I remember the exact moment and place. As we talked, Karel had made the gesture of flicking his finger at an imaginary glass globe in his hand that would crack into a million pieces:
“It would just take a small Ping — the whole thing could shatter and fall apart” he said.
I thought, yes, just like the edge-of-chaos/order: a phase transition.
Soon it happened. Few, if any, but Karel could have imagined it happening — and so soon.
He knew the system well: as a kid, he had been prevented to pursue what he was good at — mathematics — for the powers of Czechoslovkia wouldn’t let him go to school, because his father had escaped from the Soviet bloc, leaving Karel and his mother to suffer the consequences. Karel knew what it is like not to trust anybody outside his immediate family — not say what everybody knew but could not say — the Soviet system was a human prison: Private Truths, Public Lies. Karel did get out in 1978 by Jimmy Carter’s diplomatic initiative with Alexander Dubček’s short regime. Only a few could escape from the system.
Karel obtained his PhD in Mathematics from Stanford University a couple years later after our talk.
Nobody really thought it would happen. The Iron Curtain seemed still solid in 1988. The Soviet system had lasted for more than 75 years. The Soviet Union was one of the two superpowers: a military and nuclear super power. Rebellions had failed before: Hungary and Czechoslovakia, otherwise subversive acts had to keep a low profile.
The first real crack on the surface of that Curtain had started in 1982, three years before Mikhael Gorbachev
took power. That first crack, that finally spread like that imagined shattered glass globe of Karel’s in 1989, was Promoted
by one man….