EU and Cuba: Freedom vs. appeasement
By Vaclav Havel, http://www.project-syndicate.cz. Posted
on Fri, Jan. 28, 2005 in The
I vividly remember the slightly ludicrous, slightly
risqué and somewhat distressing predicament in which Western diplomats
in Prague found themselves during the Cold War. They regularly needed to resolve
the delicate issue of whether to invite to their embassy celebrations various
Charter 77 signatories, human-rights activists, critics of the communist regime,
displaced politicians, or even banned writers, scholars and journalists -- people
with whom the diplomats were generally friends.
Sometimes we dissidents
were not invited, but received an apology, and sometimes we were invited, but
did not accept the invitation so as not to complicate the lives of our courageous
diplomat friends. Or we were invited to come at an earlier hour in the hope that
we would leave before the official representatives arrived, which sometimes worked
and sometimes didn't. When it didn't, either the official representatives left
in protest at our presence, or we left hurriedly, or we all pretended not to notice
each other, or -- albeit on rare occasions -- we started to converse with each
other, which frequently were the only moments of dialogue between the regime and
the opposition (not counting our courthouse encounters).
This all happened when the Iron Curtain divided Europe -- and the
world -- into opposing camps. Western diplomats had their countries' economic
interests to consider, but, unlike the Soviet side, they took seriously the idea
of ''dissidents or trade.'' I cannot recall any occasion at that time when the
West or any of its organizations (NATO, the European Community, etc.) issued some
public appeal, recommendation or edict stating that some specific group of independently
minded people -- however defined -- were not to be invited to diplomatic parties,
celebrations or receptions.
But today this is happening. One of the strongest
and most powerful democratic institutions in the world -- the European Union --
has no qualms in making a public promise to the Cuban dictatorship that it will
re-institute diplomatic Apartheid. The EU's embassies in Havana will now craft
their guest lists in accordance with the Cuban government's wishes. The shortsightedness
of socialist Prime Minister José Zapatero of Spain has prevailed.
to imagine what will happen: At each European embassy, someone will be appointed
to screen the list, name by name, and assess whether and to what extent the persons
in question behave freely or speak out freely in public, to what extent they criticize
the regime, or even whether they are former political prisoners. Lists will be
shortened and deletions made, and this will frequently entail eliminating even
good personal friends of the diplomats in charge of the screening, people whom
they have given various forms of intellectual, political or material assistance.
It will be even worse if the EU countries try to mask their screening activities
by inviting only diplomats to embassy celebrations in Cuba.
I can hardly
think of a better way for the EU to dishonor the noble ideals of freedom, equality
and human rights that the Union espouses -- indeed, principles that it reiterates
in its constitutional agreement. To protect European corporations' profits from
their Havana hotels, the Union will cease inviting open-minded people to EU embassies,
and we will deduce who they are from the expression on the face of the dictator
and his associates. It is hard to imagine a more shameful deal.
will, of course, happily do without Western cocktail parties and polite conversation
at receptions. This persecution will admittedly aggravate their difficult struggle,
but they will naturally survive it. The question is whether the EU will survive
Today, the EU is dancing to Fidel Castro's tune. That means that tomorrow
it could bid for contracts to build missile bases on the coast of the People's
Republic of China. The following day it could allow its decisions on Chechnya
to be dictated by Russian President Vladimir Putin's advisors. Then, for some
unknown reason, it could make its assistance to Africa conditional on fraternal
ties with the worst African dictators.
Where will it end? The release of
Milosevic? Denying a visa to Russian human-rights activist Sergey Kovalyov? An
apology to Saddam Hussein? The opening of peace talks with al Qaeda?
It is suicidal for the EU to draw on Europe's worst political
traditions, the common denominator of which is the idea that evil must be appeased
and that the best way to achieve peace is through indifference to the freedom
Just the opposite is true: Such policies expose an indifference
to one's own freedom and pave the way for war. After all, Europe is uniting to
defend its freedom and values, not to sacrifice them to the ideal of harmonious
coexistence with dictators and thus risk gradual infiltration of its soul by the
I firmly believe that the new members of the EU
will not forget their experience of totalitarianism and nonviolent opposition
to evil, and that that experience will be reflected in how they behave in EU bodies.
Indeed, this could be the best contribution that they can make to the common spiritual,
moral and political foundations of a united Europe.
is former president of the Czech Republic.