Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel: Another side to the story



This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Neil Clark: The Czech leader was a brave man, but the voices of those who lost out after communism's demise are seldom heard


He was the symbol of 1989, the anti-communist playwright who helped free his country – and the rest of eastern Europe – from Stalinist tyranny and who put the countries that lay behind the iron curtain on the road to democracy.



So goes the dominant narrative of the life of Václav Havel, the former Czech president, who died on Sunday aged 75. Havel, we are told, was a hero and one of the greatest Europeans of our age.


But, as with the recent consecration of Christopher Hitchens, another "progressive" opponent of the communist regimes of eastern Europe who found favour with Washington's neocons, there is another side to the story.

You can read the whole piece here.

52 comments:

hydroxide said...

The talk about the achievements of the communist systems and the alleged putting of the economic needs of the majority first is about as far from reality as the moon is from earth. Yes, there were aspects such as better childcare coverage. But that, for example, is still the case in Eastern Germany. However, the best care was still given to the political elite. Pointing at inequality now ignores the massive inequality that existed before, with a handful of people being able to get virtually anything they wanted while the masses had barely ever seen a banana. There is a reason why the GDR collapsed under a threat of depopulation - people decided that anything was better than what they had.

The way the communist systems worked was unsustainable in the long run - they collapsed not only because of political bankruptcy but also because they plain and simply could not afford anymore the measures with which they whip-and-carroted the masses into silence.

Mehran said...

You really are a buffoon. No wonder your hackery has found a home in that rag, the Guardian.

Douglas said...

What's next, are you going to write a post saying Kim Jong-Il was unjustly maligned?

Cicero said...

This is offensive rubbish. If you choose to swallow Communist propaganda that argues that discussing minority rights is a sufficient recompense for oppression, rape and murder, then you are either a fool or a fellow traveler.

Soviet Socialism was as vile a system as National Socialism: the only difference was the length of mustache and the death toll- both larger under Communism.

Neil Clark said...

hydroxide: there's little doubt that inequalities have greatly increased since communism ended. And as I say in the piece, the second highest rise in income inequality since the 80s in OECD countries occured in the Czech Republic.

Douglas: "What's next, are you going to write a post saying Kim Jong-Il was unjustly maligned?"

Er, no. Havel, while a brave man, was not a saint, and neither was Christopher Hitchens and someone needs to point this out amid the hysterically o.t.t. obits they've been receiving.

'Cicero': It's clear that you haven't read the piece.

David Lindsay said...

Eastern Europe went through, and is largely still going through, a phase of gangster capitalism after the Wall came down. Hardly what those Polish priests and East German pastors had in mind.

Far too many of the dissidents went on to flag-wavers for neoconservatism, yes.

Opposition to Stalinism only proved what they were against, not what they were for. Edward Norman had warned about that all the way back in his Reith Lectures. Richard Nixon took the same view.

The same was largely true of South Africa. The same was true of Iraq. The same was true of Libya. The same is true of Iran. The same is true of China. The same is true of Syria.

And just how good are Havel's plays, really? I might be wrong, but I suspect a Beyond The Fringe effect here, making anything appear earth-shattering if it is a little bit daring for its time and place, and a bit clever-clever in that well-heeled, male, undergraduate way.

John Edwards said...

You are right that Havel had his blind spots such as his failure to see through Bush and Blair. He also presided over the break up of Czechoslovakia, which may not have happened had the people had the opportunity to vote on it.

It is also quite reasonable to point out that the Havel family had economic interests and property nationalised and this must have affected Vaclav's political outlook. You seem to have upset the neo-cons over at Harry's Place - always a good sign that one is on the right track.

Douglas said...

Before I say anything else, I would like to encourage you to start an engagement with social media. I am active on both Twitter and Facebook, but more active on Twitter.

I am telling you this to tell you that even though Chris Hitchens wrote an entire book arguing that people like me are what's wrong with the world (God Is Not Great), I could not bring myself to say an ill word about him in the wake of the tidal wave of expressions of sympathy and Godspeed expressed by the people I follow, and who follow me, on Twitter.

Chris Hitchens, for all his flaws, loved freedom, and used his massive skill and eloquence as a writer to speak on behalf of freedom. People who love freedom (like me) were warmed and uplifted by Hitch's love for freedom.

I confess to be in line with what you call the dominant narrative on Vaclav Havel; an eloquent friend of freedom, someone whose pen was mightier than Communism's guns and gulags.

As I have said on more than one occasion, we live in different worlds. It is my resolution for the coming year to try to better understand people who live in different worlds than I do.

John said...

Hello Mr. Clark,

I enjoyed your article and read most of the comments below over at the Guardian website. I could be wrong, and I hope I don't misinterpret your article, but I think people failed to understand the point of your piece.

