More Havel: Helping Khadaffi (and such leaders), Hope for the World, and Doing Something
Although he won re-election once by only a single vote – so those of you who say voting doesn’t matter, think again, Václav Havel, the writer, dissident, three time Czech president has right-on views in his book Disturbing the Peace. Although first published in 1986, much of what he says still rings true.
Havel says, “I know that people in the West in general tend not to admit that humanity is in a state of crisis and that therefore their own humanity is in a state of crisis too. . . .
About the U.S. at first supporting Khadaffi (aka Muammar Gaddafi), – and it could be said of our relationships with other brutal governments –
“For years . . .[remember this was published in 1986] the entire West has known that Khadaffi is a terrorist, and for years the West has bought oil from him and helped him extract it from the ground. So, in fact, the West has cultivated him and continues to support him. To this day, they haven’t been able to put together a decent embargo against him. In other words, Westerners are risking their security and their basic moral principles for the sake of a few barrels of crude oil. Particular interests take precedence over general interests. Everyone hopes the bomb will not fall on him. And then, when the situation becomes untenable, the only thing anyone can think of doing is bombing Libya. It is a truncated and primitive reaction” (168).
And that is what happened: “A particularly hostile relationship developed with the United States and United Kingdom, resulting in the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya and the United Nations imposed economic sanction.” The U.S. bombed again in 2011 to overthrow Khadaffi. In 2016, we’ve started officially bombing the country again – this time against alleged Isis terrorist strongholds that cropped up in the power vacuum created by the last bombings.
Libya isn’t the only terrible government the West makes deals with. Everything does matter.
And what about hope for the world? Havel says,
“I should probably say first that the kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. I don’t think you can explain it as a mere derivative of something here, of some movement, or of some favorable signs in the world. I feel that its deepest roots are in the transcendental, just as the roots of human responsibility are, though of course I can’t –unlike Christians, for instance–say anything concrete about the transcendental. An individual may affirm or deny that his hope is so rooted, but this does nothing to change my conviction (which is more than just a conviction; it’s an inner experience). The most convinced materialist and atheist may have more of this genuine, transcendentally rooted inner hope (this is my view, not his) than ten metaphysicians together.
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as our do, here and now.
That was by way of introduction; not to answer your question about the state of the world and the kind of hopeful phenomena I see in it. Here too, I think, you can find modest grounds for hope. I leave it to those more qualified to decide what can be expected from Gorbachev and, in general, ‘from above’–that is, from what is happening in the sphere of power. I have never fixed my hopes there; I’ve always been more interested in what was happening ‘below,’ in what could be expected from ‘below,’ what could be won there, and what defended. All power is power over someone, and it is always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behaviour of those it rules over. One can always find in the behavior of power a reflection of what is going on ‘below.’ No one can govern in a vacuum. The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line; everyone has a small part of himself in both.
Having said that, if I try to look unbiasedly at what is going on ‘below,’ I must say that here too I find a slow, imperceptible, yet undoubted and undoubtedly hopeful movement. After seventeen years of apparent stagnation and moribundity, the situation is rather different now. If we compare how society behaves now, how it expresses itself, what it dares to do–or, rather, what a significant minority dares to do–with how it was in the early seventies, those differences must be obvious. People seem to be recovering gradually, walking straighter, taking a renewed interest in things they had so energetically denied themselves before. New islands of self-awareness and self-liberation are appearing, and the connections between them, which were once so brutally disrupted, are multiplying. A new generation, not traumatized by the shock of the Soviet occupation is maturing; for them, the invasion is history and Alexander Dubček [He led Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968. A communist, Dubček wanted reform; Moscow didn’t like it as they feared the break-up of the Warsaw Pact.
Dubček’s fall from grace and power was swift. Dubček] is what Kramár [Czech politician, representative in the Austrian-Hungarian Reichstag from 1891 to 1915], for example , was to my generation.
Something [Havel declares in 1986] is happening in the social awareness, though it is still an undercurrent as yet, rather than something visible.
