Dissidents pay tribute to Havel as ‘precursor and guide to liberation’

havel riehttp://www.demdigest.net/blog/2011/12/dissidents-pay-tribute-to-havel-as-precursor-and-guide-to-liberation/

As world leaders prepare to attend Friday’s funeral of Václav Havel, the former dissident and Czech president, some of his true heirs were also paying tribute.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, the head of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement and Sakharov prize winner, tweeted that Havel was “a friend in solidarity with the cause of democracy in Cuba” and a “precursor and guide to liberation in this new era”

“Vaclav Havel has passed away and we barely started to walk the path he walked dozens of years ago :-( ,” Cuban dissident blogger and philologist Yoani Sanchez tweeted.  Havel’s The Power of the Powerless “helped me find my voice, to recognize myself as a civic being. Thank you teacher!”

In his celebrated 1978 essay, written in the midst of the Communist regime’s backlash following the launch of the Charter 77 dissident manifesto, Havel cautioned against “the attractions of mass indifference” and the “general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity.”

Havel not only possessed but deployed “massive moral authority,” said Madeleine Albright,the former US secretary of state and chair of the National Democratic Institute, lending his moral weight to support those struggling for freedom and democracy.

“More so than any of the prominent figures from the period of anti-communist dissent, Havel used his position, voice and moral authority to advance present-day struggles for freedom,” writes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy:

If he looked backward at all, it was only to find lessons from his own experience that might be useful for freedom-fighters today. Communicating those lessons, he once wrote to the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, was a way of repaying a debt to those who helped him in his own time of need.

He found many ways to repay that debt. In 1991, at a moment when he himself might have received the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the Velvet Revolution, he campaigned successfully for it to be awarded to Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and remained a steadfast supporter of the Burmese democracy movement. He termed Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus “the disgrace of Europe” and extended moral and practical solidarity to the opposition. He developed a deep connection with Paya’s Varela Project; and he established the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba,…. He co-authored a report applying the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to the totalitarian system in North Korea, and he led the successful international campaign to give the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, launching it with an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao demanding Liu’s release from prison.

“The theater of politics makes permanent demands on us all, as dramatists, actors, and audience – on our common sense, our moderation, our responsibility, our good taste, and our conscience,” Havel wrote in a recently republished essay.

And he stayed true to his words.

Ellen Bork notes that as recently as December 8 Havel joined a committee of Nobel laureates and other eminent figures in a campaign to free Liu Xiaobo, and cites Charter 08 translator Perry Link’s observation that it was “conceived and written in conscious admiration” of Charter 77.

“There will be many tributes to Vaclav Havel,” she writes. “Perhaps he would have appreciated if one of them were a sincere effort by the world’s democracies to free Liu Xiaobo.”

On hearing of Havel’s death, Irwin Cotler’s thoughts turned to the winter of 1989 when he was on a Canadian delegation to the Soviet Union, he writes:

I took the occasion to visit with Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet dissident who helped make the 1989 Velvet Revolution possible, and with whom I had the privilege of working closely over the years. While in Sakharov’s apartment, the phone rang. It was Francesco Janouch, a leader of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia calling to tell Sakharov that the Czech politburo had fallen and that there were over 250,000 people celebrating its demise. Sakharov was elated. As he told Janouch, capturing history in the moment, “I feel 21 years younger tonight” — a reference to the still-born Prague Spring of 1968.

“As cosmic coincidences go, the deaths of Václav Havel and Kim Jong Il in the same week the U.S. pulled the last of its troops out of Iraq is hard to ignore,” writes Bret Stephens.

“The world could not be indifferent forever to a murderer like Saddam Hussein,” said Havel.

“A big danger of our world today is obsession,” he told a Prague democracy conference. “An even bigger danger is indifference.”

As Stephens notes:

Kim died in his proverbial bed, thanks in part to global acquiescence in, and considerable tangible support for, his rule. That’s a testament to what our indifference continues to achieve for tyranny, and a poor way of honoring the memory of Václav Havel.