26 January 2008

Prague, 1994: Fractured Intelligentsia

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), p. 141:
The intelligentsia—one of the characteristic phenomena of modern Central and East European history—is now everywhere engulfed in sweeping change. This world of "circles of friends," of milieux, where artists, philosophers, writers, economists, journalists all felt themselves to belong to the same group and to be committed to a certain common ethos (albeit often honored in the breach), was something anachronistic in late-twentieth-century Europe—but also something rich and fine. Its extraordinary character was summed up for me in a phrase that Ivan KlĂ­ma used in describing how he and his fellow writers had set out to revive the dormant Czech PEN club in 1989. "I was," he said, "authorized by my circle of friends." The peculiar world of the intelligentsia under communism was one in which you sought authorization from your circle of friends.

Freedom has changed all that. With remarkable speed, the intelligentsia has fragmented into separate professions, as in the West: journalists, publishers, academics, actors, not to mention those who have become officials, lawyers, diplomats. The milieux have faded, the "circles of friends" have dispersed or lost their special significance. Those who have remained in purely "intellectual" professions—above all, academics—have found themselves impoverished. Moreover, it is the businessmen and entrepreneurs who are the tone-setting heroes of this time. Thus, from having an abnormal importance before 1989, independent intellectuals have plummeted to abnormal unimportance.

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