There was indeed a dark side to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Poverty, homelessness, prostitution, unemployment, drug abuse, all increased as a result of the collapse of communism and the breakneck transition to a market economy.

In some cases, the transition took the form of extremely corrupt gangster capitalism, as was the case in Yeltsin’s Russia.

Recognizing the negative aspects of the transition to capitalism does not mean that Soviet-style communism was a good system, but it does force us to question whether contemporary capitalism is the best we can do. Why not some kind of mixed economy as an alternative to extreme state socialism and neoliberal capitalism?

The masses are told fairy tale versions of the fall of communism to avoid asking hard questions about the current neoliberal system. If anybody dares to question the transition to capitalism in Eastern Europe, you are branded as a Stalinist.

The fact that many people are nostalgic for the bad old days of communism is a sad indictment of neoliberalism.

Neil Clark said...

Thanks for the comments.

David: "Eastern Europe went through, and is largely still going through, a phase of gangster capitalism after the Wall came down."

Very true, but it seems we're not supposed to point that out, or that many of the dissidents, like Havel, went on to be flagwavers for
neoconservatism.
The artistic merit of Havel's plays doesn't really matter- he was an anti-communist with neocon connections therefore his plays are lauded, in much the same way as Tom Stoppard's- another man whose plays could be said to be "
a bit clever-clever in that well-heeled, male, undergraduate way."

John Edwards: "You seem to have upset the neo-cons over at Harry's Place - always a good sign that one is on the right track."

Quite. Uber neo-con David Frum, author of Bush's Axis of Evil speech and a strong supporter of the Iraq war is also not too keen on the piece. A VERY good sign that one is one the right track.

Douglas: "Chris Hitchens, for all his flaws, loved freedom, and used his massive skill and eloquence as a writer to speak on behalf of freedom."

The fact remains that he was an anthusiastic cheerleader for criminal, illegal wars in the Balkans and against Iraq. What about the 'freedom' of those innocent men women and children killed in those wars? Do they not count. Or are they 'unpeople' because they did not support Christopher Hitchens' and George Bush's world view?

John "Why not some kind of mixed economy as an alternative to extreme state socialism and neoliberal capitalism? "

Absolutely. That's what I've been arguing for years. But it shows you how far to the neoliberal right we've gone when even to argue for a mixed economy is to risk being labelled a 'Stalinist'.

Andres Tropp said...

Dear Neil Clark, people in the former USSR were equally poor (except of course the very upper level Communist Party members), entrepreneurship was criminal offense and the system which was famously inefficient was kept running on the basis of exports of raw materials. In terms of economy it made no sense at all. Its collapse was predetermined. No surprise that inequalities have increased since the regime broke down. You should still understand that bread and soup are not the only things what people need for living. We also need personal liberties, freedoms which are as important as the air what we breathe. People in former USSR were deprived of those liberties and your admiration towards “equality” in the former Eastern Block can be taken as personal humiliation. If you say something like “communism was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first” then you really don’t know anything about the essence of communist regime in former Eastern Block. For example in early 1930ties millions of Ukrainians starved while USSR was exporting grain abroad. This was clearly targeted act of suppression in order to keep the regime stable and running. I wonder whether you assess this policy step which was taken by Stalin to be in the economic interest of majority?

Christine Longman said...

What aspect of life in the present day in the Czech Republic is worse than under Communist rule? I am completely baffled by your analysis. Your support for the Serbs in their attacks on innocent citizens is equally hard to understand. What on earth could make you feel that they should not be deterred from preventing others from achieving freedom, even if, sadly, but tellingly, the only means they understood was violence?

K Naylor said...

The obvious point missed by many when looking at the transition was the continuity between the methods and political culture of the Communist technocracy and the centralised top down neoliberal reforms.

Abby Innes in her Czechoslovakia : The Short Goodbye called Klaus a "Lenin for the bourgeoisie". The people were not involved in decision making nor were their interests considered. The "Marriott Men " knew what was best from abstract business models.

In practice, trying to rush privatisations through in the wake of a rapid political transformation was a strategy to place control of state assets in the hands of organised predatory interests who wanted to get rich quick.

Partly, this was due to the erosion of ethics under the Communist regime where cheating and underhand methods of business were normal: Thatcherite policies merely exacerbated the trend towards a rapacious, corrupt and anti-social form of capitalism.

To be fair to Havel, he did complain about that and wrote well about the cultural impact, where literature and the arts were shunted aside in favour of a trivial surrogate non culture of excessive consumerism as "freedom".

Havel was primarily a ceremonial figurehead as President. His worst failings were his naive and uncritical support for the Kosovo Bombing in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Also his silence on the conduct of the "war on terror".

