From my political ideals, it should be clear enough that I would like to accentuate culture in every possible way in my practice of politics. Culture in the widest possible sense of the word, including everything from what might be called the culture of everyday life—or “civility”—to what we know as high culture, including the arts and sciences.
I don’t mean that the state should heavily subsidize culture as a particular area of human endeavor, nor do I at all share the indignant fear of many artists that the period we are going through now is ruining culture and will eventually destroy it. Most of our artists have, unwittingly, grown accustomed to the unending generosity of the Socialist state. It subsidized a number of cultural institutions and offices, heedless of whether a film, say, cost one million or ten million crowns, or whether anyone ever went to see it. It didn’t matter how many idle actors the theaters had on their payrolls; the main thing was that everyone was on one, and thus on the take. The Communist state knew where the greatest danger to it lay: in the realm of the intellect and the spirit. It knew who first had to be pacified through irrational largesse. That the state was less and less successful at doing so is another matter, which merely confirms how right it was to be afraid; for, despite all the bribes and prizes and titles thrown their way, the artists were among the first to rebel.
This nostalgic complaint by artists who fondly remember their “social security” under socialism therefore leaves me unmoved. Culture must, in part at least, learn how to make its own way. It should be partially funded through tax write-offs, and through foundations, development funds, and the like—which, by the way, are forms that best suit its plurality and its freedom. The more varied the sources of funding for the arts and sciences, the greater variety and competition there will be in the arts and in scholarly research. The state should—in ways that are rational, open to scrutiny, and well thought out—support only those aspects of culture that are fundamental to our national identity and the civilized traditions of our land, and that can’t be conserved through market mechanisms alone. I am thinking of heritage sites (there can’t be a hotel in every castle or château to pay for its upkeep, nor can the old aristocracy be expected to return and provide for their upkeep merely to preserve family honor), libraries, museums, public archives, and such institutions, which today are in an appalling state of disrepair (as though the previous “regime of forgetting” deliberately set out to destroy these important witnesses to our past). Likewise, it is hard to imagine that the Church, or the churches, in the foreseeable future, will have the means to restore all the chapels, cathedrals, monasteries, and ecclesiastical buildings that have fallen into ruin over the forty years of communism. They are a part of the…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.
Copyright © 1992 by Václav Havel. English translation copyright © 1992 by Paul Wilson.