Vaclav Havel: “People, your government has returned to you!”

From documentary "Citizen havel", source

Vaclav Havel was a great inspiration for me, I guess just as for any other child of post-communist transition. If I had to pick one of his essays, speeches, articles that I admire much, I would probably go for either “The Power of the powerless” or his  January 1, 1990 New Year’s Address to the Nation. Here is a full text of his speech and I wish to share it with you. My deepest condolences.

“People, your government has returned to you!”

Vaclav Havel’s New Year’s Address to the Nation, 1990

My dear fellow citizens,

For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.

I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state which calls itself a workers’ state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as seventy-second in the world. We have polluted the soil, rivers and forests bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and we have today the most contaminated environment in Europe. Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries.

Václav Havel in Prague in 1988, the year before he led the Velvet Revolution. The Teleghraph photo

Allow me a small personal observation. When I flew recently to Bratislava, I found some time during discussions to look out of the plane window. I saw the industrial complex of Slovnaft chemical factory and the giant Petr’alka housing estate right behind it. The view was enough for me to understand that for decades our statesmen and political leaders did not look or did not want to look out of the windows of their planes. No study of statistics available to me would enable me to understand faster and better the situation in which we find ourselves.

But all this is still not the main problem. The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore one another, to care only about ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships. Only a few of us were able to cry out loudly that the powers that be should not be all-powerful and that the special farms, which produced ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them, should send their produce to schools, children’s homes and hospitals if our agriculture was unable to offer them to all.

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Kyrgyzstan: Stalin’s Central Asian Harvest

Story in photos and short comments:

NY Times photo

By June 17th nearly 200 people, both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, had been confirmed dead. Other estimates are far higher.

NY Times photo

Some 45,000 Uzbeks have registered as refugees in neighbouring Uzbek-majority Uzbekistan. According to the United Nations’ children’s agency, a total of 100,000 people, mostly women and children, have crossed the frontier. On June 15th Uzbekistan closed its borders, saying it could take no more. Perhaps a further 200,000 people have been displaced within Kyrgyzstan itself. (The Economist)NY Times Photo

Until the Soviet Union started to define its Central Asian territories in 1924, the region never had precise borders. Before Russian colonisation in the late 19th century, the boundaries of the different khanates shifted back and forth. The nomadic Kyrgyz and Kazakhs largely ignored the concepts of states and boundaries anyway.

After the October revolution of 1917, new autonomous republics were created. In 1924 Stalin divided the region into different Soviet republics. The borders were drawn up rather arbitrarily without following strict ethnic lines or even the guidelines of geography. The main aim was to counter the growing popularity of pan-Turkism in the region, and to avoid potential friction. Hence, the fertile Fergana Valley (formerly ruled by the Khanate of Kokand) was divided between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Some of these borders were redrawn several times until 1936. After 1991, this led to lively demarcation disputes among the newly independent countries. In addition, some small pockets of territory are nominally part of one country but geographically isolated from it. Kyrgyzstan, for example, has seven enclaves, two belonging to Tajikistan and five to Uzbekistan.

This has been only one cause of prickly relations between the “stans”, which are linked by Soviet-era roads, gas pipelines, electricity grids and other infrastructure. (Read The Economist)

copyright: The Economist map

In its report in April, the International Crisis Group warned that the collapse of the Bakiyev regime was a case study of the risks facing authoritarianism in central Asia, where Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have been governed by strongmen in the old Soviet mould. “What happened in Kyrgyzstan in terms of corruption and repression is already taking place in several other countries,” said the ICG. “What happened in Bishkek in April 2010 could happen in most of its neighbours. It could indeed be much worse.”

But outside powers, particularly Russia and China, who covet the region’s extensive natural resources of natural gas and hydro power, and the US, with its base in Kyrgyzstan, show little interest in fostering more responsible rule, says The Guardian.

Friends like these (from The Economist article)

All three big external powers in Central Asia—America, China and Russia—have a big interest in the region’s stability. China sees it as an important source of gas and other energy supplies. It is also, more alarmingly as seen from Beijing, a possible inspiration for Islamist nationalists in what was once “East Turkestan” and is now China’s region of Xinjiang.

