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Vaclav Havel Dies at 75 this morning
#1
Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, dies aged 75

Dissident playwright who led velvet revolution and became first post-communist Czechoslovakian president dies

Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the Czechoslovakian "velvet revolution" and was one of the fathers of the east European pro-democracy movement that led to the fall of the Berlin wall, has died aged 75.

Reports quoted his assistant, Sabina Tančevová, as saying Havel died at his weekend house on Sunday morning, and the news was announced on Czech television during an interview with the current prime minister, Petr Necas.

Necas called Havel "the symbol of 1989" and said he did "a tremendous job for this country".

Havel's state funeral is likely to draw a crowd of leaders, artists and intellectuals from around the world. Havel was a renowned playwright and essayist who, after the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968, was drawn increasingly into the political struggle against the Czechoslovakian communist dictatorship, which he called Absurdistan. His involvement in the Charter 77 movement for freedom of speech won him admiration around the world.

His commitment to non-violent resistance helped ensure the velvet revolution was bloodless. It also help ensured that the "velvet divorce" three years later, when the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was equally peaceful.

Havel opposed the split and stepped down from his position as president in 1992, rather than oversee the process. However, he stood for the presidency of the Czech Republic early the following year and won. It was a non-executive position but Havel brought to it both moral authority and prestige on the world stage. He stayed in the position, despite bouts of ill health including lung cancer, until 2003.

His role in the east European revolutions of 1989 was second only to Lech Walesa's in Poland. As the twin inspirations of the pro-democracy movement, they were strikingly contrasting figures: Walesa a flamboyant, brash, working-class union agitator; Havel a soft-spoken intellectual from a well-to-do family, who was a reluctant politician.

He was one of a generation who came to political consciousness in the 1960s. Rock stars such as Frank Zappa were among his heroes and late in life he continued to sign his name with a small heart-shaped flourish.

His motto was: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."

World leaders have paid tribute to Havel. British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Havel devoted his life to the cause of human freedom. For years, communism tried to crush him, and to extinguish his voice. But Havel, the playwright and the dissident, could not be silenced.

"No one of my generation will ever forget those powerful scenes from Wenceslas Square two decades ago. Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny. And he helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent.

"Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt. Today his voice has fallen silent. But his example and the cause to which he devoted his life will live on."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and went into politics as communism crumbled, said she learned "with great dismay" of Havel's death.

"His dedication to freedom and democracy is as unforgotten as his great humanity," Merkel wrote in a message to Klaus. "We Germans also have much to thank him for. Together with you, we mourn the loss of a great European."

The president of the European parliament Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister and activist in Solidarity, wrote on Twitter: "Vaclav Havel is the figure that represents the Velvet Revolution and the reunification of Europe. He will be sorely missed."

Vaclav Klaus, Havel's political arch-rival who replaced him as president in 2003, called Havel "the symbol of the new era of the Czech state".

Foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg added that Havel "returned dignity to the Czech nation."

In neighbouring Poland, the founder of the anti-communist Solidarity movement and former president Lech Walesa called Havel "a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy".

"It is a great pity and a great loss. His outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed in Europe," said Walesa, the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

[N.B. I came to the Czech Republic in large part because of Havel. Since he left office, a neocan clone named Klaus the Louse has been President and all has changed in climate (moral, ethical, political, economic) since. A perfect man - no; someone comfortable as a politician - no; flawed by the idea that my enemies enemy is my friend - perhaps. Misssed.]

Vaclav Havel, the playwright-turned-politician who served as the last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic, has died at age 75.

Havel, a former chain-smoker who suffered breathing difficulties, died on Sunday morning at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic.

As a dissident playwright, Havel wove theatre into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War.

Havel was Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected president after the non-violent "Velvet Revolution" that ended four decades of repression by a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan".

As president, he oversaw the country's bumpy transition to democracy and a free-market economy, as well its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Even out of office, the diminutive Czech remained a world figure. He was part of the "new Europe" - in the coinage of then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - of ex-communist countries that stood up for the US when the democracies of "old Europe" opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc, and was president when it joined NATO in 1999.

Havel was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and collected dozens of other accolades worldwide for his efforts as a global ambassador of conscience, defending the downtrodden from Darfur to Myanmar.

Among his many honours were Sweden's prestigious Olof Palme Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian award, bestowed on him by President George W. Bush for being "one of liberty's great heroes".

An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers such as Frank Zappa, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish.

Early in 2008, Havel returned to his first love: the stage.

He published a new play, "Leaving", about the struggles of a leader on his way out of office, and the work gained critical acclaim.



