[T]he problem is that the signifier has become severed from the signified. The words I learn now don’t stand for things in the same unquestioned way they did in my native tongue. “River” in Polish was a vital sound, energized with the essence of riverhood, of my rivers, of my being immersed in rivers. “River” in English is cold—a word without an aura. It has no accumulated associations for me, and it does not give off the radiating haze of connotation. It does not evoke. The process, alas, works [...] Continue reading >
This is a guest post by Tatjana Pavlovič, who blogs at Czechmate Diary. *** Slovakia, in the back of my mind, still equals to Czechoslovakia, which equals to my home country where I was born and raised. I guess that would mean that my mind still refuses to accept the split which happened 21 years ago. I grew up around Slovak-speaking people. My grandpa was Slovak, a well-known professor in Martin. My dad was born there and even when the family moved to the Czech part of the country, [...] Continue reading >
“My homeland,” says the guest, “no longer exists. My homeland was Poland, Vienna, this house, the barracks in the city, Galicia, and Chopin. What’s left? Whatever mysterious substance held it all together no longer works. Everything’s come apart. My homeland was a feeling, and that feeling was mortally wounded. When that happens, the only thing to do is go away.” —Konrad, a character in Sándor Márai’s novel “Embers” (1940)
No matter what we call it and whether or not we speak of it as such, Central Europe was, is, and probably continue to be. Like the Danube, which existed long before it was called the Danube. Central Europe may well outlive us. The existence of Central Europe is thus a given. And yet Central Europe is transitory, provisional. It is neither east nor west; it is both east and west. —George Konrád in "Melancholy of Rebirth: Essays From Post-Communist Central Europe, 1989-1994"
In a certain sense I can consider myself a typical Eastern European. It seems to be true that his differentia specifica can be boiled down to a lack of form—both inner and outer. His good qualities—intellectual avidity, fervor in discussion, a sense of irony, freshness of feeling, spacial (or geographical) fantasy—derive from a basic weakness: he always remains an adolescent, governed by a sudden ebb or flow of inner chaos. Form is achieved in stable societies. My own case is enough to verify how much of an effort it [...] Continue reading >
Anna Porter’s "The Ghosts of Europe" explores the state of affairs in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, 20 years after the end of state socialism. In each country she discovers that the historical triumphs and, more frequently, traumas remain far from being settled history. Two decades of free speech and free market may actually have intensified the debates among competing versions of history. To paraphrase Jan Gross, whom Porter quotes, "In order to reclaim its past, [insert Central European country's name here] will have to tell its past anew." [...] Continue reading >
One of my fondest memories of Bratislava, where I went to college in the mid-1990′s, is joining my friend Zuzana at the Hungarian Cultural Institute for monthly concerts of Ghymes, a Hungarian folk band from southern Slovakia. The concerts contributed to my sense of Bratislava as a place in Europe’s center. Peoples and cultures have mingled for centuries in the area where the Danube and Morava rivers as well as the contemporary countries of Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia meet. Heard at the foot of the Carpathian Mountain Range, Ghymes reminded us that the vastness of the [...] Continue reading >
This is a guest post by Marek Bennett, the creative genius behind —Coffee+Dumplings+Komiks—, a travel comics from Slovakia. The comic originally appeared on Marek’s blog on January 25, 2012, under the title “Juxtaposition 3: Life in the Middle”. Below the comic, Marek remarked, “Sometimes it feels like cartography and history are forms of cartooning.” Marek kindly allowed me to repost the comic here as a preview of my upcoming series about Central Europe. Enjoy!
If you define a hero as someone who performs deeds which you cannot imagine yourself perform and which are marked by self-sacrifice for a greater good, Václav Havel, who passed away today at the age of 75 near Prague, was my hero. The 13-year old me learned his name early on in the Velvet Revolution, as he and his fellow dissidents negotiated the end of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’s rule. With democracy taking hold in my country for the first time since 1938, details of his life emerged: [...] Continue reading >
This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for Czechmate Diary. Enjoy! *** “I’ve been to Prague,” is the most frequent response I hear when I tell Americans I’m from Slovakia (“Where is that?” and “Czechoslovakia?” are close behind). Prague looms large in many people’s imagination, and every time I hear the sentence, I think of ‘my Prague’ and the layers upon layers of memories the city conjures. The Velvet Prague I visited Prague for the first time when I was 12 1/2, with my parents in [...] Continue reading >
Another Thanksgiving is over and tanks won’t be haunting me for at least another year. Every year the holiday’s name makes me think of tanks, which is why I secretly call it Tanksgiving. Tanks play a role in a Central European’s, and particularly a Slovak’s or a Czech’s, life story and imagination. If you ask any Slovak or Czech with memories of living in socialist Czechoslovakia about tanks, I guarantee he will share at least one memory about a particular tank. (Please do share your tank story in the Comments.) ‘My tanks’ [...] Continue reading >