Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Czech Republic’

Havel and Jong il

From Nation of Change by John Feffer
20 December 2011

Two Leaders, Two Deaths

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Czech leader Vaclav Havel occupied the opposite ends of the political continuum. One fought against the corrupt communist powers; the other consolidated communist rule. One tried to inject morality into the practice of politics while the other pursued political ends with little or no reference to morality. Having made their marks first in the artistic sphere, they were both in some sense reluctant politicians. Once in power, they managed to stabilize their respective countries during difficult times. But they failed in their efforts at more dramatic transformation.

Vaclav Havel waving to adoring crowd.

Kim Jong Il was only the second leader that North Korea ever knew. He ruled in the shadow of his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. The son had none of the charisma of the father, and none of the credentials either. Kim Il Sung fought as a guerrilla against the Japanese colonizers. His battles may not have been particularly impressive – and certainly not as impressive as North Korean propaganda has made out – but he at least could point to a revolutionary record. With no battlefield experience, Kim Jong Il even felt the need to fabricate his birthplace in order to suggest an authentic revolutionary past. Official North Korean history put his place of birth as the legendary Mt. Paektu in the northern part of North Korea, when in fact he’d been born in Russia.

The younger Kim established his reputation as a film director, translating his father’s revolutionary operas into cinematic blockbusters. He always seemed more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. He rarely made public comments. He stayed close to the military, which backed his rise to power. His first major policy as leader after his father’s death was to observe a three-year mourning period, during which his country descended into famine. He was always a half-hearted proponent of reform, backing some economic changes and then reversing himself (accepting private markets then cracking down on them, banning cell phones then encouraging their use within the elite). His chief interest, other than expanding his own huge film collection or enjoying the good life, was to preserve the power of North Korea’s ruling class. He was, at heart, a deeply conservative figure, more comfortable with the tropes of Korean nationalism than with the slogans of revolutionary communism.

Kim Jong Il waving to military troops.

Kim defied expectations in many ways. The North Korean government didn’t collapse after the elder Kim’s death in 1994. Nor did it crumble during the subsequent food crisis. Kim Jong Il managed to maintain alliances with China and Russia, coax South Korea into significant economic investments, bring North Korea into the nuclear club, and keep the United States at arm’s length at a time when other leaders (in Serbia, Iraq, and Libya) suffered regime change at the hands of U.S. forces.

But in the end, Kim Jong Il didn’t fundamentally change North Korea or offer an alternative economic or political system that could rival that of China or South Korea. He will ultimately be remembered as a transitional figure between his ruthless but transformative father and a future that has yet to be determined by his son and successor Kim Jeong Eun.

Vaclav Havel, more than perhaps anyone else of his political generation, represented the power of the dissident intellectual. A playwright and essayist, Havel brilliantly exposed the deceptions and stupidities of the communist system in Czechoslovakia. He spent time in jail. He helped nurture the small civil society that would prove so critical in 1989 in transforming not only his own country but the entire region of East-Central Europe.

Havel became president of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1989, a position that he claimed to have run for only reluctantly. However reluctant he might have been to assume the kind of political power that he had spent years deconstructing in print, he quickly became accustomed to high office. “Actually power, political power turned out to be something of an aphrodisiac for Vaclav Havel — four presidencies in two countries for 13 years,” observes his biographer John Keane. “Any obituary worth its salt will point out that if Vaclav Havel were writing honestly about Vaclav Havel it was the low point of his political career.”

Of course, even Havel’s low point was considerably better than most politicians’ high points. He effectively guided Czechoslovakia through its initial transition phase and then the “velvet divorce” that produced the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He fulfilled his promise in 2004 to bring the Czech Republic into the European Union, and today it ranks below only Slovenia among the former communist countries of the region in terms of per-capita GDP.

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Vaclav Havel and Politics

From Nation of Change and Project Syndicate
19 December 2011
Essay by Vaclav Havel

The Intellectual and Politics

Václav Havel, who died on December 18, was that rare intellectual who, rather than forcing his way into politics, had politics forced upon him. In 1998, while serving as President of the Czech Republic, he offered the following reflection on the benefits and dangers of his career path.

