One of the world’s great men is Vaclev Havel. If you don’t know who he is, then you are an idiot and shouldn’t be reading this. One of the world’s great women is Aung San Suu Kyi. Today’s entry is a mix of both. Enjoy.
Source: Washington Post
The Soul of a Nation
By Vaclav Havel
Sunday, October 12, 2003; Page B07
Just recently friends of mine sent me a couple of photographs of Aung San Suu Kyi. The nonviolent struggle of this woman for her fellow citizens’ freedom dwells in my soul as a stark reminder of our struggles against totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.
Our nation, the Czech Republic, together with the entire free world, has observed with great concern the Burmese junta’s refusal to cede power and the subsequent brutal intervention to quell the protest of its citizens after the victory of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Burma’s 1990 elections.
The Burmese authorities began to allow her to move around her own country only a year ago. It was then that the photos that have so captured my interest were taken. Despite the ban on information about her and despite the junta’s intimidation, the Burmese people have always learned quickly by word of mouth of her presence, and thousands upon thousands of citizens overcame their fear and gathered upon this occasion to listen to her.
I have seen other photos from Burma as well, showing men in uniforms who demand to be celebrated as if they were ancient kings, appearing before staged audiences that betray the motivations of fear and resignation. These men—armed to the teeth—shudder at the sight of unarmed people who are able to overcome their own fear and stand as examples to others. They were so terrified to see the photos of the crowds hailing Suu Kyi that they blocked the road, slaughtered many of her fellow travelers and detained her in May. Perhaps they have foolishly convinced themselves, as many of their fellow dictators have, that their ungrateful nation cannot see the good they do.
I recall that my friends and I for decades were asked by people visiting from democratic Western countries, “How can you, a mere handful of powerless individuals, change the regime, when the regime has at hand all the tools of power: the army, the police and the media, when it can convene gigantic rallies to reflect its people’s ‘support’ to the world, when pictures of the leaders are everywhere and any effort to resist seems hopeless and quixotic?”
My answer was that it was impossible to see the inside clearly, to witness the true spirit of the society and its potential—impossible because everything was forged. In such circumstances, no one can perceive the internal, underground movements and processes that are occurring. No one can determine the size of the snowball needed to initiate the avalanche leading to the disintegration of the regime.
There are many politicians in the free world who favor seemingly pragmatic cooperation with repressive regimes. During the time of communism, some Western politicians preferred to appease the Czechoslovak thugs propped up by Soviet tanks rather than sustain contacts with a bunch of dissidents. These status-quo Western leaders behaved, voluntarily, much like those unfortunate people who were forced to participate in the massive government rallies: They allowed a totalitarian regime to dictate to them whom to meet and what to say. At that time, people such as the French president, Francois Mitterrand, and the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Max van der Stoel, saved the face of the Western democracies by speaking and acting clearly. By the same token, politicians such as Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople redeem the Asian reputation by not hesitating to speak the truth. The regime in Burma is, as a matter of fact, the disgrace of Asia, just as Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus is the disgrace of Europe and Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba of Latin America.
In Burma, thousands of human lives have been destroyed, scores of gifted people have been exiled or incarcerated and deep mistrust has been sown among the various ethnic groups. Human society is, however, a mysterious creature, and it serves no good to trust its public face at any one moment. Thousands of people welcomed Suu Kyi on her tours, proving that the Burmese nation is neither subjugated nor pessimistic and faithless. Hidden beneath the mask of apathy, there is an unsuspected energy and a great human, moral and spiritual charge. Detaining and repressing people cannot change the soul of a nation. It may dampen it and disguise the reality outwardly, but history has repeatedly taught us the lesson that change often arrives unexpectedly.
“To talk about change is not enough, change must happen,” said Suu Kyi during a tour among her people. The Burmese do not require education for democracy; they are and have always been ready for it. It is not necessary to draft a “road map” for establishing freedom of the press or for releasing political prisoners. The will to act now would be sufficient to fulfill both. But that is apparently what is missing in Burma. Aren’t there obvious flaws in a road map if the road for those who set forth on the journey to democracy is blocked and if they are slaughtered or inevitably end up in prison?
The writer is former president of the Czech Republic.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Someday Burma will be free. And it will be solely because of Suu Kyi and men like Havel.