Both America and Russia, for their parts, maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan, both near Bishkek. The American Manas air base, or “transit centre”, as it is now called, is used for supporting American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. It is an important part of a northern supply route developed because of the vulnerability of convoys coming through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan. Russia’s base in Kant is part of an agreement by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which groups together seven members of the former Soviet Union, to set up a counter-terrorism base in the region. But the former imperial power still sees Central Asia as very much its own stamping-ground.

The Manas base has been a source of friction. Last year Mr Bakiyev promised Russia it would be closed and was promised aid. He reneged on the deal when America increased the rent it was paying. That is one reason why Russia was suspected of having a role in his downfall. And though domestic pressures were probably enough to unseat him, Russia was certainly quick to recognise and help Ms Otunbayeva’s government.

Russia did not, however, rush troops to its aid when Ms Otunbayeva asked for them, as the violence in the south span out of control. It limited itself at first to sending paratroopers to secure the base at Kant, and then sending relief supplies. In April Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described Kyrgyzstan as “on the verge of civil war”. Russia presumably has no desire to be sucked in, as it was in Afghanistan in 1979—and certainly not without international backing.

Ms Otunbayeva insists there are no plans to throw the Americans out of Manas. But many of her colleagues accuse America of having pandered to Mr Bakiyev’s corrupt and dictatorial whims in exchange for access to Manas. They allege that Maksim Bakiyev profited from the fuel-supply contracts for the base. This claim is being investigated by America’s Congress. The privately-held company which has the Pentagon contract denies any knowledge of Maksim Bakiyev’s involvement in the firms they deal with. NATO has suspended flights by air-to-air refuelling tankers from Manas.

Even if the world’s big powers share an abiding interest in the stability of Central Asia as a whole, and hence of Kyrgyzstan in particular, they seem to have little idea how to achieve it. So far they have tended to compete for influence. But with an eye on the ethnic and religious tensions in the region, and the vulnerability of brittle authoritarian systems, it may be time to start co-operating.

***

Since my title reads Stalin’s name, I will finish this post with the following joke about him, just for the mood:

Stalin’s ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for his help running the country. Stalin says, “Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue.” “Why blue?” Putin asks. “Ha!” says Stalin. “I knew you wouldn’t ask me about the first part.”

Anna Walentynowicz, “Mother of Solidarity” dies near Smolensk

Often called the conscience of her country, Anna  Walentynowicz, a shipyard worker whose firing made her a central figure in Poland’s Solidarity movement, which broke the communist grip on the country in the 1980s, died April 10 in the airplane crash near Smolensk, Russia.


Ms. Walentynowicz became a heroic symbol of freedom in her homeland after she was dismissed from her job at the Gdansk shipyard in August 1980, just five months before she was scheduled to retire. She had been harassed for years by authorities, who considered her a troublemaker for launching an underground newspaper and helping organize the budding Solidarity movement in the 1970s.
Her firing prompted a strike at the shipyard and the spread of the Solidarity movement, which quickly attracted millions of followers across Poland. It was the first successful labor revolt in a communist country and resulted, less than a decade later, in the downfall of Poland’s communist regime.
"I was the drop that caused the cup of bitterness to overflow," Ms. Walentynowicz (pronounced val-en-teen-OH-vitch) once said.
Repeatedly jailed, reinstated to her job and jailed again, Ms. Walentynowicz became known as the "mother of Solidarity."
Read full article about Anna  Walentynowicz at The Washington Post.

World Mourns with Poland

My deepest and sincere condolences to the Polish people!  Proszę przyjąć moje głębokie wyrazy współczucia!

story background:
President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and Poland’s central bank governor and army chief, were on board a plane which crashed near Smolensk, Russia, on Saturday morning, killing all 96 passengers. The plane was travelling from Moscow and was about 2km (1.3 miles) from the airport in Smolensk, when it plunged into the forest.

Most of the plane’s 96 passengers, were part of a delegation en route to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which thousands of Poles were executed by the Soviet secret police.As well as government officials, relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre were also on board.

Some political commentators believe the tragedy could have far-reaching implications for the former eastern-block country.
In accordance with the Polish constitution, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, who was set to run against Kaczynski in this autumn’s election, has become acting president. A presidential election to find a permanent successor must now be held before June 20.

Read Interesting observations by Newsweek HERE