We Should Take . . .

the Fate Of the Country in Our Hands';Civic Forum Message Spreads to Hinterland
Article from:The Washington Post Article date:December 11, 1989 Author: Dan Morgan

The three-week-old Czechoslovak democracy movement reached the grass roots Saturday when about 500 working men and women jammed into a hall here 80 miles south of Prague to learn about freedom and to vent their anger at the first free-wheeling "town meeting" in this country in more than four decades. "We must not be afraid; we must learn democracy," exhorted a visiting speaker, Prague actor Ottakar Brousek. "It is not just `We' and `They' now. We have the responsibility. When we go home tonight, we should take our fate and the fate of our country in our hands." "We still hear a clock inside us that ticks with fear," an older man from Rozmital confided during a break in the discussion. But he said that the meeting, sponsored by the town's small but growing Civic Forum chapter, was dispelling it. Meetings like this one all over Czechoslovakia will be as important as the heady developments in Prague, according to representatives of the Civic Forum democracy coalition formed in the aftermath of the bloody Nov. 17 police assault on student demonstrators in Prague. If Civic Forum's campaign for political freedom is to last after the euphoria has ebbed, it must have structured, locally based support until elections are held and a democratic system is firmly established, organizers say. That is why intellectuals, artists and students who form the core of the movement in Prague have

launched a vigorous program to draw in working people, women and farmers all over the country. The Communist Party's "leading role," or monopoly on government, has been abolished by law, but Civic Forum members say that message has not gotten through to village-level party officials, many of whom are little dictators in their areas. Civic Forum charged last week that "Stalinists" were still in control of eastern Slovakia and that breaking their local power will be like fighting "a mafia." It was clear Saturday that the democratic enthusiasm that has reached a fever pitch in Prague is only beginning to reach the agricultural, textile and uranium mining country around Rozmital. It was a cold, windy day with gusts of snow blowing across roads, but a standing-room-only crowd braved the elements to come to the meeting hall. A blue banner announcing the forum had been pinned up at the front of the room, next to the red, white and blue Czechoslovak flag. The overflow crowd lined the walls and stairs as a half-dozen students, all seemingly too young to have been born when Soviet tanks snuffed out Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" reform movement of 1968, gave the hushed audience detailed accounts of police attacks on them. By the time the meeting was thrown open for discussion, the ice had been broken. "I work as a dispatcher at the farm-machinery plant," began one young man. "Will the factory be privatized?" Brousek, the Prague actor, took a stab at answering. "I'm not an economist, but Dr. {Walter} Komarek {an economist named deputy prime minister today} says private property will exist to some extent. Shares might be owned by workers in the factories."

"Could I get a share?" the dispatcher asked. "Of course." "How would I afford it? I only make 3,000 {crowns}, and I support five." "So you see how bad off we are!" shouted someone near the front of the hall. It was announced that one of the town's most powerful Communists, the chief magistrate, was in the crowd, but it appeared to have little effect on the discussion. A man describing himself as a toolmaker won round after round of applause with a long diatribe about conditions locally-and in Czechoslovakia in general. "There is good arable land that the army is using for military exercises. Why can't we use it to farm?" he shouted into a hand-held microphone. "Do we want to be led by the people who were always telling us what a beautiful future was in store for us? I was in Austria a while ago. They were the same as us 70 years ago. Now our standard of living doesn't compare." During an intermission, a white-haired man said he had been victimized his whole life because "in my military book it was written that I was the son of a private craftsman. I had to live in the shadow of that for 40 years." He said the local party had prevented him from getting letters from a relative in the United States and that mail had to be routed through another relative in Czechoslovakia. "Many of us were humiliated, harassed and investigated by the police," he said. "I'd be glad if they did something against those {expletives}." He said no doubt there

were "police informers" at the meeting but that "it doesn't matter anymore." The environment is expected to be a big issue for Civic Forum's local chapter. One of its founders, Frantisek Cjeka, led a successful campaign to shut down a building-materials factory that was dumping deadly chemicals into a stream. Cjeka said most of the groundwater in the area is now probably contaminated and beyond saving and that people are angry and afraid. In Cjeka, Civic Forum's Rozmital chapter has at least one person experienced in dealing with the political and bureaucratic system. He seemed to feel it was not an impossible task. Addressing the meeting Saturday after a succession of angry and sometimes disjointed speeches, he adopted a moderate tone. Nobody should think of "personal revenge," he said; lower-level party functionaries are often under great pressure. But Cjeka said he is going to fight not just for reform of communism, but for full-scale democracy. "In 1968, we were much more naive than today's students," he told the townspeople. "We were betrayed, and our whole generation was eliminated. {Alexander} Dubcek was our ideal 21 years ago. But he doesn't speak to a younger generation. And since the younger generation started this revolution, they should have their own leaders." Before the meeting, 260 people signed up for the Rozmital chapter of Civic Forum. After it was over, dozens more came forward to register.

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