"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
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#2

Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism

Slavoj Žižek

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Václav Havel's life would seem to be an unrivalled success story: the Philosopher-King, a man who combines political power with a global moral authority comparable only to that of the Pope, the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela. And just as at the end of a fairy tale when the hero is rewarded for all his suffering by marrying the princess, he is married to a beautiful movie actress. Why, then, has John Keane chosen as the subtitle of his biography A Political Tragedy in Six Acts'?

In the Seventies, when Havel was still a relatively unknown Czech dissident writer, Keane played a crucial role in making him known in the West: he organised the publication of Havel's political texts and became a friend. He also did much to resuscitate Havel's notion of civil society' as the site of resistance to Late Socialist regimes. Despite this personal connection, Keane's book is far from hagiography he gives us the real Havel' with all his weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. He divides his Life into six stages: the early student years under the Stalinist regime; the playwright and essayist of the Sixties; the defeat of the last great attempt at socialism with a human face' in the Prague Spring of 1968; the years of dissidence and arrest which culminated in Havel's emergence as the leading spokesman for Charter 77; the Velvet Revolution; and finally the Presidency. Along the way, we get an abundance of endearing foibles', which far from tarnishing Havel's heroic image, seem somehow to make his achievement all the more palpable. His parents were rich cultural capitalists', owners of the famous Barrandov cinema studios (bourgeois origins'). He has always had unreliable habits (a fondness for eau de toilette, sleeping late, listening to rock music) and is known for his promiscuity, notwithstanding the celebrated prison letters to his working-class wife Olga. (When he was released from jail in 1977, he spent his first weeks of freedom with a mistress.) In the Eighties, he was ruthless in establishing himself as Czechoslovakia's most important dissident when a potential rival emerged, doubtful rumours would start to circulate about the rival's links with the secret police. As President he uses a child's scooter to zoom along the corridors of the huge Presidential palace.
The source of Havel's tragedy, however, is not the tension between the public figure and the real person', not even his gradual loss of charisma in recent years. Such things characterise every successful political career (with the exception of those touched by the grace of premature demise). Keane writes that Havel's life resembles a classical political tragedy' because it has been clamped by moments of … triumph spoiled by defeat', and notes that most of the citizens in President Havel's republic think less of him than they did a year ago.' The crucial issue, however, is the tension between his two public images: that of heroic dissident who, in the oppressive and cynical universe of Late Socialism, practised and wrote about living in truth', and that of Post-Modern President who (not unlike Al Gore) indulges in New Age ruminations that aim to legitimise Nato military interventions. How do we get from the lone, fragile dissident with a crumpled jacket and uncompromising ethics, who opposes the all-mighty totalitarian power, to the President who babbles about the anthropic principle and the end of the Cartesian paradigm, reminds us that human rights are conferred on us by the Creator, and is applauded in the US Congress for his defence of Western values? Is this depressing spectacle the necessary outcome, the truth', of Havel the heroic dissident? To put it in Hegel's terms: how does the ethically impeccable noble consciousness' imperceptibly pass into the servile base consciousness'? Of course, for a Post-Modern' Third Way democrat immersed in New Age ideology, there is no tension: Havel is simply following his destiny, and is deserving of praise for not shirking political power. But there is no escape from the conclusion that his life has descended from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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Rarely has one individual played so many different parts. The cocky young student in the early Fifties, member of a closed circle which holds passionate political discussions and somehow survives the worst years of the Stalinist terror. The Modernist playwright and critical essayist struggling to assert himself in the mild thaw of the late Fifties and Sixties. The first encounter with History in the Prague Spring which is also Havel's first big disappointment. The long ordeal of the Seventies and most of the Eighties, when he is transformed from a critical playwright into a key political figure. The miracle of the Velvet Revolution, with Havel emerging as a skilful politician negotiating the transfer of power and ending up as President. Finally, there is Havel in the Nineties, the man who presided over the disintegration of Czechoslovakia and who is now the proponent of the full integration of the Czech Republic into Western economic and military structures. Havel himself has been shocked by the swiftness of the transformation a TV camera famously caught his look of disbelief as he sat down to his first official dinner as President.
