Snowball gets rolling. Havel calls for action on Burma

Pavel Vondra
7. 11. 2007 4:50
Czech parliament fills with Burmese exiles for a day
Lost in contemplation (President Václav Havel)
Lost in contemplation (President Václav Havel) | Foto: Pavel Vondra

Prague - It was vintage Havel as the world best knows him and adores him, back in his element, celebrating the power of the powerless.

Only this time he was not taking on the communist dictatorship in his native Czechoslovakia, but unrepentant military regime in a seemingly distant Burma.

The place of action: the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech parliament, time: Tuesday morning, occasion: a public seminar called Burma Alert: Action Needed Now.

The event was organized by the People in Need Foundation, Prague-based organization which for years has been helping pro-democracy activists in their fight against repressive regimes from Cuba to Belarus.

Velvet and Saffron

Havel´s involvement with the struggle for democracy in Burma began shortly after he turned from dissident to president nearly 18 years ago in the wake of the so-called Velvet Revolution, a non-violent popular uprising which toppled the communist regime here.

It was on his suggestion that the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize was given to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an icon of pro-democracy struggle in Burma. And he has counted himself among the advocates of the democratic aspirations of Burmese people ever since.

When thousands of monks in their saffron robes came marching in the streets of Rangoon and other Burmese cities in September, propping up efforts of a small group of opposition politicians and former student leaders, the whole world was watching and wondering whether the junta will blink this time.

It did not and the short-lived attempt to stage the Saffron Revolution was nipped in the bud with a violent crackdown, reminiscent of the bloody September 1988.

They thought we were crazy

Never the one to let his spirit die, Václav Havel reminded the Burmese exiles and their sympathizers from all around that the situation of the Czechoslovakian dissent looked every bit as hopeless in the late 1970s, yet they kept the struggle alive, even though few outside their inner circle saw any point in it.

"Certain things need to be done from principle, because that´s the way it should be, and because if we didn´t do it, we would feel bad about ourselves," Havel said, adding that changes can sometimes take long time to materialize.

"It is nice if things happen fast and if there is a happy ending but you cannot compromise your efforts by subjecting them to calculations."

Havel said Western journalist used to come to him for interviews after he became a spokesman of the Charter 77 dissident movement, asking him whether they were serious about taking on a dictatorship with just a handful of people.

"I would always tell them things work differently in dictatorships, where there are no public opinion polls to go by and where you can never be sure which snowball might end up releasing an avalanche," Havel said.

"And when the things suddenly started moving, the same journalists would visit me again, this time asking about who from our group will become a prime minister, and so on."

Snowball gets rolling

Havel´s opening remarks were received with much appreciation and gratitude by the participants and the kept resonating throughout the day.

Czech-Burmese Day in Parliament
Czech-Burmese Day in Parliament | Foto: Pavel Vondra

"I am no fan of snow," confessed Harn Yawnghwe who shared a story with the audience of his early coming of age by witnessing first hand the murder of his young brother during the military raid of their family house. "But I sure do hope we can get the snowball rolling today."

And they did. By the end of the day a joint statement was endorsed, calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Burma and for the start of a tripartite dialogue where the military would talk, without any preconditions and further delays, to Aung San Suu Kyi and the representatives of the country´s many ethnic groups.

The Czech parliamentarians and their colleagues from Slovakia and Estonia also made a commitment to work towards a creation of a European Union parliamentary group for democracy in Burma which would help gain support of all EU members for a binding resolution of the UN Security Council on Burma.

The statement was also signed by three members of the Czech government including two of its Deputy Prime Ministers.


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Zdroj: ČTK
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