Bradley Abrams: What is communism?
- Padraic Kenney: How is Solidarity viewed today?
- Padraic Kenney: How have your ideas changed?
- Padraic Kenney: Did your research lead to a new interpretation?
- Maria Bucur: How have your ideas changed?
- Gale Stokes: What is the larger context within which you interpret the events of 1989?
- Gale Stokes: Why did the revolutions of 1989 happen so fast?
Bradley Abrams: What is communism?
When I was in graduate school, I knew what communism was and now that I’ve been out for several years, with the passing of time, I’m finding I know less and less about what communism was. My certainties about it have dissipated. Was it a way of organizing society? Was it a way of organizing time? Was it a way of organizing relationships? Was it a political system? Was it a social system? Was it cultural? What precisely was it? And I find as I get older that it’s everything and more.
I mean, if you’d asked me in 1983 or ’84 when I was first coming into contact with Eastern European culture, I would’ve said, you know, communism is a dictatorial regime in which everything’s owned by the state and it’s horribly repressive of human rights and particularly of creative artists because that’s what I was interested in. And all those things are true, but it’s not just that. It’s something more and that’s why I think Havel’s insight that the system runs through everyone is so valuable because in a sense it was the system, whatever we determine that is, that ran everything.
And Havel points out in The Power of the Powerless that even ministers are subject to the system. It’s not just the people who are being oppressed that are oppressed. It’s the people who are doing the oppressing that are also weighed down by what they feel they have to do. In a sense, everyone is to some degree— to some degree responsible, and even maybe guilty, for the sort of moral morass that the Czechoslovak society had sunk into.