Versione italiana | Search in site:

The power of the powerless

Not only dissent - the "parallel polis" in Eastern Europe

Jan Palach's grave

Jan Palach's grave Foto di Joffley

To use the term “dissent” or “opposition” in the Eastern countries is a simplification hiding all of the phenomenon complexity. Actually, dissidents their selves do not appreciate such definition, and they frequently put it in inverted commas.

What do “dissent” and “opposition” mean, in most cases, in a totalitarian or post-totalitarian system? Vaclav Havel, in his “Power of the powerless”, claims: “It is obvious that men who simply decided to live in truth, declare what they think, express they solidarity with the citizens, live in harmony with their better selves, do not accept that their original e affermative position could be defined in negative… and above all, they do not accept to be defined as the ones who stand against this and the other, and not as the one who do are this and the other”. From this originates the brilliant definition of “parallel polis” by the Prague philosopher Vaclav Benda, to identify the spaces of cultural, social and human freedom, created by the dissidents within their society. Spaced conceived not as utopias, islands of happiness counterposed to a world of appearance and falsehood, but as spaces where responsibility for all of society comes true.

Radim Palous, Charta ’77 sposkesperson, in a 1982 interview declared: “Since 1969, public opinion was in great majority set in a so-called ‘realistic’ position, of resigned waiting, deprived of any concrete prospective. Relativism, opportunism and pessimism followed, and so did the dangerous perception that ‘anyway, there’s nothing we can do’ and the the certainty that the unique life reason is to keep on surviving. Vice versa, all the ones who subscribed the Charta ’77 declaration became a proof alive that it was possible, even in danger, to fight against fear. They demonstrated that every citizen’s responsibility for the ‘common’, for the ‘polis’, was worth in every historical moment”.

Many of these movements or groups, beside initiatives that were inevitably linked to clandestinity, refused to stay outside ‘normal’ society, in order to occupy the “halfway” spaces - as they were defined in Poland by Jacek Kuron - allowed by the post-totalitarian regime: associations, local government organs, organizations apparently permitted by law, but deprived of their original content. Furthermore, their action of dissent frequently consisted in complaining with any consequence the application of the law, such as the one about freedom of conscience, or the international agreements subscribed by their countries, as the Helsinki agreement.

Since then, a wide movement was born, with different levels of commitment within, able, in time, to conditioning public opinion mentality: for the second time in history, after Romania, a regime was overthrown peacefully, with no bloodsheds and a new ruling class, recognized by the majority of the people, already willing to assume the responsibility of the country.

Annalia Guglielmi

Don’t miss the story of the Righteous and the memory of Good

Once a month you will receive articles and events selected by Gariwo Editorial Board. Please fill out the field below and click on subscribe.

Featured story

Jan Nowak Jezioranski

dissident and resistant against the nazi occupation of Poland