May 27, 2003


A German journalist published an article in the paper Die Tageszeitung in which he claimed that Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, and George Konrad, Europe’s long-standing moral authorities, had suddenly become undiscriminating admirers of America.

I read that article with a twinge of nostalgia. Here we are, together again. Our three names were grouped to-gether for the first time by Timothy Garton Ash in his widely acclaimed essay nearly two decades ago. If I recall correctly, Havel and I were doing jail time then, and Konrad’s books were banned from print in Hungary. Even though we did not meet very often, we maintained a common ground in our reflections on the worlds of values and of politics. We were united by a dream of freedom, a dream of a world infused with tolerance, hope, respect for human dignity, and a refusal of conformist silence in the face of evil. . . .

In answer to this, I guarantee that I have not forgotten about the U.S. intervention in Vietnam or the American support of despotic, anticommunist regimes in Latin America—the perpetual argument of the intellectuals of the Western European left. However, I also have not forgotten that the American defeat in Vietnam resulted in the North’s armed conquest of the South and a wave of terrible repression. I also realize that while condemning the dictatorships of [Rafael] Trujillo or [Augusto] Pinochet, I should remember the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Brutal power is equally repugnant whether executed under a red banner or a black one. The belief that there was no rightist or leftist torture, no progressive or reactionary torture, was a fundamental principle we lived by. It led us to reject the hypocrisy of the Western left, which proclaimed that even bad communism was better than good capitalism because it was the former and not the latter that led to a bright future.

What, then, is our betrayal? Today we reject the notion of equality between a regime that belongs to the democratic world—even if it is conservative and disagreeable—and a totalitarian dictatorship, whether its colors are black, red, or green. This is why we will never again say that Chamberlain is no better than Hitler, Roosevelt no better than Stalin, and Nixon no better than Mao Zedong, even if we do condemn Roosevelt for Yalta, Chamberlain for Munich, and Nixon for Watergate.

And that, apparently, is treason in some quarters. Then there’s this:

The hatred felt toward America becomes absurd when it ceases to be a critical stance that is normal within democratic discourse and takes up the defense of brutal, totalitarian dictatorships. The so-called peace movements of the Cold War burned effigies of American presidents and genuflected before Stalin’s portraits. We will not repeat such a masquerade today. . . . This is why we are at odds with today’s pacifists: We will not peacefully pave the way for those who committed the crimes of Sept. 11 and their allies.

Read the whole thing — and ponder the depths of the Chirac/Schroeder miscalculation.

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