Keane highlights the limitations of Havel's political project, and the Havel he describes is sometimes remarkably naive, as when, in January 1990, he greeted Chancellor Kohl with the words: Why don't we work together to dissolve all political parties? Why don't we set up just one big party, the Party of Europe?' There is a nice symmetry in the two Václavs who have dominated Czech politics in the past decade: the charismatic Philosopher-King, the head of a democratic monarchy, finding an appropriate double in Václav Klaus, his Prime Minister, the cold technocratic advocate of full market liberalism who dismisses any talk of solidarity and community.
In 1974, Paul Theroux visited Vietnam, after the peace agreement and the withdrawal of the US Army, but before the Communist takeover. He writes about it in The Great Railway Bazaar. A couple of hundred US soldiers were still there deserters, officially and legally non-existent, living in slum shacks with their Vietnamese wives, earning a living by smuggling or other crimes. In Theroux's hands, these individuals become representative of Vietnam's place in global power politics. From them, we gradually unravel the complex totality of Vietnamese society. When Keane is at his best, he displays the same ability to extract from small details the global context of what was going on in Czechoslovakia. The weakest passages in the book are those which attempt to deal more conceptually with the nature of totalitarian' regimes or the social implications of modern technology. Instead of an account of the inner antagonisms of Communist regimes, we get the standard liberal clichés about totalitarian control'.
Towards the end of his book, Keane touches on the old idea of the King's Two Bodies' and points to the equivalent importance of the Leader's body in Communist regimes. A pre-modern' political order, he writes, relies on having such sacred bodies, while the democratic system, in which the place of power is supposedly empty, is open to competitive struggle. But this contrast fails to grasp the intricacies of totalitarianism'. It is not that Keane is too directly anti-Communist, but that his liberal-democratic stance prevents him from seeing the horrifying paradox of the Stalinist Leader'.
Lenin's first major stroke, which he suffered in May 1922, left his right side virtually paralysed and for a while deprived him of speech. He realised that his active political life was over and asked Stalin for some poison so that he could kill himself; Stalin took the matter to the Politburo, which voted against Lenin's wish. Lenin assumed that because he was no longer of any use to the revolutionary struggle, death was the only option calmly enjoying old age' was out of the question. The idea of his funeral as a great state event he found repulsive. This was not modesty: he was simply indifferent to the fate of his body, regarding it as an instrument to be ruthlessly exploited and discarded when no longer useful.
With Stalinism, however, the body of the Leader became objectively beautiful'. In On the Problem of the Beautiful in Soviet Art', an essay from 1950, the Soviet critic Nedoshivin wrote: Amid all the beautiful material of life, the first place should be occupied by images of our great leaders … The sublime beauty of the leaders … is the basis for the coinciding of the "beautiful" and the "true" in the art of socialist realism.' This has nothing to do with the Leader's physical attributes and everything to do with abstract ideals. The Leader in fact is like the Lady in courtly love poetry cold, distanced, inhuman. Both the Leninist and the Stalinist Leader are thoroughly alienated, but in opposite ways: the Leninist Leader displays radical self-instrumentalisation on behalf of the Revolution, while in the case of the Stalinist Leader, the real person' is treated as an appendix to the fetishised and celebrated public image. No wonder the official photos of the Stalinist era were so often retouched, and with a clumsiness so obvious it almost seemed intentional. It signalled that the real person' with all his idiosyncrasies had been replaced by a wooden effigy. One rumour circulating about Kim Il Yong is that he actually died in a car crash a couple of years ago and a double has taken his place for rare public appearances, so that the crowds can catch a glimpse of the object of their worship. This is the ultimate confirmation that the real personality' of the Stalinist leader is thoroughly irrelevant. Havel of course is the inverse of that: while the Stalinist Leader is reduced to a ritualistically praised effigy, Havel's charisma is that of a real person'. The paradox is that a genuine cult of personality' can thrive only in a democracy.
