Towards the end of this week we have been cocooned in drizzle-like fog. It permeates any clothing, rising damp is reaching my knees, the ground seems wetter and muddier than after heavy rain. Trees, last week dancing in strong winds, are poised without reaction, silent, bare, dark and still against the heavy grey sky.
The 17th November is a public holiday here, it marks the day in 1989 when police violence to break up a student march sparked public protests which brought the end to 40 years of Communist totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. It tends to get overlooked that it also marks the Nazi clampdown on student activities that day in 1939, when all institutes of higher education not instructing in German were closed and student leaders executed or sent to concentration camps. In fact it was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of these events that the student march in 1989 was organised in the first place.
Conversations at this time naturally turn to comparing life here before and after 1989. I am not qualified to fully contribute to these discussions having arrived here in 1993, but a recent such conversation turned to whether there is more freedom today and whether that is a good thing. As the damp soaked into me I pondered on what freedom is to me.
No freedom is limitless, the fences that limit our freedoms may be way over on the horizon or close up to us but we should know that they are there, look after them and shift them as necessary if we can, sometimes dramatically, but we can't just destroy them. We want "freedom from" when we define where we don't want to be: freedom from fear, responsibilty, problems of any sort. Respite from these might be desirable but fencing these out of lives completely excludes other things that constitute a worthwhile life. We want "freedom to" or "freedom of" to define where we want to be: freedom to travel, freedom of speech. How many people use the freedom to travel, really want to travel, put up their own unnecessary boundaries to this freedom? The limits to my freedom of speech should be way over on the horizon, but I should accept that it is wise to consider what I say where, when and to who.
Freedoms should be limited but the fences must be well-maintained.
The last dregs
3 hours ago