Evading Power


Sonja Pyykkö speaks to György Dragomán, author of “The White King”, in Eurozine:

Day-to-day reality in a communist state was defined by a long list of forbidden practices, objects and opinions, and the culture of informants that aimed to keep everyone in check. Naturally, no one knew the identity of the informants, so neighbours, distant relatives and co-workers were all suspicious by default. Keeping people in a constant state of mistrust is a form of exercising power according to the ancient principle of divide and conquer. Dragomán links this distrust to the violence of the system:

“Conversations were full of violence and nearly every subject was approached through it. A dictatorship functions just so; violence replaces communication in its entirety. Since nobody could be trusted, you were forced into this violent guessing game of whether they'll hurt you or you them. It all started very early on, I can't even remember any other type of conversation. This is all in retrospect of course, at the time it felt completely normal.”

Dragomán is very good at portraying the division between open, physical violence, and hidden violence that is apparent only on the level of speech and thought, and as a constant threat in everyday life.

“In some ways, the entire system's rhetoric was based on violence. Peace was of course a big deal and the state's rhetoric was always about peace, but there was always some battle involved. As a child I always had this terrible feeling that violence could emerge at any moment. Like in school, where during my childhood teachers still used canes. We weren't caned often, but the threat was always present. I remember this teacher, who had a broken arm in a cast. I remember the story was that he'd broken it when hitting a child. This probably wasn't true, but as a child, I believed the story completely.”

More here.