Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel and Vladimir Putin

What do the late champion of freedom and the Russian strong man have in common?  Both were recipients of Germany's Quadriga Award.
Havel was given many awards in his lifetime, though never the Nobel Prizes (for peace or literature) which he so richly deserved. But notable among his prizes was Germany's prestigious Quadriga Award, which he won in 2009 and then returned earlier this year when Vladimir Putin was named the 2011 recipient. 

The prize honors "role models for Germany" and commemorates the reunification of East and West Germany.  What could the judges possibly have been thinking?

The German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Putin received the award for creating "stability through the interplay of prosperity, economy and identity," and is, "in the tradition of Peter the Great, a switchman in the direction of the future."

Because of the public outcry at Putin's selection, and especially due to yet another principled, larger-than-life stand taken by Havel, the 2011 prize ceremony was cancelled.
After the choice of Mr. Putin became known... a public outcry ensued among the ranks of those who believe that he helped roll back democracy and human rights in Russia and that, far from being a role model, he is unworthy of an honor previously bestowed upon Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the civil rights advocate Bärbel Bohley, who worked to end Communist rule in East Germany. Judging by the volume of the public discourse, those ranks are quite large.

Mr. Putin has been in the news recently for his country's protests at less than exemplary Parlimentary elections.
"I know that students were paid some money - well, that's good if they could earn something," he said, referring to the biggest protest of its kind since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union last Saturday.
Repeatedly accusing his domestic critics and opponents of taking money from the West to do him down, he claimed there was a plot to destabilise Russia by effecting a velvet revolution there. 
"Some of my critics are sincere, they must be heard and respected. The rest are pawns in the hands of foreign agents. There are people with Russian passports but who work in the interests of foreign states." 

Besides being open-minded, Mr. Putin is apparently a wit. 
Mr Putin typically revels in these televised question and answer sessions and Thursday's was no exception. His tenth and his longest yet [more than four-and-one-half hours], he used the occasion to mock the anti-Kremlin protestors who had donned white ribbons as a symbol of their peaceful protest saying he mistakenly thought they had pinned condoms to their clothing. 
"I decided that it was an anti-AIDS campaign... that they pinned on contraceptives, I beg your pardon, only folding them in a strange way," he said.
"I then took a closer look. No. In principle, my first thought was: "okay, they are fighting for a healthy lifestyle." 
Like any run-of-the-mill demagogue, Putin knows that the best defense is a virulent offense against some object of hatred.  As Saul Alinsky put it, "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."  In Russia, as in much of Europe, America is always a convenient mark at which to shoot.
Last week, he dismissed criticism of the vote by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of US efforts to weaken Russia, and on Thursday he upped the ante by accusing US special forces of being involved in the killing of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"Sometimes it seems to me that America does not need allies, it needs vassals. People are tired of the dictates of one country."
Yes, from the Czech Republic to Chechnya, Bucharest to the Baltic Republics, Bratislava to Berlin, freedom-seeking people everywhere have always known that, that America, not Russia, is the feudalistic proponent of serfdom and servitude.

The Journal's eulogy ends with the following observation about Havel's repudiation of an award he was being forced to share with Mr. Putin.
It was that old disgust with hypocrisy again. When he died Sunday at age 75, he knew his legacy lived on with freedom-seeking people around the world, not least the imprisoned signatories of China's Charter 08 who took their inspiration directly from him. Their day of freedom is coming. 
The writers might very well have made a reference to the Russian people, who seem to be tiring of the dictates of one-and-a-half men.

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