Havel’s aides tout shared Taiwan-Czech legacy

Staff Reporter / By Darcy Pan

Foreign affairs advisers to Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, Tomas Halik, left, and Jiri Pehe, speak with the Taiwan News.(HENRY TAN, TAIWAN NEWS)

„He (Vaclav Havel) never understands why he should give political preference to China and ignore Taiwan just because officially the international community decides to maintain relations with China, which is a giant but not a democratic country.“

Jiri Pehe, foreign affairs adviser to Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, made the remark during an interview with the Taiwan News.

Noting that Havel had made friendly gestures to Taiwan all these years, Pehe stressed that the formal diplomatic relations between Czech Republic and China are not maintained at the expense of Taiwan’s interests.

„Havel has his own experiences from dissent times; he has his own experiences of the parliamentary communist regime. He realizes the importance of Taiwan and its contemporary transformation. Also he was the man who emphasized the moral aspects and is not so pragmatic in politics,“ said Tomas Halik, who is also an foreign affairs adviser to Havel.

Halik continued by saying that this is why Havel „showed the courage to invite the Dalai Lama several times (to the Czech Republic), which was not very popular in the eyes of the political powers, so I think that his conscience is very important in his politics.“

The politically unaffiliated Havel, 66, is leaving office on February 2 after thirteen years during which he served first as president of Czechoslovakia and, later on, of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia broke apart peacefully on January 1, 1993.

Havel’s legacy lies not only in being a strong advocate of democracy and leading the Czech Republic into NATO in 1999, but also in leading his country into new relationships with friends and former foes.

Both Pehe and Halik believed that „it’s important to continue Havel’s tradition (following the presidential election held on Wednesday),“ since „he is not only a political figure, but also a thinker and a moral leader“ who believes that „politics must be rooted in moral values.“

Playwright-turned-politician Havel is „internationally recognized as a thinker, an intellectual,“ said Halik, highlighting that „in our history, intellectuals always play an important part in public life and politics. He is a man who tries to interpret the situation of the public and the society in a broader context.“

Havel, one of the co-founders of Forum 2000, invited former President Lee Teng-hui (§oµn1÷) to attend the foundation’s annual conference in 2000. Lee was invited to deliver a speech on globalization-related issues at a session chaired by the Dalai Lama.

Forum 2000 Foundation is a think tank created in 1997 to explore the values of culture and civilization to human development.

Halik, also a member of the international organizing committee, expressed the view that „the foundation is important in the sense that it’s a venue for global exchange of ideas. It’s important to invite different people of various cultures to bring the experiences of their cultures and their contribution to the world and to create dialogue.“

The Czech Republic was once called the heart of Europe where different cultures used to interact with each other, Halik recalled, stressing that „it (the creation of the foundation) could be Czech’s contribution to the world and to the unification with Europe.“

When asked why Havel, as president, wanted to create a non-governmental organization instead of a governmental body, Pehe replied that „I think it would be quite difficult for Havel to attract private sponsors and ideas for this foundation, if it were official.“

Noting that the activities of NGOs are representative of the civil society, Pehe said that the purpose of „an organization like Forum 2000 Foundation is to discuss issues of global concern, such as mediating conflicts and making the world a stable place.“ He suggested that this might be direction for Taiwan’s NGOs in the effort to increase the island nation’s international visibility.

Halik also added that „it’s also part of this social culture revolution which we call globalization that national borders are not so important. Different institutions, either religious or academic, are creating international relations. In Taiwan’s special situation, it would be of great importance to become involved in this process.“

Both the Czech Republic and Taiwan share some similarities in the sense both are new democracies and have become democratic states without major bloody revolutions – though the sacrifice of those who shed blood and died in the process of democratization can not overlooked.

The non-violent transformation in Taiwan is called the „Quiet Revolution“ with the key figure being Lee Teng-hui, while in the Czech Republic, it was the „Velvet Revolution,“ led by Havel, that overthrew communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

What significance does this kind of revolution have for the world, especially for those non-democratic states?

Pehe, who is also a political commentator, said that the significance is not „entirely one-sided. It’s slightly ambiguous.“

According to Pehe, the previous dictatorship has become part of the history upon which a democratic state is built; therefore, a proper interpretation or construction of this part of history is crucial, especially when the democratic transformation occurs in a non-violent way and especially when these societies are striving for a new national identity.

„Of course, it’s good that the process of democratization took place in a non-violent way and it’s very good these societies are trying to create an environment in which societies are polarized between those who say ‚we fought against the former regime,‘ and (those who say) ‚you are the bad guys.‘ I think it’s extremely important to make the entire society one. But at the same time, this non-violent, non-radical transformation also creates a paradox… in the sense that it makes it very difficult to deal with your own history if no one is guilty of anything. Also, what is your history if you know that the previous regime was wrong? It is a big problem that these societies face,“ explained Pehe.

Halik noted „there must also be reconciliation afterwards and that is not easy. The process of reconciliation needs some time and a special moral atmosphere.“ He indicated „the creation of a democratic regime is a very difficult task because you don’t only create the democratic structures such as the parliament, the party system and a market economy. They are like the organs in the body. But you also need the culture of communication.

„Democracy is a special culture of communication between the government and the citizens, between the government and other parts of society, like religious groups, universities, the free press and so on.“

„There must be three pillars in a democratic society: establishments of political, economic and cultural institutions; and there must be some communication between them.“

Expanding on Halik’s points, Pehe emphasized that „these three pillars are also why a civil society is so important. The state can’t really give you moral guidelines or ethnic values. Perhaps you may notice the most unstable areas in the world are those that have the weakest civil societies. It’s no accident.“

When asked if Taiwan can cope with the controversy between independence from and unification with China, given its democratic achievement, Pehe said that „it’s really not up to Taiwan to unify with China. I think that unification would only be possible if China becomes a democratic state. (Otherwise,) any unification would be a forced unification and it would be done at the cost of disturbing the democracy in Taiwan or creating something similar to what it exists in Hong Kong. I don’t see how Taiwan can unify with China without losing democracy.“

Taiwan News – 16. 1. 2003


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