The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda, 1977-1989 (St. Augustine's Press; 352 pp., $35.00). On July 4, 1983, in Prague, there occurred one of those moments that may rightly be considered a single loose pebble that caused an avalanche. Film director MiloŠ Forman had been permitted to return to his native Czechoslovakia by its then-Communist overlords, to film the movie Amadeus (1984).
On that day one of the opera scenes was filmed in the great Estates Theater, the site of the first performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In addition to cast and crew, there were about 500 Czech extras in period dress present. When Forman yelled action on the first scene, instead of Mozart’s music, “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play and an American flag unfurled from the rafters. The cast, crew, and all the extras stood up and began to sing the United States’ national anthem, in English! All, that is, but for the extras who remained sitting, with confused or terrified expressions—the secret police.
In 1977, a disparate group that included ex-Communists, Catholics, Protestants, artists, intellectuals, socialists, and other dissidents banded together to draft Charter 77, a document challenging the reigning polity and to ensure that the government abided by the provisions of the Helsinki Accords, which included a range of civil, political, and economic rights.