Given that Havel was a dissident, and that means speaking truth to power, his failure to criticise the neoconservatives was, ironically, similar to those who remained silent on Soviet crimes so as to "keep the faith".

This time the belief was not in the Utopia of proletarian dictatorship and a classless society but of a global democratic revolution in which the US military force was 'the midwife of history'.

The main criticism of Havel must be in his support for 'liberal intervention' in which he was a witless and useful fool in backing the use of military force to "solve" potential humanitarian crises.

Tony Judt put these issues in perspective. I recommend everyone read it. THIS is in the tradition of Orwell. Not Hitchens.

K Naylor said...

Usually, I take what Zizek says cautiously, but sometimes he hits the nail on the head. As in 199 in the LRB. On Havel he wrote,

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n21/slavoj-zizek/attempts-to-escape-the-logic-of-capitalism

..."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"

David Lindsay said...

Karl, in the words of a comment over on my blog: "A lot of pieces in print and online saying that Hitch had no obvious successor. But he wouldn't have had, would he? There is a generational shift in play. People who were never Tankies or Trots in the aftermath of 1968 can never be neocons in middle age. The next wave is Red Tory/Blue Labour/Crunchy Con."

It is we who are the patriotic, morally and socially conservative, anti-Communist Left, who are the true heirs of the best of George Orwell. Orwell is good. He is important. But he is still overrated. Not least, his depiction of Wigan is still resented in the town to this day. His famous remark about the goosestep was just plain wrong, like many of his others.

However, Orwell's patriotism, his moral and social conservatism, and his anti-Communism are vitally important in reminding the British Left that those are indispensable, and indeed definitive, aspects of our own tradition. All three, though perhaps especially the last, make him a particularly significant figure when set alongside Christopher Hill and E P Thompson in rescuing demotic culture from what Thompson called "the enormous condescension of posterity", even though Orwell himself was not above condescension.

Annoyed Czech said...

I find some of the comments massively offensive

"1 million working-age men died due to the health problems brought on by mass privatisation."

Population of Czechoslovakia was 15 million in 1993. The lancet study actually was more focused on Russia 142m, where alcoholism probable had a deeper impact. The study has also been rebutted. (here http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60159-6/fulltext).

2. A 2011 OECD report found that Havel's Czech Republic had the joint-second largest rise in income inequality in OECD members since the mid-1980s.

Remember 1980's statistics from Communist countries were less credible than Greece's today. When the "wealthy" prior to the collapse of communism aspired to own a Trabant after a five year wait, someone had to get wealthy first.

Monstrous Carbuncle said...

Now let’s just say that you took another spin in your Tardis, the one borrowed from Jon Pertwee the other week and landed in 1970’s Prague. Now as a writer and journalist you have a choice:

EITHER

You join a state newspaper, say Rude Pravo, where you write long supportive articles for the Party. You will have all the time in the world to write about “… the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women's rights”.

These are of course the only kind of articles you can write, since the whole press (and media) is an organ of the State. All your pieces are scrutinised for any hint of dissent, which could mean your job next week will be cleaning windows. Your typewriter is entered in a special register kept by the local police. Your office and your phone are bugged. Once or twice a year, depending on how your articles toe the party line, you can go on a trip to Hungary, or even the USSR. On your return, you would of course need to file a report on what you saw there, the people you spoke to and what your colleagues said in unguarded moments. In return, you will be able to enjoy the fruits of a “…system which put the economic needs of the majority first.”.

OR

You refuse to live the lie and join the ranks of dissidents like Vaclav Havel, knowing that it will get you to prison, hard labour, that it will ruin the future of your children, that your parents will need to wait that little longer to get hospital treatment, that you will get used to being followed each time you leave the house and that you will carry with you at all times a shaver, a few cigarettes and a change of underwear, because you never know when you’ll be spending the night in the cells. And all this with the knowledge thatyou don’t (as you put it in your last sentence) deserve any eulogies for your choice.

I won’t be so bold as to suggest which path you would follow. But if for the sake of argument it’s the second one, then you would probably have a little bit more respect for Vaclav Havel, than you showed in your intellectually dishonest piece.

Neil Clark said...

will try and get back to other comments later, but just to say 'monstrous carbuncle':I've replied to your question on the Guardian thread.

Neil

Anonymous said...

1. And how does one explain the economic situation preceding the fall of Soviet block. Remind me of a communist country that managed to reform the state better than Czech republic. Better: without Capitalist reforms. Moldova? How are people living there, I wonder? Why did often Communists themselves became the most ardent neo-liberals? Or would some ardent Stalinists reformed the non-working Communist states better?
2. Yes, Havel supported Capitalist reforms because he had a bourgeouise background as was plain evil. Or okay, he had his evil moments. This is how people are. Everything has to have a dark side. An evil plot against the people.
3. Havel was a democratically elected statesman. But maybe indeed, dictatorships have their good sides too. I mean, under Hitler Germany was also more equal than during Weimar or Kaiserreich.

