Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The decay of freedom

April 25, 2013|By Joe Puglia

During my recent trip to Prague, I reunited with Jeff Weller, a former student. Jeff was in my class 35 years ago. He’s an expatriate who owns a hotel near the Legion Bridge. His sons, Emil and Damek, study political philosophy at Charles University, founded in 1348.

I spent hours with the boys in the Café Evropa on Wenceslas Square, discussing the philosophies of the great thinkers and political reformists. It was the intellects that influenced the Prague Spring of 1968, a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia.

“Dr. Joe,” Emil Weller said. “Look out the window, in front of the National Museum.”

On the ground I saw a cross made of bricks embedded in the street.

“That’s where Jan Palach set himself ablaze protesting the Soviet invasion,” Emil said.

In 1968 the students of Prague, under the mentorship of Alexander Dubcek, rebelled against Soviet oppression. Russia sent 200,000 soldiers and 200 tanks to extinguish this flame of liberty.


I was curious why students born 20 years after the Prague Spring still carry the memory of ’68 and of Jan Palach. I learned they believe the struggle for liberty and equality is humanity’s greatest initiative.

Emil quoted Ayn Rand, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.”

“Those who deny individual rights become the oppressors; the rights of the individual is the cornerstone of liberty,” Emil said. “Sacrificing individual freedom for the collective good is the first step toward political oppression.”

Damek interjected, “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it vanishes. Of all the human rights that have ever been sought, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost. That’s why we don’t forget,” he said.

There’s a disparity between the students of Prague and those of America relative to the value we place on freedom. They are more serious than we are. I can understand this since the people of Central Europe experienced a degradation of the human spirit and were subjected to oppression for 40 years. Have we lost our ideals? What once touched our hearts and made our blood boil we now take for granted.

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