Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne is a journalist who lives in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Balkans via Bohemia.

Recent Articles

1989 and All That

The fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago is justly remembered as a turning point not just in European history but in world history. Viewed from these shores, of course, it was a victory. The Cold War was over. We won. Yes, yes, we had some help from our NATO allies. And pastors in East Germany, laborers in Poland, and intellectuals in former Czechoslovakia, too. In our triumphant magnanimity, we allow the foot soldiers who took to the streets to topple the regimes 20 years ago this month to keep their primary myth: The powerless have the power that Czech dissident playwright -- and soon to be president -- Vaclav Havel said that they had in his famous essay "the Power of the Powerless." Tyranny and totalitarianism ultimately embolden populations to "live in truth," as Havel put it, and "[break] through the exalted facade of the system and [expose] the real, base foundations of power." But we all know what really happened, right? It was our warheads. Our subversions. Our Voice of...

Exit, Stage Left

A new collection of plays revisits a moment when the narrative power of organized labor was at its zenith.

In the 1979 film Norma Rae, Sally Field plays a textile worker who struggles to unionize her mill against substantial odds. (Flickr/ Shavawn Marie)
At the present moment of Democratic ascendancy and bitter economic tidings, one might expect organized labor to be riding higher in power and esteem than it has in many decades. But fair political winds, rising unemployment, and populist rage have yet to coalesce into action that levels the tilted playing field between corporations and unions. The most popular explanation is that unions don't pack the political punch they once did, and the numbers don't lie. Back in 1975, about 22.2 million Americans belonged to a union. More than three decades later, the number has tumbled to 15.6 million. But it's fair to ask if a pronounced cultural shift away from unions helped accelerate that decline. Organized labor will always be outspent by its corporate opponents, but its force multiplier has always been its powerful narrative: pervasive economic injustice vanquished by collective action. It is a story rooted in anger -- but also in an optimism that history bends toward justice. In labor's...

Dayton, Part II?

Thirteen years after Bosnia's wars, the Dayton Peace Agreement is under attack as outmoded and unsustainable. But is there any better solution on offer?

Bosnia-Herzegovina spent much of the 1990s at the top of the world's newscasts, as a savage three-sided war between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniak Muslims ravaged the country. But over the last 12 years, the good news in Bosnia is that there has been almost nothing newsworthy. The 1996 Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the conflict has lasted more than a decade and withstood some perilous moments that had the potential to spark new violence -- including the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 and a declaration of independence by Kosovo in 2008. The Dayton treaty was forged with U.S. diplomatic and military muscle to achieve one primary aim: stop the killing. As with any compromise, it had imperfections. And while all of the three warring parties have followed the letter of the Dayton Agreement, none of them have wholeheartedly embraced it. And Bosnia still remains outside of the major institutions -- the European Union, NATO -- that would stabilize the country on a more permanent basis. Indeed...

What's Wrong With Theater?

Monologist Mike Daisey raises hell about how corporate attitudes broke the American stage -- and why a simple application of government stimulus alone can't fix it.

In the offices of arts and theater administrators, acclaimed monologist Mike Daisey is not a popular man these days. His latest performance piece, How Theater Failed America , is a sharp poke in the eye to the current theater establishment -- questioning its priorities and critiquing the insidious influence of naked corporatization on U.S. theater. Speaking at a simple desk under the lights, Daisey wipes away buckets of sweat as he argues that the regional stages in most American cities have become "machines that make theater." The need to recoup huge capital outlays for impressive -- even gaudy -- new buildings compel artistic directors to flee from innovative works into the cozy embrace of "risk averse" and "bullet proof" programming. Worst of all, says Daisey, the frenzied scramble to lure younger theater-goers with cut-rate tickets to replace an audience that is "drying up and dying out" has left stage companies haunted by a blunt and foreboding thought: "What if we gave all the...

Shadows and Fog

After a past denunciation is unearthed from the files, Milan Kundera faces his own trial by media. Is the jury rigged against him?

Historians in the Czech Republic recently made a discovery that has rocked the literary world: Renowned author Milan Kundera, at the age of 20, went to the Czechoslovak secret police and denounced a man who was spying for Western intelligence services. The incident easily could have been the germ of a Kundera novel. The spy, Miroslav Dvoracek, asked a woman to keep a suitcase for him on a day in mid-March, 1950. She told another friend about it. That friend told Kundera, who apparently went straight to the secret police. They dutifully wrote it up (as secret police are wont to do) and then arrested Dvoracek, who escaped the death penalty but spent almost 14 years in some of the toughest prisons and camps in communist Czechoslovakia. Government archivists say the document is genuine. But in a rare interview with Czech journalists after the secret police report turned up, Kundera made a fervent denial -- of sorts -- about the affair. I say "of sorts" because Kundera's response, as...

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