I wish that the time of delusional pro-Communist Western journalists would be over. Or that they would channel themselves to Russia Today or youtube conspiracy clips. I don't know if Mr Neil Clark is stupid or paid by someone, but either way it's pretty shameful.

P.S. I find it very amusing that many dissapointed Western Communists have now become the supporters of Putin's extreme nationalism and bashers of democracies. There is a continuity with Stalinist way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

HA HA HA HA HA


That's why people in communist countries weren't allowed to leave. Because it was so good!

Bill M said...

"Havel's anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women's rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first."

You should lose your freedom for 10 or 15 years first before you write something like that. Communist countries had PLENTY of famines, plagues, purges and shortages plus no freedom. So people in those countries had a real good idea what suffering was. After my conversations with people who suffered under communist rule, going back to Communism was not an option. They would die fighting first.

Richard LTFC said...

Well said, Mr. Clark. At last, an article appears on the Guardian website which not full of pro-establishment drivel and demonstrable lies. Thank you!

I notice you triggered an appallingly incoherent hissy fit from Ms Odone. Congrats.

Richard LTFC said...

I think Havel deserves some credit for his early anti-government stance, but he went into politics with his eyes open and his support for the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia (his fellow Slavs and Christians, for heaven's sake) was inexcusable, and you are one of the few journalists with the courage to point this out.

Thank you again.

Neil Clark said...

Richard: many thanks. Christine Odone- and her husband Edward Lucas- are appalling people. She talks about me liking the sound of my own voice- the only time I've met her was when we were both on 'The Big Questions' and she just jumped in and interrupted me when I was asking a question put to me on air. I found her to be a very pushy, domineering person.
How dare a little guttersnipe called Neil Clark (who is he?) challenge the view of members of the journalistic aristocracy like myself and my husband!)

Havel wasn't a reluctant supporter of the wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq- he was a real enthusiast.

Neil Clark said...

Richard: many thanks. Christine Odone- and her husband Edward Lucas- are appalling people. She talks about me liking the sound of my own voice- the only time I've met her was when we were both on 'The Big Questions' and she just jumped in and interrupted me when I was asking a question put to me on air. I found her to be a very pushy, domineering person.
How dare a little guttersnipe called Neil Clark (who is he?) challenge the view of members of the journalistic aristocracy like myself and my husband!)

Havel wasn't a reluctant supporter of the wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq- he was a real enthusiast.

Ian said...

Richard LTFC: "his support for the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia (his fellow Slavs and Christians, for heaven's sake) was inexcusable"

er, so support for wars should be based on race and religion? Interesting idea, I wonder if anyone has tried that before?

Glad to see Mr Clark took this startling piece of analysis in his stride though, and expressed hearty thanks.

I don’t have a problem with the article suggesting that there were good things about Soviet style systems. I’m sure there were many positives, but I think the popular overthrow of pretty much all these systems shows that on the whole people weren’t satisfied with the way in which their “economic needs were put first”.
I do have a problem with the way the article suggests (and the author has consistently repeated both here and at the Guardian comments) that Havel was some kind of Thatcherite neo-con that attempted to bomb the world into a free market economy. There is no nuance or understanding of what Havel stood for or why he supported the military interventions. Just a random “he doesn’t agree with me, ergo he is a neo-con hawk”. Havel may well have got his analysis wrong on these issues (personally I think he was right on one and wrong on another) but there is no motivation from the author to understand his reasoning. Likewise there seems to be no mention of Havel’s repeated questioning of the ill effects of market economies, just a weasly implication that because his parents were rich, he was some kind of ivory towered elitist.

Havel wasn’t a saint, and he got things wrong, he was only human. I do however think that among politicians of the last 100 years Havel really does stand out as someone worthy of praise, and as a force for good.

If you are going to write something that is critical of someone that died the day before at least do some research and present it in a more thoughtful way, rather than use it as some kind of political points scoring for fellow travellers.

I never thought I would agree with something in the Telegraph, but this article is at best shoddy if not spiteful.

Ronnie said...

I live in Romania and I'm afraid your rose-tinted view of communist society is simply a fantasy and not really worth the time that I could take to refute it. However, post 1989 'gangster capitalism' about sums up where Romania and the wider region has got to so far. There is a long way to go.

Should Havel be traduced for having middle-class parents? Childish. Might as well attack Pasternak but see what happens to you if you do.

Was Havel a Neo-Con? First I've heard of it. Bush didn't even understand the Neo-Cons and who can blame him. A bunch of extremists who supported real election in the Middle East until the results came in and they discovered that the Arab street doesn't trust the US either. They supported elections in the Gaza Strip until Hamas won, then all bets were off because Hamas would not award contracts to Bechtel etc.

