Vaclav Havel: Ghosts of Appeasement Haunt Europe

Roundup: Talking About History

[Vaclav Havel was president of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).]

One of the fundamental pillars of Europe's political architecture is a strong and enduring belief in the universal validity of equal, universal, and inalienable human rights.

At the core of this is a belief in the rights of human beings to a life of freedom and the protection of their dignity.

In the years after World War II, this humanist ideal became the basis of Europe's spiritual and political identity and hence it is contained in the founding documents of the European Union. This doesn't mean the EU could or would want to conquer the rest of the world in the name of imposing its values, rules and culture on the rest of humanity. Far from it.

What Europe's devotion to humanism does mean, however, is a determination, no matter the circumstances, to stand firm and not abandon the fundamentals of European civilization and European unification. As a result, Europe places a primary emphasis on the universality of human rights and freedoms.

To be sure, there are many places around the globe where human rights and civil liberties continue to be trampled underfoot: North Korea, Iran, Burma, Tibet, Zimbabwe and many others. On June 15-16, a meeting of the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) discussed once more relations between the EU and Cuba.

Despite repeated reminders from the EU, the Cuban government has done none of the things that the EU has been urging it to do for many years - above all, to release all political prisoners and stop the persecution of independent civil-society groups and the regime's political opponents. On the contrary, the Cuban government continues to detain prisoners of conscience and to criminalize demands for a society-wide dialogue.

This year the peoples of Europe are marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain that once divided Europe in two. That 20 years after this epochal event an iron curtain remains around Cuba makes this anniversary poignant...

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