"Without inner freedom you can achieve nothing"
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Friday, March 01, 2024

"Without inner freedom you can achieve nothing"

By Vaclav Havel Saturday, December 1, 2001

An Interview with Vaclav Havel,

President of the Czech Republic

To mark the tenth anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic agreed to share his views on her accomplishments, as well as on the current situation in Burma, with Irrawaddy readers. In this exclusive interview, conducted via e-mail with Irrawaddy correspondent Min Zin, President Havel expresses his agreement with Aung San Suu Kyi’s belief that the struggle for democracy needs to be "a movement very much of the spirit", and urges Burmese "to begin thinking not only about changes but also about what will come afterwards."

QUESTION: In 1991, you decided to give Aung San Suu Kyi a chance to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Why did you make this decision?

ANSWER: The world’s attention was, at that time, still turned to the fall of communism and the democratic changes in Central and Eastern Europe. I thought it necessary to draw attention to the fact that not all nations in the world have freed themselves from dictatorship. The main reason, though, was the fact that my friend Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi really did deserve this prize. I hold her, and her non-violent struggle for democracy, in high regard. It is people like her who should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, as opposed to presidents and other statesmen whose job it is, after all, to uphold peace, freedom and order.

Q: Some policymakers in the West are now saying that it is time to consider the "constructive engagement" approach taken by Asian countries towards Burma. What do you think of the idea of "engaging" with the Burmese military regime?

A: I think that the position of most Western governments remains unchanged. The US Congress passed a resolution on the situation in Burma recently; also the European Union confirmed all its measures, which the Czech Republic joined as an associate member and candidate country. Of course, this does not a priori rule out a discussion about specific and controlled humanitarian aid, e.g. in the fight against AIDS, etc. I am inclined toward the ongoing dialogue with the government, mediated by the special envoy Razali Ismail, and the Czech Republic also supports the International Labor Organization missions.

Q: Political talks have been taking place between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military for more than a year now. Despite a lack of substantial progress, some are suggesting that it is time to "reward" the regime for participating in this dialogue. Do you think this is a good time to begin a partial lifting of sanctions?

A: Naturally, it is too early to assess the results, if any. What is relevant is how Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi herself, and other opposition democratic forces, assess the situation as to whether, from their point of view, there has really been any substantial progress. We must attentively listen to the voices of democratic representatives of all nations of Myanmar and, on that basis, from the viewpoint of all people of Burma, analyze the situation. Should there be some substantial progress and tangible results, and if some partial moderation of the measures were to support this trend, then I am inclined to consider this step. I should also add that, within the existing measures, we maintain standard and correct diplomatic relations with the Burmese government, we inform them about our opinions openly, as do other democratic countries.

Q: The concept of power sharing between the oppressor and the oppressed has been a very contentious issue in many countries undergoing transitions to democracy. Do you feel that power sharing can lead to genuine national reconciliation?

A: It is up to the people of Burma to choose what should be the path leading them toward free and democratic elections. In Czechoslovakia, after November 1989, we formed, on the basis of a consensus of the majority of political forces and as a result of the dialogue with the then ruling power-holders, a government of National Unity which led the country to free elections after a period of six months. However, I am not saying that this is some universally valid, or the only possible procedure.

Q: Some scholars argue that the military is the only institution in Burma capable of maintaining stability in the face of serious ethnic and social conflicts. They therefore argue that Burma should proceed slowly, rather than taking the radical step of completely dismantling military rule.

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