Did Havel support NATO in Yugoslavia and the US in Iraq? Yes, but so did most other post communist governments in CEE as they tried to cement the ties to their new allies in the West and pull away from the Russians.

Was Havel a politician? No, he was a writer who found himself out of his depth but at least he had the stones to step up.

Was Havel a great writer? Who knows, it's a matter of opinion. In mine he was not as good as Kundera and certainly not as good as Hrabl.

Did Havel smoke too much? Yes.

Katerina Pechova said...

Dear Mr Clark,

I'm reacting to your article as a Czech who was born during the communism, who grew up in communism and lived through the transition. What I understand from your article is that you, contrary to me, did not live under the communist regime and therefore don't know what you are talking about. What you are saying is that there was some kind of economic equity, good welfare, education...As for the economic achievements, yes, I do remember shops completely bare, my mother standing in the queue in front of the shop at 5am for bananas etc, while people who were on high posts (and these high posts were only possible if you were devoted communist)were driving Mercedes and having a very good life.
But I also remember the fear we all lived in. Fear of the communist regime, fear of the police and also fear and mistrust among the people because you never knew who was an agent of secret police, you never knew in front of whom you can express how you feel about the politics, what books you would like to read and which country you wish you could visit. And I can tell you, it was dreadful!!! And that is something you have never experienced and therefore can't understand what Vaclav Havel in connection with communism means to us.
But he is no (I'm using a present tense despite his death as he and his message will live in many people forever)representation of the fall of communism for us only, he represents far more than that. Humanity, humility, kindness and never ending support of human rights were his other attributes for which he will remain in our hearts forever.

Your comment about him being born into a wealthy family (you truly sound like a communist complaining about the "burgeois parasites of the society") and immediately after that suggesting that he was not concern with the people's struggle through the transition shocked me. Vaclav Havel was not a man of status and always kept a low profile and was a big critique of the privatization as well as of the increasingly dodgy political scene in Czech republic. But, as a president, he had limited powers and also, he was just a HUMAN BEING!!!

"Lauding Havel is not only doing a disservice to the millions of ordinary people in eastern Europe who have not been served well by his politics, but to the innocent men, women and children killed by the western military adventures he supported."
And this comment of yours just makes me deeply sad as Havel has never stopped fighting against totalitarian regimes around the world, till the day he died.

With words of Vaclav Havel:

"Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred"

I hope you will learn from him

Katerina Pechova

K Naylor said...

Katerina Pechova,

" Havel has never stopped fighting against totalitarian regimes around the world, till the day he died".

But he did stop speaking truth to power. And the silence of Havel,and I have read nothing to the contrary, over the conduct of the US 'War on Terror' shows a naive and compliant acceptance of crimes such as arbitrary imprisonment, the use of torture and Orwellian Newspeak to make it appear normal procedure.

This is a serious failing, though it does not necessarily detract from his principled opposition to the communist one party state Czechs lived under.

Can you provide evidence he spoke out against the consequences of the invasion of Iraq, the napalming of Fallujah, the hundreds of thousands of deaths ? Why did someone who spent his life as the conscience of his nation and of universal values of human rights suddenly fall silent ?

@ To others.

Where did Odone 'throw a hissy fit'? It doesn't surprise me she is married to the Economists's neoliberal ideologue Edward Lucas,another person who sees international relations in terms of simplistic binary opposites of our benevolent NATO expansion versus the evil sinister resistance of Russia.

Havel made similar mistakes in supporting Georgia in 2008, despite the fact that post Cold War politics is more complex and about the New Great Game to control pipeline routes ( and , of course only Russia seeks to use control of energy as a 'political lever'. Never the West.

Not even in Afghanistan, where the war ( I don't know if it was supported by Havel ) is concerned with the geopolitical benefits to the West of getting the TAPI pipeline constructed on the basis of supposed "Enlightened self interest".

Doubting Richard said...

Wow. Will you defend the Nazi regime in your next post? The German National Socialists, despite being heavily influenced by Marx, managed to kill far fewer people. grind far fewer into poverty and oppress fewer people for less time.

They were, of course, a little more racist, but the Soviet regime even managed to oppress the Georgians, from whom came their most successful murderer, oops, I mean leader.

Anonymous said...

I think I can sum this up in much less words than Neil used...

"Havel agreed with NEO-CONS, which is the worst sin imaginable. Therefore, it is my duty to use the occasion of his death to point out what a NEO-CON he was. Because being a NEO-CON is the worst thing you can be. Much worse than a communist, who after all, simply wants to make the world a FAIRER place.

