The Corner

Havel, Bah

Writing in the Guardian, Neil Clark  puts a distinctly different spin on the post-1989 achievements of Vaclav Havel. Well, as Havel always recognized, everyone has his own opinion, but even he might have raised an eyebrow at this:

No one questions that Havel, who went to prison twice, was a brave man who had the courage to stand up for his views. Yet the question which needs to be asked is whether his political campaigning made his country, and the world, a better place. Havel’s anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women’s rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.

No, Mr. Clark, it didn’t.

And his comments about the “positive achievements” of Communist Eastern Europe are just about as misleading, both in the way that they ignore the question of how much more progress might have been made under a freer system, and in the manner that they effectively treat all the different countries of east-central Europe as one. That’s an approach of which Stalin might approve, but it is to ignore the realities of history. When measuring the “achievements” of post-war Czechoslovakia, a decent starting point might be to look at the achievements of pre-war Czechoslovakia, a reasonably successful, fairly progressive Mitteleuropäische place, as it happens, rather different from the generically primitive Eastern Europe of Clark’s sub-Borat imagination.

Whatever, I suppose. But I have to wonder if the Guardian would have been quite so keen to publish a piece including equivalent nods to the “positive achievements” of the Third Reich, you know, good roads, anti-smoking initiatives, that sort of thing.

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