The Fragility of Democracy
“My dear fellow citizens, for forty years on this day you heard from m y predecessors the same thing in a number of variations: how our country is flourishing, how many millions of tons of steel we produce, how happy we all are, how we trust our government. And what bright prospects lie ahead of us. I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, should lie to you.”
So began the address with which the playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel assumed the presidency of Czechoslovakia. The speech was delivered on the first day of 1990. The momentous events of the previous months in the nations of eastern Europe, symbolized by the breaching of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, had amounted to an unpredicted outbreak of democratic fervor. As Havel put it, “Humanistic and democratic traditions, about which there had been so much idle talk, did after all slumber in the subconscious of our nations and national minorities.” In that period, the social structures of totalitarianism were transformed not only in the satellite states of the Soviet Union but in Russia itself, not only in Europe but in South Africa. And the dramatic changes came about almost completely without blood in the streets, because the masses of ordinary people in many nations discovered within themselves an irresistible civic identification, an urge to participate in the public life of society, a readiness to claim those nations as their own.
Citizens of the nations of western Europe and America, where democratic traditions were already established, could only behold the political transformations of the Velvet Revolution with an unbridled sense of wonder. What we saw played out again and again in those years, often with staggering courage—Havel declining a strings-attached release from prison. Lech Walesa openly convening meetings of the outlawed Solidarity movement in Poland, Boris Yeltsin standing on the Russian tank, saying, in effect, You will have to kill me first—was the drama of democracy itself, entire peoples taking responsibility for themselves and their societies. We in the West had never before seen so clearly how the political system under which we lived, and which we took for granted, counted as a moral absolute. Democracy was a value of the highest order, and the impulse to embrace it, at great cost, lived unquenchably in the human heart. In 1989, the world beheld something sacred…
This is an excerpt out of “Constantine’s Sword” by James Carroll. I thought that this was so extremely important to share… to remind people that as a U.S. citizen, it is our responsibility to seek out the truth for ourselves, to wade past all the propaganda, to stand up beyond the influence of our parents/church/community/spouse/friends to find that truth, to make the effort to vote, to stand up for our beliefs, to participate in the guidance of our country. If we do not, then we have no one but ourselves to blame when it is all gone. I will always stand vigilant.