chapter20


December 1968
U
ntil now the bookshop had been more or less a labour of love than something to base an income on. There are some risks in working freelance and the family had balanced the risk when Stefan worked at the Hochschule and provided a regular income. Technically, I was surviving on a weekly minimum wage and bartering. If I was going to work as a translator, in the same way as Kulyakin to supplement my income, I needed my own health-insurance and to fill out income forms. We were assigned a case-worker. She explained that the premiums for health insurance were high, because of the perception that self-employed people were mostly members of the liberal professions: doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, craftspeople, artists and shopkeepers fell under the same regulations. 
  Stefan said that I was the book-keeper in our shop. This was news to me. I had no clue about book-keeping in a capitalist economy; my previous job involved keeping inventories. Stefan explained that all we needed was to scrape enough money to pay the mortgage, our insurance premium and make sure that bills are paid. He found this very exciting, as if this new enterprise was giving him a new lease of health. The career adviser explained to Stefan that if his health got worse we might need to look at other arrangements because it made no sense paying the premium if it exceeded his income.  

Now I realised why Schaden went to work for the Hochschule für Welthandel and why he liked the idea of the state running the economy. The work at the bookshop reminded me of farming, except that our books and postcards were our crops. It took me a long time to get used to this new life-style. This is what Nikola Koblar dreamed of when he moved to Kostelec. Owning a patch of land and reaping from it, have a cottage on this patch of land and raise his family. In Kostelec such a small dream is not possible and seen as wrong, this is why there is no private ownership. Small-holders and shopkeepers were expropriated because an ideology deemed that that they were exploiting the working-class. Therefore, it is no possible for anyone from the working-class to become anything else than working for someone else. It is strange how the same thought process is being applied to the Austria health insurance premium. Because by definition the working-class will never be able to work for themselves, the feudal system that Marx sought to abolish, thrived under regimes that were inspired by his theories. If we are all working class, everyone would be equally poor in an unfree world. This is the major flaw of Marxism. 

Capitalism and the market economy can learn a few things from Marx. In the days when he wrote his works, there were few regulations to protect the rights of factory workers and no health coverage at all. They were at the mercy of the factory owners. The latter were able to choose to be socially responsible but they were not bound to pay their workforce fair wages. Some cared about accidents and work conditions, others did not. Above all, it was greed and display of riches that prompted the need for social reforms, even revolutions. You cannot create wealth by crushing people. The so-called 'prosperity theory' which states that eventually the poorest will get crumbs off the rich, is a fallacy. It is ethically wrong to let anyone  starve for others to live in opulence. Social justice does not happen through inaction.  This remains true to this day. What Marxism-Leninism could learn from the Free World ideology is to accept civil rights and a diverse society that collaborates together for the good of all. But this is not even 'free world ideology', it's the basic declaration of human rights as signed by everyone who is a member of the United Nations. 


On Christmas Eve, Comrade Ammereiner visited me at the bookshop with a potted tree:
'This is an Abies sibirica – Siberian fir tree – Pinacae of the Pine family. You might want to know that your father is currently working in a prison camp at Perm 36 in Siberia. He was sent there because of a letter he wrote to the Austrian Dokumentationsarchiv. Brezhnev's authorities were not very happy about it. He'll be back in Leningrad in a year's time. I thought you might want to be informed about the news. Olga, Irina and Vladimir are still in Leningrad and hope to visit him soon. He won't leave the USSR because of his family but I doubt very much that they'll let him travel abroad again.” 
“I should have stayed in Prague!” 
“Nonsense. You are much safer here. Besides, he had to leave Prague after his assignment. You would have been foolish to join him in Leningrad. 
"I guess he couldn't stay in Prague because they didn't let Vladimir join him." 
"This is how the Soviets make sure that the comrades return home after being posted abroad." 
“Do you have any news of Prague University?” 
“I'm not in touch with Ing. Zpovednic
á. After the student demonstrations, she was removed from the admin department.  She is now works at Tesla electronics and lives with the blonde office/chauffeur girl. It's difficult to get news because of the new policies."

He put the brown package on the counter:
"I thought you might want this," he said "It's his book on Tolstoy and Napoleon. He gave me a copy when we were researching for the documentary. And it's not banned in the USSR."
"I never got around reading it. Thank you. "
"Cheer up, the old boy is going to be fine.We got rid of Hitler and his Nazis, perhaps one day, your country will be rid of Soviet Occupation. This won't last forever. Once Moscow itself realizes that Marxism needs a human face, then things will get better.
"Let's hope for a better future for this world."

