In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Overcoming The Enforced Mask of Apathy

On Sunday, a great hero of the 1989 anti-Communist revolutions, Czech playwright, dissident, and political figure Vaclav Havel passed away.  He risked his life, his livelihood, and his freedom to peacefully combat against a totalitarian regime. He was active in 1968’s Prague Spring, and in 1977 joined other dissident Czechoslovak intellectuals to prepare and execute “Charter 77“, demanding that the communist government grant the Czechoslovak people what we understand to be basic human rights and freedoms.

The Velvet Revolution overthrew the Communist regime in December 1989, and by New Year’s 1990, he was President. He held office until 2003, and helped steer the Czech people from a shambolic planned economy, to a break with the Slovaks, right up through NATO accession in 1999, and almost to EU accession in 2004.

To honor him, I reproduce here the New Year’s address he gave the Czechoslovak people on January 1, 1990 – just days after they regained their freedom. These words are striking in that they implore his countrymen – his country – to reject 40 years of cynical immorality. Remember that there still exist people toiling and suffering under similar regimes. Kim Jong-il reportedly died on Sunday, as well. He is a totalitarian murderer who has kept his people poor, hungry, and backward. Hopefully, there is a Havel-in-waiting living in North Korea who will someday lead those poor people out of the darkness.

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.

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. Read more