Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Power of Living in Truth

The Power of the Powerless and the Farcical Elections in Cuba

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." - Vaclav Havel, Letter to Alexander Dubček (August 1969)

Blogger Yoani Sanchez's voided ballot
 In a totalitarian state, such as Cuba, where only the communist party is "legal" and dissent is outlawed even a purely symbolic act like annulling a ballot with the word democracy requires courage.  Why does it take courage? Because in Cuba demonstrating dissent with the governing regime can mean that the dissenter and other adult relatives can lose their jobs, their children can be blacklisted from pursuing higher education and can also be targeted by government organized mobs at school. Their is also an undercurrent of terror that far worse things can happen to you and your loved ones. Finally, whats the point if you annul a ballot it is the dictatorship that counts the ballots in the end giving whatever result they deem suitable.

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel understood the great importance of such purely moral acts and the power of the powerless who rejected the lies propagated by the regime in power in order to live in truth. Vaclav Havel in his 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless offered the following observation that is relevant to Cuba today:
"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers' strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike, for instance."
 Mohandas Gandhi on September 11, 1906 in South Africa took part in the creation of "Satyagraha" the word that would describe their nonviolent resistance: 
'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.  
 The choice that each and every human being faces today is the choice of living an integrated life within the truth backing it up with action or passively accepting the lie propagated by those in power. Cuba in 2012 is a cautionary example of what happens to a country and a people who have accepted the latter of the two options for half a century. It destroys not only the physical infrastructure of a country but the soul of its people.  Over the past few months following the death of Oswaldo Paya the world has seen how even a Spanish political leader can fail to live in truth and go along with the lie only to be sentenced to four years in prison in a Stalinist show trial. The West is not immune to the tentacles of totalitarianism. Militarism, the spread of surveillance technology, and the consolidation of media along with the decline of "objective" and investigative news reporting are troubling trends that threaten democracy. The complacency towards existing totalitarian regimes is another troubling sign.

fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was not inevitable but the result of a number of factors not least of which was the decision of millions of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Lithuanians, and Estonians to no longer live within the lies of the totalitarian regimes under which they had suffered for decades and the courage to back it up with concrete nonviolent action. 

Over 40 years after the letter to Dubcek, when President Barack Obama backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Vaclav Havel offered the corollary to the theorem expounded in the quote at the top of this essay in 1968 at the October 12, 2009 of the Forum 2000 conference he had organized:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
Ending or initiating decades of tyranny is up to each and everyone of us and the choices we make for good or ill.  The consequences of which future generations will have to live with and make their own choices to engage in moral acts or compromise their principles. Vaclav Havel passed away on December 18, 2011 but his contributions and good works live on. Today in the Czech Republic activists, intellectuals and politicians gather to reflect on and discuss challenges facing humanity today seeking solutions at the Forum 2000. Meanwhile in Castroite Cuba farcical elections are underway in which only one party is running and the only choice Cubans have is either to go along with the fraudulent exercise or void their ballot as the country continues its half century descent into ruin.


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