The city's Old Town, viewed from atop the walls at Vyserad
by Jeffrey Monty '99
To be completely honest, if a person had asked me a year ago where and what I thought I would be doing the summer before my senior year, I wouldn't have guessed writing about the economic transition of the film industry in the Czech Republic. Let's face it, when my parents were my age, the thought of traveling anywhere in Eastern Europe was absurd.
But thankfully, when I learned that Tom Dine '62 was the president of Radio Free Europe, I was intrigued by the possibility of spending my summer in Eastern Europe. Evidently, so was Dine -- intrigued by the opportunity to give students a unique setting to learn in -- Prague, where Radio Free Europe is now headquartered.
The first things that I learned were no surprise: the inner workings of a large media organization. Through this, I also learned a great deal about the politics and problems of Eastern Europe, which are terribly underrepresented in the American press.
Being immersed in American media my entire life, I expected all of Eastern Europe to still be in the middle of a big "democracy honeymoon." I was shocked at what I found. There are many countries in this region, supposedly saved by the end of communism, in which free speech and free press are not yet a reality. I will never again take these freedoms for granted.
But there was a second, perhaps more important, way that I learned in Prague.
Through the job, I was learning about the problems and politics of a region --
but that was something that I could learn almost as easily in a classroom. What
was much more enthralling was my opportunity to work and interact with other
young people from these countries. The work made me aware of the problems, our
interactions made them real.|
Not that I had doubted the existence or validity of these problems before going to Prague. It's just that seeing them played out on a scale that was purely human brought them to an entirely new light, one that was not so distant. While some of my peers at Colgate had fretted over problems such as arranging their class schedules, in Prague one of my peers had to take a nighttime taxi, the only one that she could find, through snipers' laser sights from Kosovo to Belgrade -- just to make her flight to Prague. This woman, an Albanian newspaper reporter from Kosovo, had risked her life for the opportunity that had so easily landed in my lap.
Not that the entire summer brought me down to earth: far from it. Anyone who has spent more than a few days in Prague, the city adored by Mozart and Kafka, knows how easy it is to become entranced with its many faces.
There are the pubs, where the beer is sublime and plentiful, even by Colgate standards. There is the rustic Old Town where, if one can ignore the souvenir vendors for only a moment, one can feel transported to centuries ago. Then there is the Charles Bridge, which I walked across at night many times simply because the nighttime view of Prague Castle on the adjacent hilltop is one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen.
But after a week or two, with the prevalence of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken, I began to realize that Prague was not so different from home after all. This was a region still in economic transition, where the plug had been pulled on state subsidies almost a decade ago, and nobody knows quite what to expect.
As local businessmen strive to capture the almighty tourist dollars, marks and pounds that became available after the fall of the iron curtain, others have become frightened that Prague will lose its rustic charm. For example, Czech films, one of the country's richest artistic traditions, are already being driven out of the market by American films such as Jackie Brown and The Horse Whisperer that are certain to attract more tourists. All that one can hope is at some point Prague will find the balance between the unadulterated capitalism that it is still discovering and the charm of the old city that once captivated Mozart's spirit. It certainly captivated mine.
Tom Dine just keeps going
Asked to describe what his Colgate experience meant to him, Tom Dine '62, now president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, says, "Colgate stimulated my curiosity."
It is a curiosity that it seems will never rest. At the age of 49, for instance, Tom began taking classes on the history of ideas at Johns Hopkins University. "It electrified me and my continuing intellectual stimulation," he beams.
The member of the varsity baseball team and Sigma Chi fraternity has had reason to be stimulated over the years. Upon graduating from Colgate, he entered the Peace Corps, which he says "prepared me for the world at large."
Since his graduation, Tom has maintained a close relationship with Colgate. After helping with the fundraising effort for the chair in Jewish studies, he also lent his time to help the university develop a strategic outline for Jewish studies.
The last time that he was on campus, in 1993, Tom gave a speech at the inauguration of the Saperstein Center for Jewish Studies. To him, the campus seemed, "much more vibrant, more geared toward a serious intellectual pursuit" than it was when he was a student three decades ago.
With the strenuous pace of his job, which requires him to travel frequently between RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague and Washington, D.C., where he works with Congress, it is amazing that he has energy left to devote to volunteer work. While many would wilt under these conditions, Tom is able to beat the jetlag brought on by the eight-hour flights. How? "Just keep going," he says. JM