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Havel's essay on The Power of the Powerless', written in 1978, was perceptive in explaining how Late Socialism operated at the domestic, day-to-day level. What was important was not that the people deep down believed in the ruling ideology, but that they followed the external rituals and practices by means of which this ideology acquired material existence. Havel's example is the greengrocer, a modest man profoundly indifferent to official ideology. He just mechanically follows the rules: on state holidays, he decorates the window of his shop with official slogans such as Long Live Socialism!' When there are mass gatherings he takes part affectlessly. Although he privately complains about the corruption and incompetence of those in power', he takes comfort in pieces of folk wisdom (power corrupts' etc), which enable him to legitimise his stance in his own eyes and to retain a false appearance of dignity. When someone tries to engage him in dissident activity, he protests: Who are you to get me mixed up in things which are bound to be used against my children? Is it really up to me to set the world to rights?'
Havel saw that if there was a psychological' mechanism at work in Communist ideology, it was not to do with belief, but rather with shared guilt: in the normalisation' that followed the Soviet intervention of 1968, the Czech regime made sure that, in one way or another, the majority of people were somehow morally discredited, compelled to violate their own moral standards. When an individual was blackmailed into signing a petition against a dissident (Havel, for example), he knew that he was lying and taking part in a campaign against an honest man, and it was precisely this ethical betrayal that rendered him the ideal Communist subject. The regime relied on and actively condoned the moral bankruptcy of its subjects. Havel's concept of living in truth' involved no metaphysics: it simply designated the act of suspending one's participation, of breaking out of the vicious cycle of objective guilt'. He blocked off all the false escape-routes, including seeking refuge in the small pleasures of everyday life'. Such acts of indifference making fun in private of official rituals, for instance were, he said, the very means by which the official ideology was reproduced.
A sincere' believer in official Late Socialist ideology was, therefore, potentially much more dangerous to the regime than a cynic. Consider two examples from countries other than Czechoslovakia. First, the emblematic figures of Evald Iljenkov (1924-79) and Aleksei Losev (1893-1988), the two prototypes of Russian philosophy under socialism. Losev was the author of the last book published in the USSR (in 1929) which openly rejected Marxism (he called dialectical materialism obvious nonsense'). After a short prison term, he was allowed to pursue his academic career and, during World War Two, even started lecturing again his formula for survival was to withdraw into the history of aesthetics. Under the guise of interpreting past thinkers, especially Plotinus and other Neoplatonists, he was able to smuggle in his own spiritualist beliefs, while, in the introductions to his books, paying lip service to the official ideology with a quote or two from Khrushchev or Brezhnev. In this way, he survived all the vicissitudes of Communism and was hailed after 1989 as the representative of an authentic Russian spiritual heritage. Iljenkov, a superb dialectician and expert on Hegel, was, on the other hand, a sincere Marxist-Leninist. He wrote lively, individual prose and endeavoured to engage with Marxism as a serious philosophy rather than as a set of official maxims. This didn't go down well: he was excommunicated and committed suicide.
The second example is Yugoslav self-management socialism' and the fundamental paradox contained within it. Tito's official ideology continually exhorted people to take control of their lives outside of the structures of Party and State; the authorised media criticised personal indifference and the escape into privacy. However, it was precisely an authentic, self-managed articulation and organisation of common interests which the regime feared most. Between the lines of its propaganda, the Government suggested that its official solicitations were not to be taken too literally, that a cynical attitude towards its ideology was what was actually wanted. The greatest catastrophe for the regime would have been for its own ideology to be taken seriously and acted on by its subjects.
Havel was especially penetrating in his denunciation of the inherent hypocrisy of Western Marxism and of the socialist opposition' in Communist countries. Consider the almost total absence of a theoretical confrontation with Stalinism in the works of the Frankfurt School, in contrast to its permanent obsession with Fascism. The standard excuse was that the Frankfurt School critics did not want to oppose Communism too openly, for fear that they would be playing into the hands of Cold Warriors in the Western countries where they lived. But this is obviously not sufficient: had they been cornered and made to say where they stood in the Cold War, they would have chosen Western liberal democracy (as Max Horkheimer explicitly did in some of his late writings). Stalinism' was a traumatic topic on which the Frankfurt School had to remain silent silence was the only way for its members to retain their underlying solidarity with Western liberal democracy, without losing their mask of radical leftism.