Of course those well-meaning communists had to break a few eggs to make an omelette, but never-mind that... let's focus on that NEO-CON Havel and how horribly UNFAIR his country was post-communism, when things were so much... well... FAIRER."

Did I miss anything?

Harry Pendergrass said...

Famine is in your interest, Dear Comrade, because the alternative is chubby bourgeois heart disease. And please do these calisthenics, for the greater glory of the Motherland! Za rodinu!

"Everywhere a boot grinds a human face, you will find a well-heeled Westerner who'll point out that the human face enjoys free health care and 100% literacy."
-John Derbyshire, paraphrased from memory

"In all the denunciations of Fascism since its demise, people are failing to note the great advancement in fashion achieved by Fascist uniform design."
-yet another apologist for totalitarianism

Anonymous said...

Katerina Pechova:

Neil's wife was brought up in Communist Hungary, so you can hardly say he doesn't know what he's talking about.

It appears there are Czechs and Slovaks who don't entirely agree with you: I've met some

Anonymous said...

Katerina Pechova:

Neil's wife was brought up in Communist Hungary, so you can hardly say he doesn't know what he's talking about.

It appears there are Czechs and Slovaks who don't entirely agree with you: I've met some

Ronnie said...

K Naylor

Perhaps you should have sent Havel a list of things you wanted him to talk about. Condemning someone for what they didn't say is generally a weak position.

jack said...

@Christine Longman

The bogus Greater Serbia conspiracy was a pure western government and media creation to justify western and allied Islamic states interference in the Balkans trafficking Islamic militants to fight for the Islamist regime in Bosnia that transferred money to Mohammad Atta in New York.

@Anonymous

Putin’s extreme nationalism LOL!

If anything he is militant multi-culturalism which Russia has the highest immigration rate after the US and like Bolshevism the west is supporting hostile minority rule with fascist pan Turkic nationalism/Wahabbism who want to break up the country like Yugoslavia.

@K Naylor

Mr Havel like all the other former Communist and EU states now the agenda regarding the post Soviet order that its ethnic warfare to seize control over Eurasia and British/US control of Eurasian oil and gas turning the region into a new Africa.

LodovicoAriosto said...

Mr. Clark,

thank you for letting people of the UK know that there really is another side to the story. Most of people here in CZE consider Havel a weak person who was used as a puppet. It also a fact that Havel was literally spindoctored to be president. According to the polls only 1% of people knew he existed in 1989. He had good reasons to fight communism because his father and uncle made movies for nazi propaganda machine during the war and their vast property was confiscated after the war. Havel received a little fortune after 89.

He spent only several months in prison, could receive and spend money which originated in CIA while in prison, could answer to letters from foreign journalists etc.

About socialist economy. It was not bad. Most post-communist countries are in much worse condition now than in the late 80s. Czechoslovakia was producing high-tech products like radars, nuclear reactors (!) etc. Now most of is gone - first privatised, then split to pieces, stripped of know-how and finally destroyed. That is one the reasons why the Czech rep.'s debt is going to level with Western Europe soon although Czechoslovakia had basically no debt. High added values industries were replaced by Korean assembly lines, most exporters are only subdivisions of German megacorporations, connections with Russian and Chinese markets were shattered and now even non-Slavic countries have better positions there than CZE.

Mainstream media are almost completely owned by German companies so there is no surprise that the picture here in CZE is even more one-sided than that of Guardian, for example.

Neil Clark said...

thanks for the comments.

will try and get back to more later, but for now:

doubting richard. Will you defend the Nazi regime in your next post?
No. And to compare the Czechoslovakian communist regime of the 70s and 80s with the Nazi regime is just being silly- but of course we all know that the neocon strategy is to have all communist regimes, even the more liberal ones -equated to Nazi Germany.

katerina- as Karl has pointed out Havel did stop speaking truth to power after 1989. contrast his position with Pope J-P II. Like Havel, the Pope opposed communism, but after 1989 he not only attacked modern global capitalism very strongly, he also opposed the bombing of Yugoslavia and the aggression against the Iraq. The point is- opposing communism doesn't mean you have to line up with warmongering neocons, which is what Havel chose to do.

jack: "The bogus Greater Serbia conspiracy was a pure western government and media creation"

Well said. The 'Greater Serbia plan' was just like Iraqi WMDs- it didn't exist.

lodovico:
"thankyou for letting people of the UK know that there really is another side to the story"

thanks for that.

a few very silly people seem to have had hissy fits over me doing just that. These are the people I call 'illiberal liberals' or 'undemocratic democrats'-they make a huge thing about being in favour of free expression and 'free speech' but howl 'it's an outrage' when an article is published in the MSM that dares to challenge the dominant neocon/neoliberal narrative.

K Naylor said...

