Two noted political leaders have just passed away: the Czech political liberator, Vaclav Havel, and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The two lives could not be seen in greater contrast. One was a man of letters and a fighter for freedom while the other was a ruthless monster of staggering proportions.
Vaclav Havel, born in 1936, was an important writer, playwright and political activist. When Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the Prague Spring in August 1968, Havel was a leading dissident, and he paid a heavy price for standing up for freedom. After the Velvet Revolution, and the beginning of the fall of Communism, in 1989, he was made the last President of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).
A recent symposium of testimonies to the great man is worth noting. Let me quote from a few of the writers. Michael Novak said this: “Havel is the leader of those who ‘freed the captives,’ undermined the omnipresent public Lie with simple honesty, suffered terribly for generous, good, brave, and persevering deeds (‘No good deed goes unpunished’) – and, then, in the last act, brought that evil Wall down, not by violence, not in bloodshed, but with a velvet glove. The velvet glove of telling the truth steadily. It may be a long era until we see another like Václav Havel.”
Walid Phares looks at Havel in light of the Arab Spring: “I met Pres. Václav Havel at the Prague Conference on International Security and Democracy in June 2006…. He addressed us as the new dissidents of the 21st century. ‘You have seen us battle against Soviet oppression with our bare hands and words. You can do the same against the region’s dictators,’ he said. But after he listened to some of us, he understood that the Middle East’s task of liberation would be harder — not because of the nukes and the tanks, but because of the deep roots of the jihadi ideology.
“Havel, a lifelong expert on totalitarianism, told the Middle Eastern dissidents that there was no empire more powerful than the Soviet Union. The Soviets, however, crumbled when their ideology was rejected by their own citizens. As we ponder today’s Arab Spring and as we realize that it is not being won by the dissidents of the region, but instead being seized by totalitarians — the Islamists — we must also understand that it is the task of the Middle Eastern people to collectively reject the extremist ideology in order to achieve lasting freedom in their lands. The Central European Havel is gone, but his achievements will no doubt inspire the next Havels of the Middle East.”
Chandler Rosenberger correctly writes, “Tonight, somewhere in China and Burma and Cuba, more hopeful men and women will reread Havel’s words — posted furtively on a blog or passed on by a thumb drive. And they too might well dream of risks that could restore their worlds.”
Or as Paul Kengor writes elsewhere: “One of the seven individuals most responsible for peacefully ending the Cold War has died. Vaclav Havel is dead. Among other forces and powers, he is one of the seven individuals most responsible for peacefully ending the Cold War; the great liberators who brought freedom and democracy. They are Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Havel. With Havel’s death, a majority of these seven are now gone, giving new voice and added meaning to what Chesterton deemed the democracy of the dead.
“All waged battle against what Reagan inspiringly called the ‘Evil Empire,’ a brute creation cobbled out of a diabolical ideology that generated the deaths of over 100 million in the last century. At the core of that evil was what Mikhail Gorbachev characterized as a ‘war on religion,’ which, among other forms of malevolence, spawned what Vaclav Havel described as ‘the communist culture of the lie.’ As they engaged the beast, John Paul II admonished all to ‘Be not afraid.’
“Vaclav Havel was unafraid. He and his Charter 77 movement were courageous, willing to go to jail rather than take orders from the devils who installed themselves as dictators from Budapest to Bucharest, from Warsaw to Prague.”
In contrast to this lover of freedom we have the great hater of freedom and democracy. No one will miss Kim Jong-il, but what happens now for the North Korean police state remains to be seen. But the end of this thug’s life has to be a good start to whatever future it faces.
Kim Jong-il, born in 1941, took over from his despotic father Kim il-sung in 1994. North Korea has been one of the worst communist hell-holes known to man. It is a complete police state where freedom and religion have been ruthlessly wiped out.
At least several million people starved to death there in the 90s, while money went to his own opulent lifestyle, and the creation of the world’s fourth largest standing army. Greg Sheridan offers a brief snapshot of this man and his legacy: “He ran the most thorough totalitarian system on earth, less a communist state than a crypto-religious cult, with the Kim family imbued with features of immortality.
“No other human rights existed. Experts believe that today there are 200,000 North Koreans in a gulag of labour camps. Kim Jong-il was ruthless. His two strategic achievements were to stay in power and to turn North Korea into a nuclear-weapons state. We enter now a period of acute uncertainty and danger.
“When Kim Jong-il was in the process of preparing to succeed his father, the equally atrocious Kim il-sung, he oversaw military and terrorist attacks on the West, among them the downing of a South Korean airliner with the loss of all on board. This was in part to demonstrate that he had his father’s martial spirit.
“US intelligence analysts believe the same pattern was evident last year, when North Korea torpedoed the South Korean corvette the Cheonan, with the loss of 46 sailors, and when its artillery pounded a South Korean village. This was associated with the third generation Kim, Jong-un, showing papa that he, too, was a chip off the old block.”
One atheist who eventually came to strongly support the US and stand against totalitarianism was Christopher Hitchens who also just passed away. His assessment of his time in North Korea is worth having a look at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8-Vr_r36Fg
Of course the secularist Hitchens tried to put a spin on this, absolving atheism of anything to do with it, and claiming it is the most religious nation on earth. Well sure, the cult of worship which surrounded the despot was pseudo-religious alright, but it makes perfectly the Christian’s point: when we cease to worship the one true God, we end up inventing our own gods, and they become altogether demonic.
The future is uncertain and probably bleak. Sheridan comments, “The danger for North Korea’s neighbours now comes in part because in periods of uncertainty its military has often lashed out at the South. This serves to show the continuing ferocity of the regime, shows it’s still in charge, quiets any domestic dissidents and remakes the case for all resources going to the military. For Australia, the stakes are serious, though nowhere near as troubling as for South Korea and Japan. But South Korea is our third-largest export market and Japan our second-largest.”
It remains to be seen how things will pan out, but his 28-year-old son Kim Jong-un, if he fully consolidates power, will likely be just more of the same. We need to keep this nation in prayer at this time. With maniacs in charge of a nation with a nuclear stockpile and long range missiles, we are all still greatly at risk.