Tuesday, July 21, 2015

something to say

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For most of the three decades between the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its destruction in 1989, much of Eastern Europe lay shut off from the West. 

Civilians who tried to escape from East Berlin, controlled by Moscow, to the western part of the city, allied with NATO, were killed by Communist snipers.  When President Kennedy

went to Berlin in 1963 and said, "Ich bin ein Berliner," he was showing Western support for the Germans whom Moscow was bent on annexing for the East. 

For most of the cold war, however, the Western European democracies and the United States decided that East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were -- at least geographically -- within a sphere of legitimate Soviet influence. 

Even when the Czechs rebelled against the Soviets during the "Prague Spring" of 1968, no armies from the West went to their assistance.  Russian tanks crushed the rebellion. 

It was not until the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev decided that the Soviets could no longer afford the military expenditure that made control of Eastern Europe possible, that one by one the former eastern block countries began to declare their independence from Moscow.

Jacqueline Onassis made a small but determined contribution to the renaissance of Western interest in Eastern Europe beginning in the late 1980s by commissioning the Czech artist Peter Sís

to write a children's book about his homeland.  Sís had come to America in 1982....He made a successful living as an illustrator of children's books and attracted the attention of a scholar of children's books, Michael Patrick Hearn, who introduced Sís to Jackie.

Jackie knew right away that she wanted to publish a book that Sís would illustrate, and she was sure he had something to say, so she wanted him to write it too.

Sís remembered that "finally Jackie was the one who came up with the idea of doing a book about Prague."  He had tentatively raised this idea with other publishers, but they weren't interested in Prague. 

They wanted more reliable subjects of interest in the West, such as Paris or Venice. 

Jackie's instinct was that because Prague was meaningful to Peter...he could write an unusual book about it....Jackie encouraged him to "be as free as you want to be"....

He was still agonizing over his childhood memories of wonderful freedom in Prague combined with the lack of political freedom that had compelled him to leave everything that he loved behind.  "Suddenly I could deal with all these feelings and subjects." 

She gave him the license to do whatever he wished.

{excerpts from Reading Jackie, written by William Kuhn.  2010, Doubleday}


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