Perhaps you should have sent Havel a list of things you wanted him to talk about. Condemning someone for what they didn't say is generally a weak position.

No it is a strong position to take and a fair one: Havel believed in speaking out against all those things such as arbitrary imprisonment, torture and lies. He never said only do that when "their side" do it and remain silent when "we" do it.

If you had read anything Havel wrote, you would know the primacy he had set on speaking truth to power and living in truth, all connected to universal human rights and the imperative of conscience.

These principles led him into problems when he linked their victory to the assertion of US global power under George Bush II and the neoconservative fanatics who were prominent in initiating the "war on terror" and invading Iraq.

Douglas said...

Andy Warhol is famous for saying that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. I hereby inform that you that you are getting your 15 minutes of blog fame. Unfortunately, it's 15 minutes of blog infamy. And I'm not just talking about Christine Odone. You've made Samizdat, Instapundit and Pejman Yousefzadeh, all heaping unrelenting scorn.

At the very least, it's proven that you stand for something. Winston Churchill said, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." But what you stand for is a rotten idea on the wrong side of history that got more people killed than any bad idea of the 20th century.

Will any of this change your mind about anything? Probably not. You have friends who will confirm you in your beliefs, pat you on the back, tell you what a great guy you are for standing firm amidst all this persecution, etc. But how do you know what is right?

Anonymous said...

This article is outrageous. Mr. Clark blames the consequences of an evil and ineffective system on a guy who helped to destroy that regime. All the positive element of that time (woman,s right, increased mobility, etc.) would happen anyway, as it happened in Western Europe. The reason why so many people lost their job was not the fault of the new system but the 45 years before. Our dear friends - those red bastards - destroyed the society, killed freedom of speech, democracy, contra-selected the educated and the economic leaders, etc. I wish you Mr. Clark a happy new year spent in the lovely North Korea, where you may will start to understand what you talking about and if not you will still learn to march in line and cry/smile for request...
I only can wish that you would ever understand the poem of Sandor Marai about an other freedom war in the eastern block:

"Those who were born free cannot understand,
They fail to comprehend that
''Freedom is so important, so very important!''"

Neil Clark said...

douglas: so, some right-wing neo-liberal/neocon websites and writers didn't like me expressing a view contrary to the dominant neo-liberal/neo-con narrative. (you can add George W. Bush's speech-writer David 'Axis of Evil' Frum to the list).
In the words of BSM Williams: Oh dear. How Sad. Never Mind.

Krista said...

You know what I used to tell ignorant Westerners like yoursef when I heard them idolising the Soviet system of "equality", rambling on about how the education and health care were free, jobs guaranteed, affordable housing and so on? That it is free to live in a prison, rent and food included. Would you choose that? THAT, my friend, was what life was like in the Soviet Union, and believe me I know what I'm talking about, as I was born there and lived 18 years under the Commies. Thanks to Havel, I no longer do, I live in the European Union, and while these last 20 years have not exactly been a walk in the park, I still prefer it to the prison that was the USSR.

Cheers and Merry Christmas to you!

PS you might not know it, but Christmas was forbidden in the USSR. My family celebrated in secret, behind closed curtains, just in case someone from the KGB was lurking around.

Petraeus said...

I put my comment here again: Which part you did not like? If you just behind with moderation just ignore it.


This article is outrageous. Mr. Clark blames the consequences of an evil and ineffective system on a guy who helped to destroy that regime. All the positive element of that time (woman,s right, increased mobility, etc.) would happen anyway, as it happened in Western Europe. The reason why so many people lost their job was not the fault of the new system but the 45 years before. Our dear friends - those red bastards - destroyed the society, killed freedom of speech, democracy, contra-selected the educated and the economic leaders, etc. I wish you Mr. Clark a happy new year spent in the lovely North Korea, where you may will start to understand what you talking about and if not you will still learn to march in line and cry/smile for request...
I only can wish that you would ever understand the poem of Sandor Marai about an other freedom war in the eastern block:

"Those who were born free cannot understand,
They fail to comprehend that
''Freedom is so important, so very important!''"

Neil Clark said...

petraeus: thanks for your comment but yr remark about wishing me a happy new year in N.Korea is silly. There's a world of difference between saying that we should acknowledge the achievements of european communist regimes in various fields as well as well as the very obvious downsides and saying that N.Korea is a model we should all be following. I have never argued for the North Korean model.

krista: thanks for your comment and your views. But there are many others who would say that despite the gains in certain freedoms, the losses of the past 20 years have been too great. You are entitled to your view and they are entitled to theirs. Don't you agree? As above, it's not a question of 'idolising' the Soviet system, merely pointing out that there were many achievements as well as the well-documented negative aspects. If communism had no positive aspects at all, then why on earth is there so much nostalgia for it in the former Communist countries of Europe?

