Not surprisingly, this most joyous of protest songs was quickly withdrawn in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 when it was first recorded by a woman who was already the most popular female artist in the country, standing on the cusp of an international career that was terminated with a 20-year ban on performing and recording implemented (after just over a year of increasingly prominent and vocal opposition to ‘normalisation’ from Kubišová herself) in early 1970. Thereafter, she worked in all kinds of menial and clerical jobs to support herself, aided at times by former colleagues and friends, and was, alongside her friend Vaclav Havel, one of the first signatories of the Charter 77 document catalysed by the arrest of rock band The Plastic People of the Universe. Hearing the news of Havel’s death today, it seems far better to celebrate the defiance he represented – as expressed by Kubišová – than to mourn his passing. When dissidents like him began, shaped by the thaw of the Dubček era, they couldn’t have known how the story of their country would unfold: and standing at the end of 2011, with our own supposedly free markets displaying all the same arrogance, stupidity and willingness to repress democratic accountability as their sclerotic Communist forebears in 1968, it seems the best way to celebrate Vaclav Havel’s life is to continue the questioning and resistance it represented. Marta Kubišová’s Ne finally reappeared on the uncensored version of her 1969 Songy a Balady LP released on the Trezor label in 1990, and the song can be heard here.
(after Otakar Petrina/Zdenek Rytir, 1969)
I’d buy all the Pacific, and the other seas besides,
with storms and hurricanes scattered here and there.
I’d build a house on the deepest ocean’s floor
if it meant I’d be clear of this country’s shores
where fear rules and false accusations are bold.
Does anyone here want to live in that world?
I’d buy spring sky and the beauty of all its stars,
with wind sometimes, on its journey home.
I’d build my castle walls on a foundation of clouds
and hope by some miracle it wouldn’t fall.
This country is ruled by fear, kills innocence.
Would anyone here want to return to this?
But I’d find the sea lanes are guarded by warships,
carrying tons and kilos of bullets and bombs.
If I went under, deeper, submarines would plunge
and soon find my home in the water-caves.
In the sky are airplanes and satellites, as you know –
is there anywhere, then, where I might go?
So we’re all caged here, and keep ourselves quiet,
but might sail out, sometimes, under camouflage.
Should we be grateful that we’re granted permission to live?
That if we just say nothing, we’ll be left in peace?
Fear rules this place, false accusations grow bold.
Does anyone here want to remain in this world?