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Their ultimate alignment with the Western system is equivalent to the stance of the democratic socialist opposition' in the German Democratic Republic. Although members of the opposition criticised Communist Party rule, they endorsed the basic premise of the regime: that the Federal Republic of Germany was a neo-Nazi state, the direct inheritor of the Nazi regime, and that, therefore, the existence of the GDR as the anti-Fascist bulwark had to be protected at any cost. When the socialist system was really threatened, the opposition publicly supported it (take Brecht's position on the East Berlin workers' demonstrations in 1953, or Christa Wolf's on the Prague Spring). The opposition retained its belief in the inherent reformability of the system, but argued that true democratic reform would take time. A rapid disintegration of socialism would, it thought, only return Germany to Fascism and strangle the utopia of the Other Germany', which, in spite of all its horrors and failures, the GDR represented.

This is why opposition intellectuals so deeply distrusted the people'. In 1989, they opposed free elections, well aware that, if given the chance, the majority would choose capitalist consumerism. Free elections, Heiner Mueller said, had brought Hitler to power. Many Western social democrats played the same game, feeling much closer to reform-minded' Communists than to dissidents the latter somehow embarrassed them as an obstacle to the process of detente. It was clear to Havel that Soviet intervention in 1968 had preserved the Western myth of the Prague Spring: the utopian notion that, were the Czechs to be left alone, they would give birth to an authentic alternative to both Real Socialism and Real Capitalism. In fact, had the Warsaw Pact forces not intervened in August 1968, either the Czech Communist leadership would have had to impose restraint, and Czechoslovakia would have remained a fully Communist country, or it would have turned into a normal' Western capitalist society (though perhaps one with a Scandinavian social-democratic flavour).
Havel also discerned the fraudulence of what I would call the interpassive socialism' of the Western academic Left. These leftists aren't interested in activity merely in authentic' experience. They allow themselves to pursue their well-paid academic careers in the West, while using the idealised Other (Cuba, Nicaragua, Tito's Yugoslavia) as the stuff of their ideological dreams: they dream through the Other, but turn their backs on it if it disturbs their complacency by abandoning socialism and opting for liberal capitalism. What is of special interest here is the lack of understanding between the Western Left and dissidents such as Havel. In the eyes of the Western Left, Eastern dissidents were too naive in their belief in liberal democracy in rejecting socialism, they threw out the baby with the bath water. In the eyes of the dissidents, the Western Left played patronising games with them, disavowing the true harshness of totalitarianism. The idea that the dissidents were somehow guilty for not seizing the unique opportunity provided by the disintegration of socialism to invent an authentic alternative to capitalism was pure hypocrisy.
In dissecting Late Socialism, Havel was always aware that Western liberal democracy was far from meeting the ideals of authentic community and living in truth' on behalf of which he and other dissidents opposed Communism. He was faced, then, with the problem of combining a rejection of totalitarianism' with the need to offer critical insight into Western democracy. His solution was to follow Heidegger and to see in the technological hubris of capitalism, its mad dance of self-enhancing productivity, the expression of a more fundamental transcendental-ontological principle will to power', instrumental reason' equally evident in the Communist attempt to overcome capitalism. This was the argument of Adorno's and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment, which first engineered the fateful shift from concrete socio-political analysis to philosophico-anthropological generalisation, by means of which instrumental reason' is no longer grounded in concrete capitalist social relations, but is instead posited as their quasi-transcendental foundation'. The moment that Havel endorsed Heidegger's recourse to quasi-anthropological or philosophical principle, Stalinism lost its specificity, its specific political dynamic, and turned into just another example of this principle (as exemplified by Heidegger's remark, in his Introduction to Metaphysics, that, in the long run, Russian Communism and Americanism were metaphysically one and the same').
Keane tries to save Havel from this predicament by emphasising the ambiguous nature of his intellectual debt to Heidegger. Like Heidegger, Havel conceived of Communism as a thoroughly modern regime, an inflated caricature of modern life, with many tendencies shared by Western society technological hubris and the crushing of human individuality attendant on it. However, in contrast to Heidegger, who excluded any active resistance to the social-technological framework (only God can save us,' as he put it in an interview, published after his death), Havel put faith in a challenge from below' in the independent life of civil society' outside the frame of state power. The power of the powerless', he argued, resides in the self-organisation of civil society that defies the instrumental reason' embodied in the state and the technological apparatuses of control and domination.

