Dissent, Protest and the Fall of Communism

Protests marked much of the 1960s – against Communism, for Civil Rights, against Wars, for improved living conditions, etc. You’ve probably heard it was a turbulent time. Here we’ll first watch a little about that and then read one of Vaclav Havel’s short plays.

Read “Protest” by Vaclav Havel.

Havel, Vaclav, and Vera Blackwell. “Protest: A Play.” Performing Arts Journal 12, no. 2/3 (1990): 45–65. https://doi.org/10.2307/3245553.


Havel would go on to become the present of the Czech Republic. As a playwright, he worked in the absurdist and post-modern styles. Several of his most well-known plays are interpretations of other well-known theatrical pieces. His Temptation is a variation of the Faust myth (most famously dramatized in German by Goethe, but more well-known to English language speakers for Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan Play Doctor Faustus.

Here is both a bare bones wrap-up of the fall of Eastern European Communism and a second longer video from the Crash Course Series that offers a more complex look at the dismantling of the Soviet Block. This highlights, in part, the way in which the punk-rock music scene came to play a part. Czech-born, British Playwright Tom Stoppard wrote Rock ‘n’ Roll in 2006 which looks at the role of music in the Czech “Velvet Revolution.” You may be familiar with Stoppard’s own absurdist/post-modern style play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

One of the most striking things in this period is how much theatre mattered politically.

What strikes you about any of the three topics here (long-term work and innovation under communism, large-scale use of theatre and performance for political ends, and/or theatre as political dissent)? Do you see echoes today or in other times or places? Do you think that theatre still holds this kind of power? Can you imagine a scenario where a playwright became the leader of a country today? Do you have any recommendations for someone who maybe should?

2 thoughts on “Dissent, Protest and the Fall of Communism

  1. Theater as political dissent strikes me at how powerful art can be in political/social uprising, protesting regimes, and upheaval. I was struck at how youth scenes such as the emergence of punk rock is able to play such a pivotal role in shaping the youth in Western Europe and Germany, allowing them a voice to protest what they consider unjust and act in defiance to their corrupt, militant governments. It’s interesting how political agendas target the youth to urge them to follow their agenda, which is either accepted or fought against in various art forms such as theater. It’s interesting to see how Zhang Yaxin of China’s revolutionary model operas tried to utilize theater less as a form of liberation but rather as a means of propaganda to keep Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution relevant despite it being 50 years after the fact.
    On the opposite side, Augusto Boal’s “spect-theater” was created to empower and liberate the poor man and to allow him to take back power within his life despite his lack of it. I find theater to be politically powerful, in that it has the ability to speak to mass audiences and spread a message, whether it be for or against a political agenda. It gives people a platform to express dissatisfaction in their lives and lead cultural revolutions; The fact playwrights can become political leaders shows how much power is in the arts and it’s effect on socio-political issues. To have a leader that isn’t politically trained could offer the common person a chance to actually have their voices heard in government and to actually become closer to a fairer form of government.

  2. The way they emphasized the need to find work for their people or the way they used their citizens was very particular. Really showing how people in positions of power can really influence the public, but with every high there is a low. With the fall of communism showing that it helps bring together the people and the government for the short term but isnt sustainable form of government for the long term. The countries that used communism for their government was able to accomplish things a democratic republic government might not have been able to do in the same amount of time. This would be due to the amount of legislators anything would have to pass through as in communism only needs one person approval. Working for the first couple of years creating work and bringing the people together can do so much before the ecomony starts to fall. Whether a job is for 10 years or 5 years, if there is no more work afterwards, then the economy isnt being stimulated enough to help create wealth. Especially when almost the entire population is poor.

    I think a playwright becoming a leader of a country is a nice thought but very obscure concept in practice. They would be able to help to do what the people want to voice out but may not be able to call the side effects of what people want and how to avoid that. They can get advisors to help guild them to fulfill their position as leader, but not everything would be as simple to fix, a resolution, or result that they wanted. Given if they’re already active in politics, it would given them a better grind of whats to come. Today, people tend to be more involved in politics than what it seems no matter what field of work they’re in. It’s also easier nowadays to be involved and to get political information due to the internet.

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