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THE WEIRS TIMES & THE COCHECO TIMES, Thursday, December 29, 2011


7


VACLAV HAVEL--THE PASSING OF A RENAISSANCE MAN UNITED NA-


by John J. Metzler Syndicated Columnist


TIONS--Author, Playwright, and former Presi- dent of the Czech Repub- lic Vaclav Hav- el has died at age 75. Havel whose career as literary fig- ure and a po-


litical dissident in communist Czechoslovakia, confronted the tyranny of the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and oversaw the country’s peaceful transition to democracy and a free market economy. Havel was a man of gravitas and


unbending moral authority whose persona was formed by the harsh winds of the Cold War but who was able to turn his classic Bohemian wit to chronicle the ferocious stu- pidity of the former socialist regime. He paid the price both in harass- ment, arrest, and the “non-person category” he gained in opposition. His role as a dissident spanned


the darkest decades of the old com- munist regime. In 1977, he and fellow dissidents supported the “Charter 77” human rights mani- festo, which emerged as a political template from Central Europe to China today. His works and plays moreover were banned, and Havel was regularly harassed by the se- curity police. In that epic autumn of 1989, pro-


democracy demonstrations jolted the old Soviet order, itself brittle and moribund. A political earth- quake rocked Central Europe, the epicenter being in Berlin, but the


reverberations ranging from Prague to Bucharest. Without question, Havel’s great-


est play became the Velvet Revo- lution, the political drama the directed and helped choreograph during the tumultuous November. Massive people-power protests which rocked Prague the capital and other centers, finally broke the grip of the ruling communists. When the Soviet-backed regime collapsed in November 1989, Va- clav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia in an almost giddy affirmation that the Czechs who suffered under the suffocating socialist regime, were finally now magically and breathlessly free. A Fairy Tale with a happy ending! A New York Post headline shouted; “Bouncing Czechs.” Soon after the extraordinary


events, in 1993, the Slovak portion of the once united Czechoslovakia broke off as an independent state. This became known as the Velvet Divorce.


Importantly, during Havel’s ten-


ure, the Czech Republic “rejoined history” and regained its place in Central Europe as a strong economy. The country embraced its European roots, and the Czech Republic was admitted into the European Union (EU) and NATO. This presented an almost magi- cal change for a nation who long wished to be part of Western Eu- ropean structures but who was isolated by its “East bloc” status. Globally Vaclav Havel was a tire-


less and unapologetic campaigner for human rights ranging from Be- larus to Burma and Tibet. A week before his death, Havel met with his


old friend, Tibet’s Dali Lama. In recent years, the Czech Re-


public has been a proud and vocal sponsor of human rights pressures from Cuba to China. Here at the UN, I had the plea-


sure of seeing Vaclav Havel during a 2006 human rights symposium on North Korea. “Failure to protect; A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea,” stressed the need for international action to counter the political repression and humanitarian disaster in North Korea. The former Czech President spoke in favor of dissidents and the dismal political situation in com- munist North Korea. President Havel was admired and


remembered throughout Europe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered condolences, adding, “With the death of Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic has lost one of its great patriots, France has lost a friend, and Europe has lost one of its wis-


est men.” German Chancellor An- gela Merkel stated, “We mourn the loss of a great European.” Shortly after the news of his


death, people began lighting can- dles and placing flowers at the stat- ue of St. Wenceslas on Wenceslas Square, where as a dissident Havel addressed the huge crowds of dem- onstrators in November 1989. That massive square in the heart


of Prague has historically recorded the pulse of the Czech nation. Good King Wenceslas of Bohemia, the medieval martyr and saint of the Czechs stands guard on his iron steed, watching the ebb and flow of history. Vaclav Havel, the Renaissance


Man who made modern history and confronted tyranny, will be missed well beyond golden Prague.


John J. Metzler is a United Nations


correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.


THE PAST AND THE PRESENT If Newt Ging-


by Thomas Sowell Syndicated Columnist


rich were being nominated for sainthood, many of us would vote very differently from the way we would vote if he were being nominated for a political office. What the media cal l


Gingrich’s “baggage” concerns largely his personal life and the fact that he made a lot of money running a consulting firm after he left Congress. This kind of stuff makes lots of talking points that we will no doubt hear, again and again, over the next weeks and months. But how much weight should


we give to this stuff when we are talking about the future of a na- tion? This is not just another election


and Barack Obama is not just another president whose policies we may not like. With all of Presi- dent Obama’s broken promises, glib demagoguery and cynical political moves, one promise he has kept all too well. That was his boast on the eve of the 2008


election: “We are going to change the United States of America.” Many Americans are already saying that they can hardly rec- ognize the country they grew up in. We have already started down the path that has led Western European nations to the brink of financial disaster. Internationally, it is worse. A


president who has pulled the rug out from under our allies, whether in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, tried to cozy up to our enemies, and has bowed low from the waist to foreign leaders certainly has not represented either the values or the interests of America. If he continues to do nothing that is likely to stop terrorist-sponsoring Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the consequences can be beyond our worst imagining. Against this background, how much does Newt Gingrich’s per- sonal life matter, whether we accept his claim that he has now matured or his critics’ claim that he has not? Nor should we sell the public short by saying that they are going to vote on the basis of tabloid stuff or media talking points, when the fate of See SOWELL on 12


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