u_topn picture
Atlantic Unbound Sidebar

From Calamities of Exile,
by Lawrence Weschler


Calamities of Exile And now suddenly, a Czech population that for twenty years had been generally cowed into submission reared up in near unanimous revulsion. The Jakes regime's dread authority dematerialized across the course of the ensuing week. Students mobilized throughout the country, calling for a general strike on November 27. Two days after the police riot, Civic Forum was founded and soon took up residence at the Magic Lantern Theater. During the next several days, one hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, half a million converged on Wenceslaus Square to cheer Vaclav Havel and presently Alexander Dubcek as well. Jakes resigned, and though he was initially replaced by another hardliner, Karel Urbanek, by November 25 Urbanek was reluctantly announcing the government's willingness to enter into negotiations with the opposition.

Back in London, [Jan] Kavan couldn't stand being stuck there as his life's universe was being transfigured in his homeland. On November 25, brandishing the most current of his passports, he boarded a jet for Prague.
Discuss this excerpt in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.

Return to the Atlantic Unbound interview with Lawrence Weschler.


And so it was that he arrived at the Prague airport -- or, rather, I. M. James arrived. Only this time, according to Kavan, the phony passport set off alarm bells. Customs officials called the Interior Ministry downtown, which dispatched a pair of agents who undertook more than twelve hours of strenuous interrogation (during which, among other things, they established Kavan's true identity), before grudgingly allowing him into the country at three o'clock the following morning. They warned him that they'd likely be picking him up again. And, indeed, three days later (the morning after a successful one-hour general strike, as the regime's leaders were already deep into the negotiations that would quickly lead to their supersession), they once again nabbed Kavan, this time taking him out to an elegant villa in one of the city's leafier districts.

And here's where things get really fuzzy, here's where things turn truly odd. Because two years later, after Kavan had been officially denounced as an StB collaborator and he'd launched an international campaign to clear his name, his parliamentary opponents illegally leaked a videotape of that second interrogation or, rather, portions of it. It didn't seem like an interrogation at all. Its tone was disconcertingly cordial, and, at one point, Jan Kavan and his StB interlocutors were even seen to be toasting each other with champagne.


Next passage
Previous passage

Return to an interview with Lawrence Weschler.

Discuss this excerpt in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.

Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press, USA. From Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler, pp.92-93. Copyright © 1998 by Lawrence Weschler. All rights reserved.
Cover Atlantic Unbound The Atlantic Monthly Post & Riposte Atlantic Store Search