Anonymous said...

Neil, I'm based in CZ and my family is half Czech thanks to my marriage to a Czech lass. My job involves speaking to a wide variety of people from a wide variety of social circles and backgrounds.

I think your final statement in response to krista is frighteningly naive. You would need to qualify where you have seen this nostalgia exhibited, in what form and who was espousing it before it would be even worth discussing and even then I would say your statements are based on belief as opposed to evidence.

I applaud your anti-narrative stance in many senses, but when the belief comes before the evidence, you're as vulnerable to narrative as anyone.

Ian said...

I must admit Mr Clark I have enjoyed watching you defend yourself against the 'neo-con onslaught' as you have labelled anyone that disagrees with your somewhat poorly put together premise.

However, I have enjoyed more your ability to uncritically thank your supporters. Some have had reasonable points. However more often than not you have just been desperate for any form of support for you ill judged conclusions.

You thank lodovico, who implies that Havel was some unknown guy living of CIA handouts and only opposed communist rule so that he could get his hands on his fathers Nazi gold. Baffling!

Though this is not as good as your hearty thanks to a pretty obvious troll on the Guardian website who said Havel was a traitor for not supporting the glorious Red Army's liberation of Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring. Hilarious.

I wish I was as entrenched in my views as you are so that I could pull down the blinkers and blindly agree with everyone that shows support to me.

Thanks for providing such an astonishing display of ill thought out prejudices. Then lumping them on someone, who may have his faults, but genuinely lived a life that promoted positive virtues in an era when such figures have been lacking.

Neil Clark said...

Ian- i think you're being a bit naughty here. By saying 'thanks' or 'good post' one isn't necessarily agreeing with every single sentiment or view expressed in a comment. And when someone makes lots of comments, saying 'good post' or words to that effect, doesn't mean endorsement of every comment or view. When people write in with comments after a piece they often make several points in the one post. there's simply not enough time to go through each point.

i am sure you will acknowledge that unlike some writers, I do at least engage with btl commenters, be they criticial or supportive and always try and do so in a courteous and friendly way. Or perhaps you would prefer it if i didn't engage with readers at all?

last anonymous: are you denying the existence of nostalgia for the communist era?
It's one thing to say that those who are nostalgic for the old days are wrong, but another to deny that such nostalgia exists. If no such nostalgia exists why do people still vote Communist?

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't deny it exists, but I would put questions to you regarding who exhibits such behaviour and how it is manifested.

My sneaking suspicion is that it's old people who wish life was more simple and the ignorant young who never experienced the communist terror.

Oh and it was terror, by the way. Speak to anyone in this country who values freedom of though, expression and action and they will spit on the communist era as a stain on the history of a proud country which, despite their best efforts, cannot be washed out all that easily.

Richard LTFC said...

Ian said...
Richard LTFC: "his support for the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia (his fellow Slavs and Christians, for heaven's sake) was inexcusable"

er, so support for wars should be based on race and religion?

------------
No, but a couple of points:

1. It was not a war, but a bombing campaign. A war was out of the question, since if any US troops suffered casualties fighting for terrorists on the orders of Mr draft-dodger Clinton, it would have been politically embarrassing.

2. All the major religions, thank God (or gods), are opposed to cowardice, and the ethnically-motivated murder and rape of women and children. The KLA were guilty of all three. Havel supported the bombing because he believed sucking up to NATO was a shrewd political move. Havel’s support was pure cowardice, but no more cowardly than Clinton's, I grant you. However, just as if a Jewish person supported Nazi Germany, a Christian Slav who sank so low as to support the rape and murder of Slav Christian women and children is even harder to fathom, or to forgive.

I do not agree that all those who blubbered at Neil Clark’s article are neo-cons; Ms Odone, for example, is far too shrill and inarticulate to make any political point – her complaint seems to be one of Havel making her feel sort of warm and fuzzy, and brutal Neil Clark puncturing her touchy-feely namby-pamby world view.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (last): I shall always regard the Socialist epoch, and indeed the Communist-led Slovak National Uprising as a heroic period in the country's history. After it comes NATO membership and nothing worthy of remembering

Ketrin said...

Thank you very much for the article. I am from the Czech Republic and I can tell you that Vaclav Havelreally was´t such a big man as he could seem.
The fact he was in the prison....please...we know the story....he really wasn´t suffering (again as it could seem) at all. The truth is that he was a big friend of many communists - and those people stayed in their places and you can imagine.....it was all about a huge money! Mr VH sympathized with communist party - when we talk about the economic point of view. He loved pubs, talking only (obout nothing cunstructive), pubs, cigarettes and himself!!
Please...don´t try to canonize somebody who doesn´t deserve it!!