A Loud Silence
By Kamal Sunavala

Following politics in the country I happen to be living in at the moment is an odd way to spend time, I concede to that. But surely no more than wandering around the shopping mall at Andel. Since I also happen to be in the rather confusing business of teaching and law and teaching the law or whatever seems to be more convenient on that particular day, I maintain an involuntary sharp interest in the law in this country. Naturally, any half sane person knows that politics follows hot on the heels of the law, trying infact to chase it down into oblivion.

However, the weekend that the referendum was held in the Czech Republic to resolve the tired pre-determined question of whether this tiny country should join the looming EU, there was no politics chasing the law. Infact the one thing that signified that Sunday afternoon was complete silence.

My boss Roman is registered in Prague 4 to cast his vote. Off we went so that he could express his opinion and I could satisfy my unending curiosity about things that are none of my business. Naturally out of respect for his confidentiality, I won't let on which way he didn't vote. We drove up into a pretty-ish area which proudly displayed an inconspicuous sign that said Petting Zoo. Digressing from an important political decision we decided to walk through the zoo. Naturally, the idea of petting poor trapped animals wasn't appetizing, so I grumbled while he laughed at me grumbling. Very soon, I ran out of reason to grumble. There was one deer that looked like he couldn't give a frog's arse about anything and a pheasant and an owl unwisely perched on a cracked branch. Naturally I thought, the location of the zoo was ideal for political propaganda aimed at visiting Sunday families. It made complete sense that certain interested political leagues were hiding in the bushes waiting to jump out at us and start enunciating the wonders of the EU. I waited but no one jumped. No torch carrying political leader, no journalist, no animal, nothing.

My grumbling recommenced as we tried in vain for about fifteen minutes to look for the office where the voting was meant to take place. I was listening for loud sounds, arguing, beer bottles smashing, hordes of people all talking at once while Roman seemed intent on finding a parking spot. When we pulled into the building, I told him outright that this was surely the wrong place. It was as quiet as Death Valley. He shook his head at me and we went up the stairs. There was a longish table. There were four people seated there. One lady was handing out the slips of paper upon which one apparently ticked or crossed out destiny. The other gentleman checked Roman's credentials and peered into his face a couple of times. I knew he should have shaved. The third one stared at my breasts. The fourth one I suppose was just there because, well, four is a better number than three.

I still waited patiently for a man with a foghorn voice to come out and start blaring at us about the wondrous virtues of the Union. I asked Roman if he was sure we were at the right place. He shook his head at me again and ticked off his little paper, deposited it in some box and indicated that we were ready to leave. But I wasn't. Where was the usual excitement associated with referendums, with voting, with decision-making politics, lobbying? There was nothing there. There were no people save the four monkeys behind the table, one jaded Czech Canadian and one completely bewildered woman who forgot to slap the man who had stared holes into her breasts.

As we returned to the city, I was struck at how dispassionate the populace seemed in general about the fact that their country was going to be part of a very large, very pricey Socialist structure. How it seemed that they had resigned themselves to the fact that not only would they be pushed into the train going nowhere for a while but they were not even given the mandatory provocation to scream in protest. It seemed to me to be a nation that was tired and unresisting. In private, I have heard my students rage against the EU, talk about how terrible the next few years are going to be, how it's a big sham and how the Czechs are going to get lost in the maze without a voice. All this, they proclaim in loud strong voices. I didn't hear any tenors that voting weekend. Infact, what I remember clearly, as being the loudest, was the silence.

Silence is golden is an old universal proverb.
But in this case, Sir Francis Bacon was right. Silence is the virtue of fools.