"Without inner freedom you can achieve nothing"
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Without inner freedom you can achieve nothing"

By Vaclav Havel Saturday, December 1, 2001

(Page 2 of 3)

Can you comment on this?

A: Many democratic countries have armies that play an important part in the systems of these countries, but here they are always under the supervision of elected political representatives. In our country the army is gradually regaining respect by participating in different peace missions, at present for example in the Balkans or in Afghanistan; the army is involved in public life, helps communities, deals with natural disasters, etc. The Czech army fulfills its functions, serves society and the state, to the goals of which it is subjected on the basis of principles of democratic control. What is unacceptable is when a military which partially creates social and ethnic problems by its actions argues that it is the only entity capable of solving them.

Q: Aung San Suu Kyi once said that in order for the Burmese democracy movement to succeed, it needed to be "a movement very much of the spirit". Do you agree that democracy can only be achieved if there is faith in the possibility of real freedom? Or do you feel that other circumstances, such as changes in the global order (e.g., economic trends), are capable of ending Burma’s cycle of repression and violence?

A: I am convinced that without inner freedom you can achieve nothing. I agree with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and I admire her unfailing efforts to bring about a peaceful change in her country.

I have, many times in the past, attempted to reflect on our historical experience with the totalitarian regime and, again and again, I would come to the conclusion that, in the long run, only that can be politically successful what is, first of all—before it assumes any political shape—a good answer to elementary moral dilemmas of our time or an expression of respect for the imperatives of moral order. It is a very strong realization that politics can be meaningful only if it is preceded by conscience.

I am not saying this as a moralist who wants to preach to people and politicians or present himself as a shining example. Absolutely not. I am saying this only and exclusively as an observer, as a man who came to see that ethical conduct brings about positive reaction in the future.

Of course, it often leads to suffering, and one can hardly say that it always bears quick and visible positive results. Certainly I do not have to explain that to you, those of you whose life of suffering in your own country brought you to exile and for those who suffered and died for freedom. Ethical conduct is effective not only to individuals that might suffer but, on the other hand, also to those who are inwardly free and are, therefore, happy; but it is especially effective for society in which a multitude of lives, which have experienced ethical conduct, merge into something that you could call good moral environment, or standard, or repeatedly renewed moral tradition, or equipment, which sooner or later, must turn to common benefit.

Q: Some Asian governments argue that the Asian emphasis on social duty rather than individual rights means that Western-style democracy is inconsistent with "Asian values". What are your views on this argument?

A: I simply believe that the desire for freedom, democracy and a dignified life is inherent to all humankind, that the idea of human rights and freedoms must be an indelible part of each meaningful social organization, both regionally and globally. To earnestly respect ourselves and our neighbors—and thus respect also their rights—I would not say that this principle is in any way contrary to traditional Asian humility, politeness and selflessness. What matters is a respect for each unique human being, and for their freedoms and inseparable rights, as well as the rule of law and the equality of all citizens before law, the principle that all power comes from the people, all of these are the ideological essence of a modern democracy, often called, with inaccuracy, Western. I do think that some values really are universal. A discussion about such values is necessary, and it is the only way to overcome differences in understanding them. Last but not least, it also depends on who actually defines these "traditional Asian values" or any other moral imperatives.

Q: The Burmese people have become rather passive in their desire for democracy. As an advocate of "power for the powerless", what do you feel the Burmese people can do to ensure that our country achieves democracy?

A: I know that the present situation is hard for many Burmese people and it is therefore difficult to advise.

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