Former political prisoner and Czech president Vaclav Havel uses the Washington Post to send a birthday message to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who turns 60 next Sunday.
I hope that the European Union will draw a lesson from [its failure to improve human rights in Cuba] — for example, when it again negotiates lifting the arms embargo on China. It makes sense to keep up the pressure on the military junta in Burma, which considers all the justifiable calls to free Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, as well as calls to begin democratic reforms, to be unjustifiable interference in the country’s internal affairs.
Even a decade and a half after the fall of communism there, the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe still vividly remember that their communist rulers made the same arguments. Abuses of human rights and freedoms have never been and will never be solely internal affairs of any country. As someone who years ago experienced firsthand the arbitrary rule of a dictatorial regime but then lived to see better times — to a large extent because of the international solidarity extended to us — I appeal to all those who have the opportunity to act against such arbitrary acts to express their solidarity with people who to this day live in a state of “unfreedom.”
This is also why — together with my friends His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, former presidents Richard von Weizsaecker of Germany and Frederik W. de Klerk of South Africa, and others — I founded the Shared Concern Initiative. The first public manifestation of this initiative was an open letter in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. This is why I welcomed it when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations moved beyond its “non-interference” policy and began publicly debating whether Burma should assume the chairmanship of that organization. This is why I support U.S. sanctions against the Burmese regime and why I find it easy to identify with resolutions by U.S. legislators. This is also why I appeal to the European Union to learn from its Cuban fiasco and step up the pressure on the Burmese regime both within the framework of the United Nations and in other international forums — and to do it in clear and comprehensible terms.
The current situation in Burma is bad. Since 1990 the ruling State Council for Peace and Development has repeatedly promised that it would take steps leading to gradual democratization of the regime. Not a single one of these promises has been even partially fulfilled.
But I am still an optimist. After all, I come from a country where, as late as mid-1989, while all around us totalitarian icebergs were cracking and thawing, the stupid, repressive regime remained strong. I, together with other people of a similar mind-set, was in prison. Yet, by the end of that same year I was elected the president of a free Czechoslovakia.
Seemingly unshakable totalitarian monoliths are in fact sometimes as cohesive as proverbial houses of cards, and fall just as quickly. Continuing democratization of the whole region, together with growing dissent inside the country, must eventually have a positive effect. As Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her 60th birthday, I wish for her that those changes will happen as soon as possible, and that my silly idea — to hand her a rose — becomes a simple and easy thing to do.