Appeasement Revisited

I vividly remember the slightly ludicrous, slightly risqué, and somewhat distressing predicament in which Western diplomats in Prague found themselves during the Cold War. They regularly needed to resolve the delicate issue of whether to invite to their embassy celebrations various Charter 77 signatories, human rights activists, critics of the communist regime, displaced politicians, or even banned writers, scholars, and journalists – people with whom the diplomats were generally friends.

Sometimes we dissidents were not invited, but received an apology, and sometimes we were invited, but did not accept the invitation so as not to complicate the lives of our courageous diplomat friends. Or we were invited to come at an earlier hour in the hope that we would leave before the official representatives arrived, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. When it didn’t, either the official representatives left in protest at our presence, or we left hurriedly, or we all pretended not to notice each other, or – albeit on rare occasions – we started to converse with each other, which frequently were the only moments of dialogue between the regime and the opposition (not counting our courthouse encounters).

This all happened when the Iron Curtain divided Europe – and the world – into opposing camps. Western diplomats had their countries’ economic interests to consider, but, unlike the Soviet side, they took seriously the idea of “dissidents or trade.” I cannot recall any occasion at that time when the West or any of its organizations (NATO, the European Community, etc.) issued some public appeal, recommendation, or edict stating that some specific group of independently-minded people – however defined – were not to be invited to diplomatic parties, celebrations, or receptions.

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