Being in Prague, it is impossible not to think of revolution. And like all revolutions that one has not seen firsthand or been involved in, the Czech Revolution is incredibly precarious to make a comment about.
What I can say without the felt need to qualify my position as a new visitor here and to underscore my ignorance any further is that the city has me thinking significantly about freedom and peace. I came upon the memorial to the student demonstration that took place here on November 17, 1989 and which spurred on a series of demonstrations. This was the beginning of the Velvet Revolution that would end communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Though older protestors ended up joining students, I couldn’t help think of the younger generation and the young who carry on the hope of what has come before. This is not to be ageist; rather, it is to recognize how times change and how, so often, the realms of study, introspection, learning and the youth can help open minds.
Perhaps I am reflecting on this to some degree because of the fact that I have now seen lesbian and gay partners walking comfortably hand in hand in different areas of this city and, as well, marketing advertisements which boast queer models throughout Prague to sell products. This would have been inconceivable had not times and governments changed, and it makes me think that one of the most important things we can do in this world is to cultivate free-thinking and young minds.
These ideas were also on my mind as I stood in front of the John Lennon Wall. Lennon’s death in 1980 spurred on the youth to adopt this wall as a public spectacle for words of peace and liberation, and messages of peace and hope cover the wall in graffiti. The wall was often whitewashed throughout the years until, giving up, authorities have now let it stand as it is.
This is not to say that I think “Western” thinking and vehicles are the height of freedom and enlightenment. Indeed, it was a turning to the “West” and its ideals that led to whitewashing and disgruntlement with the wall, and perhaps mixed in with the questioning of the “West” is something healthy. A major political spectacle taking place in the “West” right now, for instance, doesn’t seem to be about freedom at all.
But Lennon wasn’t really about West or East or North or South. He was about freedom and peace, and I see the wall as exactly that—as a wall which, ironically, doesn’t uphold the notions of building walls between individuals or cultures and which, rather, talks about healthy and loving connections.
I’m thinking about all of this because, having researched certain aspects of Bohemia, I am aware that in 1353 when Charles IV, King of Bohemia, ruled Prague and was Holy Roman Emperor, he created a law to punish homosexual acts with death. How 19th century Bohemianism in major European cities, defined by libertine and egalitarian ideals, ever ended up adopting its nomenclature from some kind of association with the old world of Bohemia will be the focus of more intent study. What will also be a focus of more rigorous study are the decades between 1945 and today, the time between the year in which Czechoslovakia was liberated from Nazi control and now. One hardly needs to revisit Nazi attitudes towards the gay population.
True, we do have to revisit in order to understand where we have come from. But it is the remarkable hope and acceptance which I intend to trace, the meaning of what stands behind “Love More,” a dominant focus on the John Lennon Wall.