After he left, I filed "On the Peaceful uses of Outer Space", a report written by Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian foreign secretary next to "Four Just Men" by Edgar Wallace, a thriller about a group of people who plan to kill the Foreign Secretary if he passes an unfair law. 

Perhaps, I currently feel contented that I can go out and talk rubbish without anyone telling me to be cautious. Yet I am aware that people will go to bed hungry; some face illness and mortality, others face war and repression; and others will be on the streets or wait for permission to stay. I am not being wistful and it is said that in a Western Democracy, being heckled is the worst thing that can happen to a speaker.  You think of a metaphor written with a quill, and above you a seagull laughs. Lachmöwe flying over the Danube.... 

Sometimes I wonder what Lukas Votova and Anton Schaden talked about during those early hours at 'Maxim's', the 'Casasova' and the 'Oriental'. I can also imagine them at the blue hour, the happy hour - as they say in the bars, they serve drinks half-price because there are hardly any guests - the performers have finished their sound-check and will be back later for the evening performance. Stefan said that Lukas Votova liked having a glass of wine at the blue hour. For a while we listened to the "Kleine Rundfunkorchester" playing light entertainment music that was as old-fashioned as the book on our shelves. "Manche Menschen sind wie ein offenes Buch: lauter leere Seiten!" - some people are like an open book: with lots of empty pages!" says a rebellious slogan



Before Stefan left, I asked him if Lukas's family used to be called Vot. He replied that indeed they were called that. Grandmother Felicie Votova was married to Simon-Peter Vot from Pišek who used to be a preacher with the Bohemian Brethen church. When Simon-Peter died, Felicie came here with her son. I told him that my birthday was on Jan-Hus Day and then he went home to his flat by taxi.

I miss Prague deeply. I wouldn't miss it so much if I could visit the place. My choice to leave was a personal one. It is quite possible to live and thrive under any kind of regime without compromising your integrity. and at home dissidents and protesters have made that choice. Other will opt for passive resistance. They also know that each one of us should have the right to make a personal choice of where to live and thrive.  Why do some people emigrate?  Why do people stay? Because a human being is not a static object. It cannot be bound to the land, even if it chooses to settle down. Serfs and slaves used to be forced to stay in one particular place. A free individual does not have a ball and chair tied to their ankle. I have no idea what to do with all this freedom. In a democracy it is fine to change your mind, lose it, procrastinate, be a failure, none will ever destroy you because you are inept. You do no longer go to prison for attempting suicide.  This is reassuring. There is no more pressure on me to be a model citizen. I like to think that I am a good citizen because it is my personal choice. I hope to be self-sufficient as long as my health is fine. 

Olivia came back into the shop. She stored her umbrella, coat and tattered briefcase under the counter. I offered her some coffee to warm her up. We had a little chat about the English word 'bohemian/Bohemian' and how the word appears in the literature of William Shakespeare, in detective stories by Robert-Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle. Olivia said that literature is a world of its own. We thought about La Bohème - the opera by Puccini and the song by Charles Aznavour. She said that sometimes she can relate to that and sometimes she feels that there is a bareer because some outrageous bohemians mock the artlessness of shopkeepers. It depends really, if a person is intelligent, then they think beyond clichés and poses. She added that we should start thinking of stocking up on calendars for the new year 1969. I took out one of our forms and typed an order to the publishers, number of copies, ISBN, payment 30 days after receipt of invoice. I typed on the old Underwood typewriter once belonged to F.Werfel. Not Franz the writer but Ferdinand Werfel the accountant from the Nussdorferstasse.Before dusk fell over town, a ray of light came through the dark clouds and filtered through the blue glass over the door. This gave the bookshop an ecclesiastical feel. Olivia said that this place was soothing. She put on the BBC World Service on the PAM radio. We listened to it for a while as I lodged the order in the ledger. She finished drinking her coffee and rinsed the cup whilst I was brushing the floor. When everything was neat and tidy, ready for the next day, it was time to turn the sign and close the shop.

I went to my room upstairs and put the pot with the Siberian fir on my dormer window-sill. There were no decorations but the stars in the sky and the snow blanket outside. I shall never forget what happened in my motherland, the Kingdom of Forgetting, Praga Caput Regni – because when the time comes, and it will come, then the witnesses will come out of the shadows and will tell their stories for the future generations and History to remember. Sibi et Posteris – yourself and the ones after you. 


And they lived happily ever after. 

The End
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