When I arrived to spend a few days in the West in September 1968 – my eyes still seeing Russian tanks parked on Prague’s streets – an otherwise quite likeable young man asked me with unconcealed hostility: ‘So what is it you Czechs want exactly? Are you already weary of socialism? Would you have preferred our consumer society?’
Today, sixteen years on, the Western Left almost unanimously approves of the Prague Spring. But I’m not sure the misunderstanding has been clarified entirely.
Western intellectuals, with their proverbial self-centredness, often take an interest in events not in order to know them but so as to incorporate them into their own theoretical speculations, as if they were adding another pebble to their personal mosaic. In that way Alexander Dubček may in some circumstances merge with Allende or Trotsky, in others with Lumumba or Che Guevara. The Prague Spring has been accepted, labelled – but remains unknown.