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What Happens to Revolutionaries After the Revolution?

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ADAM MICHNIK (2006 laureate) 

An Uncanny Era: Conversations Between Václav Havel & Adam Michnik

If the revolution fails, the answer is easy: they [revolutionaries] end up in exile, in prison or dead. But what if the uprising succeeds? Then the answer is more complicated.

Post-Communist Eastern Europe, with its Hieronymus Bosch panorama of greed, corruption, hedonism and cynicism, gave the former revolutionaries much to be disillusioned about. Was this the freedom they had sacrificed so much to attain? 

THE PROBLEM was that the end of Communism had created an ideological vacuum, and a “coarse and primitive nationalism” was rushing to fill it, in Michnik’s words. Xenophobia, anti-Semitism and ethnic intolerance were on the rise. Talk about racial purity and the need for a strong leader was back. 

... his [Michnik's] calls are for the more humble virtues: compromise, dialogue, mutual understanding and pluralism. He opposes vengeance, fanaticism in any form and all dogmatic certainties—in politics, economics, religion and philosophy. He celebrates contingency and ambiguity. His is the idealism of moderation.

It’s not a good time for the Adam Michniks. Moderates need all the help they can get. As a former dissident, however, Michnik can at least say that he’s been through this before, and worse, and though he tends to be more pessimistic than his idol Havel, he has endured enough to have earned his own strain of optimism, however ironic it may be. “In Poland,” he says, “everything is possible: even change for the better.”

Read The National Interest article