Saturday, December 31, 2011

Has Vaclav Havel's mantle been passed to...

...Liu Xiaobo?

The passing of Vaclav Havel earlier this month reminded us one more time that in word, action and commitment, he never stopped believing that the Czech and Slovak people (along with their fellow Soviet-bloc neighbors) could be liberated from oppression.

It was Havel's humanity and decency in fighting against the inhumane and indecent that won him admirers. And when the former Czechoslovakia had finally rid itself of Communism, it was Havel who assumed the role of politician and statesman.

It suited him well, even if he was less than comfortable in it.

In the final years of his life, Havel often spoke out in support of Liu Xiaobo, who, like Havel, is known for his eloquence with words. Liu, like Havel, has spent considerable time in prison for speaking out against the abuses of his Communist government. Liu, like Havel, ran afoul of the authorities in part because of creating a "Charter" that spoke favorably of basic human rights and freedoms.

For Havel, it was "Charter 77" (reflecting 1977, the year of its creation). For Liu, it is "Charter 08" (for 2008, the year it was first circulated), which drew much of its ideas from Charter 77. The Chinese government was especially angered after Liu's efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

With that brief and therefore incomplete introduction, I ask: Has Havel's mantle been passed to Liu?

You can learn more about Liu Xiaobo in his newest book. The Wall Street Journal has reviewed it, and the newspaper suggests there is much in Havel's past that resembles Liu's present.
When Mr. Liu won the Nobel, Havel wrote to him of being "touched" but not surprised that Charter 08 drew inspiration from Charter 77 (a compliment Havel returned by working to free Mr. Liu and defend Charter 08 until his death earlier this month): "There simply exists a sort of moral minimum that is common to the entire world and thanks to which people from countries as different and far apart as the Czech Republic and China can strive for the same values and sympathize with each other, thereby creating the basis for true—not simply feigned—friendship." Mr. Liu already shares a great deal with Havel, chiefly a faith in individuals and the impact they can have on a totalitarian system.
Let's remember that too many American politicians remain mute on the question of China's human rights record. Many of those same politicians or the men and women they replaced never doubted that human rights was an issue in the former Soviet Union. So, I'll end by asking another question: China's economic power wouldn't have anything to do with the muted response in the U.S., right?

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