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June 04, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE MELANCHOLY OF REBIRTH: Essays From Post-Communist Central Europe 1989-1994 by George Konrad selected and translated by Michael Henry Heim (Harcourt Brace: $12; 196 pp., paperback original). In this new anthology of essays and speeches, the noted Hungarian writer reflects on the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Central Europe. Eloquent and articulate, he savors the pleasures of intellectual and political freedom, but recognizes their concomitant responsibilities: "If young Hungarians . . . not so much expect freedom as choose it and the hard work it entails, then freedom will be theirs to keep, and weapons and barbed wire mere scrap metal." He dismisses his political detractors with wry amusement, but condemns the war in the former Yugoslavia: "Wherever people fight and kill, thinkers have not been doing their duty--or, rather, have been doing it badly, failing to meet their responsibility and prepare both sides for a dialogue that leads to a compromise." Konrad emerges from these political discussions as a man committed to ideas and ideals rather than political expediency, and readers in the United States--where most citizens don't even bother to vote--may find themselves wishing for a comparable leader.

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