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I find the idea of civil society doubly problematic. First, the opposition between state and civil society works against as well as for liberty and democracy. For example, in the United States, the Moral Majority presents itself (and is effectively organised as) the resistance of local civil society to the regulatory interventions of the liberal state the recent exclusion of Darwinism from the school curriculum in Kansas is in this sense exemplary. So while in the specific case of Late Socialism the idea of civil society refers to the opening up of a space of resistance to totalitarian' power, there is no essential reason why it cannot provide space for all the politico-ideological antagonisms that plagued Communism, including nationalism and opposition movements of an anti-democratic nature. These are authentic expressions of civil society civil society designates the terrain of open struggle, the terrain in which antagonisms can articulate themselves, without any guarantee that the progressive' side will win.
Second, civil society as Havel conceived it is not, in fact, a development of Heidegger's thinking. The essence of modern technology for Heidegger was not a set of institutions, practices and ideological attitudes that can be opposed, but the very ontological horizon that determines how we experience Being today, how reality discloses itself to us. For that reason, Heidegger would have found the concept of the power of the powerless' suspect, caught in the logic of the Will to Power that it endeavours to denounce.
Havel's understanding that living in truth' could not be achieved by capitalism, combined with his crucial failure to understand the origins of his own critical impulse, has pushed him towards New Ageism. Although the Communist regimes were mostly a dismal failure, generating terror and misery, at the same time they opened up a space for utopian expectations which, among other things, facilitated the failure of Communism itself. What anti-Communist dissidents such as Havel overlook, then, is that the very space from which they criticised and denounced terror and misery was opened and sustained by Communism's attempt to escape the logic of capitalism. This explains Havel's continuing insistence that capitalism in its traditional, brutal form cannot meet the high expectations of his anti-Communist struggle the need for authentic human solidarity etc. This is, in turn, why Václav Klaus, Havel's pragmatic double, has dismissed Havel as a socialist'.
Even the most totalitarian' Stalinist ideology is radically ambiguous. While the universe of Stalinist politics was undoubtedly one of hypocrisy and arbitrary terror, in the late Thirties the great Soviet films (say, the Gorky trilogy) epitomised authentic solidarity for audiences across Europe. In one memorable film about the Civil War, a mother with a young son is exposed as a counter-revolutionary spy. A group of Bolsheviks put her on trial and at the very beginning of the trial, an old Bolshevik demands that the sentence be severe, but just. After she confesses her crime, the court (an informal collective of Bolshevik soldiers) rules that she was seduced into enemy activity by her difficult social circumstances; she is therefore sentenced to be fully integrated into the new socialist collective, to be taught to write and read and to acquire a proper education, while her son, who is unwell, is to be given proper medical care. The surprised woman bursts out crying, unable to understand the court's benevolence, and the old Bolshevik nods: Yes, this is a severe, but just sentence!' No matter how manipulative such scenes were, no matter how far they were from the reality of revolutionary justice', they nonetheless bore witness to a new sense of justice; and as such, gave viewers new ethical standards against which reality could be measured.
Havel seems now to be blind to the fact that his own opposition to Communism was rendered possible by the utopian dimension generated and sustained by Communist regimes. So we get the tragi-comic indignity which is his recent essay in the New York Review of Books on Kosovo and the End of the Nation-State'. In it, he tries to say that the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia placed human rights above the rights of the state, that the Nato alliance's attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without a direct mandate from the UN was not an irresponsible act of aggression, or of disrespect for international law. It was, on the contrary, according to Havel, prompted by respect for the law, for a law that ranks higher than the law which protects the sovereignty of states. The alliance has acted out of respect for human rights, as both conscience and international treaties dictate.
Havel further invokes this higher law' when he claims that human rights, human freedoms . . . and human dignity have their deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world . . . while the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of God.' He seems to be saying that Nato forces were allowed to violate international law because they acted as direct instruments of the higher law' of God a clear-cut case of religious fundamentalism. Havel's statement is a good example of what Ulrich Beck, in an article in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung last April, called militaristic humanism' or even militaristic pacifism'. The problem with this approach is not that it is inherently contradictory, an Orwellian peace is war.' Nor is the Nato intervention best met with the pacifist-liberal argument that more bombs and killing never bring peace' (it goes without saying that this is wrong). It is not even enough to point out, as a Marxist would, that the targets of bombardment weren't chosen with moral considerations in mind, but were determined by geopolitical and economic interests. The main problem with Havel's argument is that intervention is presented as having been undertaken for the sake of the victims of hatred and violence that is, justified by a depoliticised appeal to universal human rights.

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A report by Steven Erlanger on the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians in a May edition of the New York Times was entitled In One Kosovo Woman, an Emblem of Suffering'. This woman is from the outset identified as a powerless victim of circumstance, deprived of political identity, reduced to bare suffering. As such, she is beyond political recrimination an independent Kosovo is not on her agenda, she just wants the horror over:

