26 December 2011 ~ 0 Comentarios

Havel – the man who loved freedom

by Carlos Alberto Montaner

Havel Rivero Praga
Vaclav Havel & Raúl Rivero in Prague

(THE MIAMI HERALD) It was like a fairy tale. In December 1989, Vaclav Havel suddenly became president of Czechoslovakia. In a few weeks, the Czech writer went from the most absolute indefensibility to the pinnacle of power. In mid-November, the political police still continued to beat up dissidents, and the Communist Party still held the reins of social control. On the third week of November, the amazing Velvet Revolution began. The streets and squares filled with thousands of people who finally dared to express what they thought about the communist system but hadn’t dared to say: It was a horrible torment that should end as soon as possible.

The strikes began. The regime collapsed. Theoretical communism was nonsense. Real communism consequently had become a growing nightmare. Havel called it “Absurdistan.”

There was something surprising in the dizzying end of Czech communism. In February, the Slovenes — then a republic attached to the Yugoslav federation — created an opposition party. Poland, guided by Lech Walesa and propelled by the massive impulse of the Solidarity labor union, had begun to defeat the dictatorship in the June elections. In August, the three Baltic nations asked for independence from the Soviet Union. By October, the Hungarian communists had changed their name and accepted the multiparty system. In early November, the Germans knocked down the Berlin Wall. On Dec. 25, the Romanians executed dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wicked wife, the ineffable Elena, to begin the changes. One month earlier, they had elected him unanimously as leader of the Communist Party.

The Czechs, in turn, seemed one step behind. Suddenly, like lightning, freedom struck. On Dec. 29, Havel was elected president by a Parliament that saw no other way out from the crisis. His figure had grown tremendously at the head of the Civic Forum, an organization that basically brought together dissident writers and artists. It was the first country that unequivocally broke the Muscovite chain and began to bury the Marxist superstitions.

And here comes the good part. The soothsayers thought that a little-known writer without political experience — much less bureaucratic savvy — a lover of jazz and rock, a timid bohemian who had spent almost all his adult life in prison or persecuted would be incapable of governing a country that was changing its system and undertaking the huge task of correcting the abuses and stupidities committed during more than 40 years of communist dictatorship.It was not easy. Along the way, Czechs and Slovaks divorced by mutual consent, but, in general, the inexperienced writer turned out to be a great statesman.

How did that phenomenon occur? Something primordial happened: Havel did not know the laws but had known injustice. He didn’t know economics but had experienced scarcity and the lack of opportunities. He didn’t have managerial experience but had common sense, knew how to delegate and chose his collaborators well. In addition, he was an intelligent person. Havel had an objective: to return to his compatriots control over their lives. That’s what freedom is all about: the possibility of making decisions without coercion or fear. The Czechs, who once were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, had seen how the free Austrians had become prosperous citizens of a peaceful nation. And they had seen that the free Germany was a thousand times happier and wealthier than the communist Germany.The golden rule was obvious: Decisions would have to be made and institutions created that could strengthen individual freedom. Havel would govern from values and principles. Pragmatism is almost always the mask of the opportunist and the unscrupulous. The title of one of his latest works summarized his conception of politics: The Art of the Impossible.

That is why Havel honored me with his solidarity. When he was president, he welcomed me to the Prague castle — publicly, with all possible resonance — to underline his support for the Cuban democrats and his repudiation of the Castro dictatorship. He thought that the former European satellites had a moral obligation to the victims of the last Marxist-Leninist tyranny in the West. The nations had been sisters in misfortune and should save themselves together.When Havel ceased to be president, he organized an International Committee for the Freedom of Cuba, and one afternoon summoned me to Prague so we could together introduce a book by the great Cuban poet Raúl Rivero, at the time imprisoned on the island. We did so in a café, like the days when he struggled against the Czech dictatorship. He was already ill but his eyes shone fiercely. It was the fire of freedom.

Leave a Reply