And all of this brings subtle pressure to bear on the powers that govern society. I’m not thinking now of the obvious pressure of public criticism coming from dissidents, but of the invisible kinds of pressure brought on by this general state of mind and its various forms of expression, to which power unintentionally adapts, even in the act of opposing it. One is made aware of these things with special clarity when one returns from prison and experiences the sharp contrast between the situation as he had fixed it in his mind before his arrest, and the new situation at the moment of his return. I have observed this in my own case, and others have had the same experience. Again and again, we were astonished at all the new things that were going on, the greater risks people were taking, how much more freely they were behaving, how much greater and less hidden was their hunger for truth, for a truthful word, for genuine values. Just take the unstoppable development of independent culture; ten years ago there were no samizdat [self-published] periodicals, and the idea of starting one would have been considered suicidal; today there are dozens of them, and people who were, until recently, famous for their caution are now contributing to them. Think of all the new samizdat books and publishing ventures; think of how many anonymous and improbable people are copying them out and distributing them; think of all the attention this is enjoying with the public! It bears no comparison whatever with the early seventies. But, then, think of all the new things in the sphere of public or permissible culture, or, rather, on its margins, in that vital gray belt or gray zone between official and independent cultures, where these spheres, which until very recently were so sharply divided, are now beginning to mix and mingle. If you were to find yourself at a concert of some young singer and songwriter or a nonconformist band, or in the audience of one of those new small theatres that are springing up everywhere, you would feel that the young people you see there live in their own world, a world very different from the one that breathes on us from the newspapers, from TV and the Prague radio. These two worlds simply fail to connect, and in a way that is far more basic and radical than analogous activity in the sixties which failed to connect with the ideology then. Whenever they say something about me on foreign radio, it is noticed by a far broader public than would ever notice an attack on me in Tvorba, the party cultural weekly. . . .
To outside observers, these changes may seem insignificant. Where are our ten-million-strong trade unions? they may ask. Where are your members of parliament? Why does Husák not negotiate with you? Why is the government not considering your proposals and acting on them? But for someone from here who is not completely indifferent, these are far from insignificant changes; they are the main promise of the future, since he has long ago learned not to expect it from anywhere else.
I can’t resist concluding with a question of my own. Isn’t the reward of all those small but hopeful signs of movement this deep, inner hope that is not dependent on prognoses, and which was the primordial point of departure in this unequal struggle? Would so many of those small hopes have ‘come out’ if there had not been this great hope ‘within,’ this hope without which it is impossible to live in dignity and meaning, much less find the will for the ‘hopeless enterprise’ which stands at the beginning of most good things?” (181-186). Havel wrote this about hope in 1986.
In 1989, “The Velvet Revolution ended 41 years of authoritarian Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. The actual overthrow started a week after the Berlin Wall fell when Czechoslovak riot police brutally suppressed a student-led pro-democracy protest in Bratislava, causing massive public outrage. The people of Czechoslovakia came out in droves to call for democracy.
A week later, after the number of protesters grew to an unprecedented half a million and 75 percent of the country’s entire population went on a two-hour general strike, the Communist leadership stepped down. Two weeks after that, the first non-Communist government was sworn in and a dissident leader, the playwright Vaclav Havel, was made president just in time for New Years 1990. Remarkably, no one was killed, especially considering Warsaw Pact nations had invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress a popular reform movement just 21 years before.
Four years later the country split, also peacefully, into the Czech and Slovak republics.
The Velvet Revolution has since become the model of the well-executed peaceful revolution, one that hopeful revolutionaries have sought to emulate ever since.”
When enough people want something – and are willing to act, even powerful governments must change.
So, what does Havel say about the need for doing something?
“Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within him[her]/self. You can’t delegate that to anyone else. . . .
[For his plays, Havel says that] My ambition is not to soothe the viewer with a merciful lie or cheer him up with a false offer to sort things out for him. . . . I’m trying to propel him, in the most drastic possible way, into the depths of a question he should not, and cannot, avoid asking; to stick his nose into his own misery, into my misery, into our common misery, by way of reminding him that the time has come to do something about it. The only ways out, the only solutions, the only hopes that are worth anything are the ones we discover ourselves, within ourselves, and for ourselves. Perhaps with God’s help. . . .
[Theater] can help people by] reminding them that the time is getting late, that the situation is grave, that it can’t be ignored” (199).
What can you no longer ignore? What really does need to be settled? What can you do?
Khadaffi image from https://www.google.com/search?q=Khadaffi&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8