Does she favour an independent Kosovo?
You know, I don't care if it's this or that,' Meli said. I just want all this to end, and to feel good again, to feel good in my place and my house with my friends and family.'
Her support for the Nato intervention is grounded in her wish for the horror to end:
She wants a settlement that brings foreigners here with some force behind them'. She is indifferent as to who the foreigners are.
She sympathises with all sides:
There is tragedy enough for everyone,' she says. I feel sorry for the Serbs who've been bombed and died, and I feel sorry for my own people. But maybe now there will be a conclusion, a settlement for good. That would be great.'
Meli is the ideal subject-victim to whose aid Nato comes running: not a political subject with a clear agenda, but a subject of helpless suffering, someone who sympathises with all suffering sides in the conflict, caught in the madness of a local clash that can only be stopped by the intervention of a benevolent foreign power.
The ultimate paradox of the Nato bombing of Serbia is not the one that was regularly rehearsed by Western opponents of the war: that by an attempt to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Nato triggered cleansing on a larger scale and created the very humanitarian catastrophe it wanted to prevent. A deeper paradox involves the ideology of victimisation: when Nato intervened to protect Kosovar victims, it ensured at that same time that they would remain victims, inhabitants of a devastated country with a passive population they were not encouraged to become an active politico-military force capable of defending itself. Here we have the basic paradox of victimisation: the Other to be protected is good insofar as it remains a victim (which is why we were bombarded with pictures of helpless Kosovar mothers, children and old people, telling moving stories of their suffering); the moment it no longer behaves as a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it all of a sudden magically turns into a terrorist, fundamentalist, drug-trafficking Other. This ideology of global victimisation, the identification of the human subject as something that can be hurt', is the perfect fit for today's global capitalism, though most of the time it remains invisible to the public eye.
Havel praised the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia as the first case of a military intervention in a country with full sovereign power, undertaken not out of any specific economico-strategic interest but because that country was violating the elementary human rights of an ethnic group. To understand the falseness of this, compare the new moralism with the great emancipatory movements inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These were movements directed not against a specific group of people, but against concrete (racist, colonialist) institutionalised practices; they involved a positive, all-inclusive stance that, far from excluding the enemy' (whites, English colonisers), made an appeal to its moral sense and asked it to do something that would restore its own moral dignity. The predominant form of today's politically correct' moralism, on the other hand, is that of Nietzschean ressentiment and envy: it is the fake gesture of disavowed politics, the assuming of a moral', depoliticised position in order to make a stronger political case. This is a perverted version of Havel's power of the powerless': powerlessness can be manipulated as a stratagem in order to gain more power, in exactly the same way that today, in order for one's voice to gain authority, one has to legitimise oneself as being some kind of (potential or actual) victim of power.
The ultimate cause of this moralistic depoliticisation is the retreat of the Marxist historico-political project. A couple of decades ago, people were still discussing the political future of humanity will capitalism prevail or will it be supplanted by Communism or another form of totalitarianism'? while silently accepting that, somehow, social life would continue. Today, we can easily imagine the extinction of the human race, but it is impossible to imagine a radical change of the social system even if life on earth disappears, capitalism will somehow remain intact. In this situation, disappointed Leftists, who are convinced that radical change of the existing liberal-democratic capitalist system is no longer possible, but who are unable to renounce their passionate attachment to global change, invest their excess of political energy in an abstract and excessively rigid moralising stance.

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At a recent meeting of the leaders of the Western powers dedicated to the Third Way', the Italian Prime Minister Massimo d'Alema said that one should not be afraid of the word socialism'. Clinton and, following him, Blair and Schroeder, are supposed to have burst out laughing. This says much about the Third Way, which is problematic' not least because it exposes the absence of a Second Way. The idea of a Third Way emerged at the very moment when, at least in the West, all other alternatives, from old-style conservativism to radical social democracy, crumbled in the face of the triumphant onslaught of global capitalism and its notion of liberal democracy. The true message of the notion of the Third Way is that there is no Second Way, no alternative to global capitalism, so that, in a kind of mocking pseudo-Hegelian negation of negation, the Third Way brings us back to the first and only way. Global capitalism with a human face.
This, then, is Havel's tragedy: his authentic ethical stance has become a moralising idiom cynically appropriated by the knaves of capitalism. His heroic insistence on doing the impossible (opposing the seemingly invincible Communist regime) has ended up serving those who realistically' argue that any real change in today's world is impossible. This reversal is not a betrayal of his original ethical stance, but is inherent in it. The ultimate lesson of Havel's tragedy is thus a cruel, but inexorable one: the direct ethical foundation of politics sooner or later turns into its own comic caricature, adopting the very cynicism it originally opposed.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n21/slavoj-zize...capitalism
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
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#3
By Michael Parenti
Havel just died and the mainstream media are overloaded with adulatory obits.
Here is a view of Havel that you are not likely to come across

From Michael Parenti's Blackshirts and Reds (1997) pp. 97-99:

Must We Adore Vaclav Havel?

No figure among the capitalist restorationists in the East has won more adulation from U.S. officials, media pundits, and academics than Vaclav Havel, a playwright who became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia and later president of the Czech Republic. The many left-leaning people who also admire Havel seem to have overlooked some things about him: his reactionary religious obscurantism, his undemocratic suppression of leftist opponents, and his profound dedication to economic inequality and unrestrained free-market capitalism.

