Janos Gereben
Janos Gereben

Fellowship Title:

Mondo Neurotico

Janos Gereben
September 2, 1969

Fellowship Year

(Or, Lines from Freud’s City about the Sickness of the East)


August, 1969

Lerchengasse 28/43
1080 Wien, Austria

…And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broken in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Is it possible that Lord Byron will come back to vogue? He does sound most timely these days.

While turning to the East from here in Vienna, headlines with Byron’s message continue to intrude from North, West, and South.

A Holy War threatened in the Middle East, present-day variations of the wars of the Reformation in Ireland, tribal warfare in Africa, jungle wars in Asia… Is this the same year man reached the moon?

Man’s inherent neurosis creates wars, and wars enhance neurosis. The generation of those who were young in World War II—the survivors—are now at the helm. And the ship is… well, there is a good sentence-completion exercise for a slow Sunday afternoon.

Obviously, however, something is amiss with so many people burned, crippled, maimed, killed every day.

**Illustrations for this article are from works exhibited at a Vienna art show, Beispiele Europaischer Plastik Heute, 1969

Waldemar Otto (Poland)

Ipousteguy (France)

One does not hazard to guess whether time will heal the world’s ills (it hasn’t so far, so why expect otherwise), but, turning back to the East, there is no doubt that time—the wearing down and out kind, rather than healing—is absolutely necessary to restore any semblance of sanity in this Balkanic corner of the world.

In America, there is talk about the presidential chances of a man who has suffered much and who appears to have lost good judgment for a fleeting, fateful moment. (Will Joseph Conrad return to the bestseller list, too?)

And meanwhile, in East Europe, every country today is led by men who have fought in wars and underground, who have schemed and murdered and given orders to murder, who have been tortured, brainwashed, emasculated in the jails of the Gestapo, in the jails of their own countries, in the jails of Stalin.

Can the United States be led by a man who had a larger share of trauma than his contemporaries? The answer is by no means as certain as this: Life in East Europe cannot return to “normal” in any sense of the word until the generation of men—today’s leaders—who have suffered and made others suffer beyond human or superhuman endurance “pass on”… and out of the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Put in a simpler way: East Europe’s sick leaders must die out first and a generation of less-scarred men must take over if there is to be sanity at the top.

Because the all-pervasive atmosphere starts from the top. Aldous Huxley has always been a favorite of the youth of East Europe. I heard a young man recite these lines of his just before The Anniversary:

Roel D’Haese (Belgium)

Henry Moore (England)

When I look into the fishponds in my garden, (And not mine only, for every garden is riddled with eel holes and reflected moons), methinks I see a Thing armed with a rake that seems Out of the ooze, out of the immanence Among the eels of heaven, to strike at me—At Me the holy, Me divine! And yet How tedious is a guilty conscience! How Tedious, for that matter, an unguilty one! What wonder if the horror of the fishponds Draws us toward the rake? And the Thing strikes, And I, the uneasy Person, in the mud, Or in the liquid moonlight, thankfully Find others than myself to have that blind Or radiant being…

The Thing (just one of The Things, to be sure) has struck, shortly after this poignant invocation of a pre-war sense of neurosis. And two weeks later, in Budapest, another youth summed up his feelings, again with Ape and Essence:

The leech’s kiss, the squid’s embrace,

The prurient ape’s defiling touch:

And do you like the human race?

No, not much,

How could they? Surely, the Hungarian revolution must have taught East Europe not to expect anything from the West. But still, there was some vague, unreasoned and unreasonable (?) feeling in Prague last year about perhaps…

But there was nothing, and so, between East and West, one really must be extending one’s dislikes in gestalt… say, to the human race. That’s inclusive enough.

Is there hope beyond the present leadership in East Europe? Of course there is, hope springing eternally, and all that. (There are all kinds of hopes in this neurotic world, even such as Mr. Reston’s who has lately concluded that if just everybody would go on long summer vacations, get re-acquainted with his neighbors and do nothing “important,” the world’s problems would be reduced to homely, manageable quarrels over the back fence. Doesn’t Mr. Reston know how low that back fence is in the Middle East and North Ireland, how neighborly and homely those little wars are?)

Krum Damjanov (Bulgaria)

Yes, there is hope here, both in Yugoslavia and Romania—too bad that the sickest country of them all, Albania, is right in the same vicinity.

These are the only two countries in East Europe whose leaders, Tito and Ceausescu (a giant and a dwarf, but that’s another story), have avoided Stalin’s jails without joining the purgers (such as Zhivkov and Ulbright who have steered clear of trouble by acting as Stalin’s henchmen in their own countries).

Tito and Ceausescu can be pretty rough customers and they had their share of suffering and making others suffer trauma of all descriptions.

But their relative sanity (and the better lot of the people, especially in Yugoslavia) as a result of defying rather than falling victim to Stalin and his successors is a most hopeful sign indeed.

It means that the next generation of—a certainly still Socialist – East Europe, free of the cruelties, upheavals and neurotics of their elders, may yet provide a leadership more humane, saner and calmer than today’s.

Joachim Schmettau (Germany)

Jozef Jankovic (Czechoslovakia)

Kurt Goebel (Austria)

One necessary difference in this future generation of East Europe must be the absence of that fanaticism which guided, uplifted, and ruined today’s rulers through the pre- and post-World War days.

Fanaticism and cruelty—these are the characteristics of the Stalin era and its heirs. As Edward Crankshaw observed 10 years ago: “Those who survived were the men and women who had the highest talent for self-preservation; and, although there are exceptions, in times of fearful stress, self-preservation depends on the less admirable qualities: sycophancy and hypocrisy, corruptibility, cunning, and plain viciousness.”

Without fanaticism, the post-Stalinist generation may free itself from the clinically insane history the leaders of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland have today: Jail, torture, killing, jail, torture (this time in the hands of their own comrades), turning the same treatment on their “unpure” colleagues, and on and on, in vicious, deadly cycles.

(In the same vein, however, it is logical to predict that the next generation in Communist China will exhibit all the same symptoms the present leadership shows in East Europe. What may take one generation change in Europe will necessitate several generations in China.)

Khrushochev (a politician, manager, human dynamo in Crankshaw’s words) has already shown for a brief period that a Communist society can be managed without the fanaticism and cruelty of Stalin and Co. The youth of today—and leaders of tomorrow—can take that lesson, notwithstanding the Kremlin’s “two steps back” experienced these days.

Most of today’s Communist leaders are in their 60’s or approaching 60. In a decade, give or take a few years, it will be possible to commence a truly “post-Stalinist” era, in East Europe—and perhaps even in the Soviet Union.

Shelley was writing about love, but his lines well describe the effects, the consequences of living through the past four or five decades—effects symptomatic in the psychological heritage of Stalinism:

Its passions will rock thee, As the storms rock the ravens on high; Bright reason will mock thee, Like the sun from a wintry sky.

From thy nest every rafter Will rot, and thine eagle home Leave thee naked to laughter When leaves fall and cold winds come.

There is no need for every rafter to rot in East Europe, for the coming of the cold winds. Soon spring may come—as the West Wind is here already—and perhaps a traumaless and neurosis-free generation growing up under the leadership of this next one will be better, saner and happier.

Their answer, 40 years from now, to the question, “Do you like the human race?” will, hopefully, be quiet different from that answer heard these days in Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw.

ALFRED HRDLICKA (Czechoslovakia)


(Photos from the catalogue, by Hans Escher, and by Janos Gereben)


Received in New York on September 2, 1969.

Mr. Gereben is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. This article may be published with credit to Janos Gereben, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Alicia Patterson Fund.