Does an intellectual – by virtue of his efforts to get beneath the surface of things, to grasp relations, causes, and effects, to recognize individual items as part of larger entities, and thus to derive a deeper awareness of and responsibility for the world – belong in politics?

Put that way, an impression is created that I consider it every intellectual’s duty to engage in politics. But that is nonsense. Politics also involves a number of special requirements that are relevant only to it. Some people meet these requirements; others don’t, regardless of whether they are intellectuals.

It is my profound conviction that the world requires – today more than ever – enlightened, thoughtful politicians who are bold and broad-minded enough to consider things that lie beyond the scope of their immediate influence in both space and time. We need politicians willing and able to rise above their own power interests, or the particular interests of their parties or states, and act in accordance with the fundamental interests of humanity today – that is, to behave the way everyone should behave, even though most may fail to do so.

Never before has politics been so dependent on the moment, on the fleeting moods of the public or the media. Never before have politicians been so impelled to pursue the short-lived and short-sighted. It often seems to me that the life of many politicians proceeds from the evening news on television one night, to the public-opinion poll the next morning, to their image on television the following evening. I am not sure whether the current era of mass media encourages the emergence and growth of politicians of the stature of, say, a Winston Churchill; I rather doubt it, though there can always be exceptions.

To sum up: the less our time favors politicians who engage in long-term thinking, the more such politicians are needed, and thus the more intellectuals – at least those meeting my definition – should be welcomed in politics. Such support could come from, among others, those who – for whatever reason – never enter politics themselves, but who agree with such politicians, or at least share the ethos underlying their actions.

I hear objections: politicians must be elected; people vote for those who think the way they do. If someone wants to make progress in politics, he must pay attention to the general condition of the human mind; he must respect the so-called “ordinary” voter’s point of view. A politician must, like it or not, be a mirror. He dare not be a herald of unpopular truths, acknowledgement of which, though perhaps in humanity’s interest, is not regarded by most of the electorate as being in its immediate interest, or may even be regarded as antagonistic to those interests.

I am convinced that the purpose of politics does not consist in fulfilling short-term wishes. A politician should also seek to win people over to his own ideas, even when unpopular. Politics must entail convincing voters that the politician recognizes or comprehends some things better than they do, and that it is for this reason that they should vote for him. People can thus delegate to a politician certain issues that – for a variety of reasons – they do not sense themselves, or do not want to worry about, but which someone has to address on their behalf.

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Proud to be an Egyptian

One of the largest non-violent revolutions in history, in the most populist state in the Arab world and the biggest country in Africa, is transpiring before our eyes! The people of Egypt have provided an example of determination, unity, honor and courage that has opened the eyes of the world to what is possible and what must be.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, People Power in the Philippines, the revolution in Romania, the revolts in the Czech Republic and thousands in Iran and Tunisia, the Egyptian people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religious orientations and economic circumstances) have lit a path for freedom that can not and should not ever be taken for granted or dismissed.

The coming days, weeks, months and years will provide an opportunity for the army of Egypt (which is supposed to be a force for THE PEOPLE) to stay true to their word and be a stabilizing influence for real democratic change and the installation of democratic institutions. If they don’t, there is no doubt that Egyptians will arise in mass once more (despite the cost) and demand their hard fought for revolution be implemented and respected.

Many Egyptians are once again saying they are proud to be Egyptian. In fact, what they have done makes us all proud to be human. Now is the time to support the people of Egypt and similar democratic movements throughout the world, with our actions and not just give lip service as we (our government) has done in the past.

This will be the beginning of a worldwide change that will see authoritarian dictatorships around the globe either make drastic changes in how they treat their citizens or see similar mass civil disobedience and change regardless of their personal wishes for power or control. Countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and China may see Egypt as a wake up call. Let us hope they wake up to allow peaceful democratic freedom and rights for their people and not to clamp down and impose further restrictions, violence and tyranny.

Thank you Egypt. You are one of the cradles of civilization. Perhaps you have now become the cradle of a new world order of peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

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