In an unmistakable, if slightly unsettling, exhibition of the torrid velocity of political development in the Eastern Bloc, a Czechoslovakian campaign manager greeted Hollywood this week--right there in Jane Fonda's living room, at that most refined of California political functions: The chic fund-raiser.
With wine glasses tinkling and fine silk clothes rustling in the audience, Ivan Gabal of Czechoslovakia's Civic Forum became the first important figure since the fall of the Iron Curtain to beat a path from Eastern Europe to Hollywood's political treasure chest, according to regulars on the circuit.
Gabal's net from the Monday night event? About $25,000 for fax machines, copiers and other basic necessities for the Czechoslovakian election campaign that begins Friday.
Civic Forum is the organization under which the democracy movement was advanced in Czechoslovakia. It is fielding its own slate of candidates in the June 8 elections--the country's first free parliamentary contest in more than 40 years.
"Can we--with all our resources--help them do it right?" Fonda asked the curious crowd of 50, which included traditional entertainment industry liberals, a sprinkling of businessmen, and even a Republican or two.
"I don't think this room has ever seen such a range of political views," Fonda joked.
It was, however, a crowd accustomed to being solicited for political contributions. In fact, this community has turned the parlor fund-raiser into a must stop for would-be Presidents, ranking U.S. senators and all assortments of governors and members of Congress, along with social activists from Central America and South Africa.
But they probably never heard a pitch for financial campaign support expressed with the urgency of Gabal.
The storied "velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia 4 1/2 months ago was the "easy part," he began. "The hardest part is now coming."
Gabal, a Ph.D. sociologist and chief of election campaigns for Civic Forum, spoke simply and slowly--but with an appreciation of the contrast between the electoral politics in the United States and the budding democracy movements in East Europe.
He noted, for instance, that President Vaclav Havel and Civic Forum candidates must advance a difficult platform--telling voters that the government's move to free markets will result in previously unheard of levels of unemployment and economic dislocation. "This is the difference between us and U.S. politics. . . . We're going to give people rather bad news," Gabal said.
Civic Forum, he said, is working under deadline pressure virtually unfathomable here, not only having to reshape and run a government, but also building a campaign apparatus and competing in an election just 45 days away.
Gabal showed no impatience, however, as he spoke and answered questions in the comfortable, vaulted ceiling living room at Fonda's Santa Monica home. Valet parkers outside dispensed roses to guests, and caterers passed carefully crafted hors d'oeuvres--standard Hollywood fare.
But there was plenty to mark it as different. Fonda's big-screen television was covered with a four-foot-tall portrait of Havel. And the predominantly liberal-leaning crowd found itself drawn to this brand of politics that urged, in a vernacular usually associated with U.S. Republicans, the formation of a "safety net" to help those who are disadvantaged by the unleashing of private sector capitalism. And the listeners nodded approvingly at a political figure who lavishly credited the press with advancing the cause of justice, not meddling in it.
Then, too, the scale of the fund-raising demands was refreshingly small. A fax machine seemed such a small thing to offer in a crowd accustomed "to sending faxes from bedroom to bedroom," as Richard Jacobs put it. Jacobs, an international business consultant who helped organize the event, told the donors: "For once, we'll be able to take some campaign dollars and leverage them."
Among those listening were super-agent Michael Ovitz; the new chairman of Tri-Star pictures, Michael Medavoy; the founder of the Hollywood political activist group Show Coalition, Patricia Duff Medavoy; fund-raiser and publisher Stanley Scheinbaum; producer Robert Greenwald; film critic Michael Medved, and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
Some in the audience figured this would be just the start of yet another Southern California trend.
"It's a small world these days and news travels fast--I think you'll see a lot more of this," said Democratic attorney Mickey Kantor.
But other Americans worry that Eastern Europeans may be too eager to pick up some of America's bad political habits. Earlier this week, for instance, former Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis cautioned leaders of the emerging democracies "not to import a troubling new development in our democratic tradition, namely the increasingly shallow nature of electoral campaigns."