Raised by governesses and chauffeurs in a wealthy and fervently anticommunist family, Havel denounced democracy's "cult of objectivity and statistical average" and the idea that rational, collective social efforts should be applied to solving the environmental crisis. He called for a new breed of political leader who would rely less on "rational, cognitive thinking," show "humility in the face of the mysterious order of the Being," and "trust in his own subjectivity as his principal link with the subjectivity of the world." Apparently, this new breed of leader would be a superior elitist cogitator, not unlike Plato's philosopher, endowed with a "sense of transcendental responsibility" and "archetypal wisdom." Havel never explained how this transcendent archetypal wisdom would translate into actual policy decisions, and for whose benefit at whose expense.

Havel called for efforts to preserve the Christian family in the Christian nation. Presenting himself as a man of peace and stating that he would never sell arms to oppressive regimes, he sold weapons to the Philippines and the fascist regime in Thailand. In June 1994, General Pinochet, the man who butchered Chilean democracy, was reported to be arms shopping in Czechoslovakia - with no audible objections from Havel.

Havel joined wholeheartedly in George Bush's Gulf War, an enterprise that killed over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. In 1991, along with other [e]astern European pro-capitalist leaders, Havel voted with the United States to condemn human rights violations in Cuba. But he has never uttered a word of condemnation of rights violations in El Salvador, Columbia, Indonesia, or any other U.S. client state.

In 1992, while president of Czechoslovakia, Havel, the great democrat, demanded that parliament be suspended and he be allowed to rule by edict, the better to ram through free-market "reforms." That same year, he signed a law that made the advocacy of communism a felony with a penalty of up to eight years imprisonment. He claimed the Czech constitution required him to sign it. In fact, as he knew, the law violated the Charter of Human Rights which is incorporated into the Czech constitution. In any case, it did not require his signature to become law. in 1995, he supported and signed another undemocratic law barring communists and former communists from employment in public agencies.

The propagation of anticommunism has remained a top priority for Havel. He led "a frantic international campaign" to keep in operation two U.S.-financed, cold war radio stations, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, so they could continue saturating Eastern Europe with their anticommunist propaganda.

Under Havel's government, a law was passed making it a crime to propagate national, religious, and CLASS hatred. In effect, criticisms of big moneyed interests were now illegal, being unjustifiably lumped with ethnic and religious bigotry. Havel's government warned labor unions not to involve themselves in politics. Some militant unions had their property taken from them and handed over to compliant company unions.

In 1995, Havel announced that the 'revolution' against communism would not be complete until everything was privatized. Havel's government liquidated the properties of the Socialist Union of Youth - which included camp sites, recreation halls, and cultural and scientific facilities for children - putting the properties under the management of five joint stock companies, at the expense of the youth who were left to roam the streets.

Under Czech privatization and "restitution" programs, factories, shops, estates, homes, and much of the public land was sold at bargain prices to foreign and domestic capitalists. In the Czech and Slovak republics, former aristocrats or their heirs were being given back all lands their families had held before 1918 under the Austro-Hungarian empire, dispossessing the previous occupants and sending many of them into destitution. Havel himself took personal ownership of public properties that had belonged to his family forty years before.
While presenting himself as a man dedicated to doing good for others, he did well for himself. For all these reasons some of us do not have warm fuzzy feelings toward Vaclav Havel.

-- Michael Parenti
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
Reply
#4
While both of the critiques you posted above Magda I do not find offensive nor 'wrong', they portray only a part of the man. He was, after all, a playwright, not a politician [though he became one after being pushed and never to his pleasure, IMO]. Anyone who was a friend of Frank Zappa [and asked him to become the Czech Minister of Culture], a friend of the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela; who continued to write poetry and plays during and after his time in office, can't be all bad. Yes, he befriended Albright and others in the US and European Administrations I am not happy about and he fell into the trap [that so many in the former 'East' did] of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He also did so many, many good things on a humanitarian and cultural level and started many foundations for peace and critical thinking about the problems of the world from a very progressive perspective. His loss of popularity in the CZE was mostly due to his marrying a movie star [though a very intelligent and educated woman] after his first wife died. He was constantly critical of his follower V. Klaus who is an American-style neo-conservative. He allowed some of his close aides to smoke joints and take magic mushrooms [when not working] and was a champion of many progressive causes. His blind spot, yes, was that he felt America and NATO could do little wrong - since they had been the enemy of the one that imprisoned and tortured him. Human, human, all too human. The is a great outpouring of nostalgia and grief for his death here. It is the biggest story in years or decades. More on him and the CZE reaction soon.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
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