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Steve: Hi Alex.
Alex: Hi there Steve.
Steve: You know it’s been a while since we last did a podcast.
Alex: Yes, it has.
Steve: Yeah, I’ve been traveling. I was in China.
Then I was in California on holidays with my wife, so we haven’t been able to do them.
I’m always happy and thankful when people say we’d like to hear some more, so there are some people there who are listening.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. It’s good to know that we have an audience.
Steve: Well, that’s right.
And here we are we’re approaching Christmas here, just a few days away.
I still have some Christmas shopping to do, but it’s not very Christmassy here.
It’s a little bit warm and sunny, which is unusual.
I think it was last year we had lots of snow on the ground at this time of year.
Alex: Yeah, it’s almost the exact opposite.
Steve: Which is also a little unusual.
You know one thought I had was recently there have been a few sort of rather well-known international figures die, pass away.
I think of Kim Jong-il who was the President and champion golfer of North Korea, whatever his titles are.
What do they say?
When he was born there was a rainbow and a flashing zephyr.
You know, just under very auspicious conditions; obviously born to be an all star.
So he passed away and then Václav Havel passed away.
Of course because I’m studying Czech I’m reading every day about Václav Havel’s funeral, but it’s kind of interesting.
Alex: For people who aren’t as familiar with Václav Havel, what exactly is he well known for?
Steve: Well, before I answer that question, the following people are attending his funeral: Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, David Cameron the Prime Minister of Great Britain, President Sarkozy, Angela Merkel I believe, and on and on and on.
Alex: Yeah, wow.
Steve: Like lots of heads of state.
When Pierre Trudeau, who was popular at least among some Canadians, passed away there were two people who came to the funeral: Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter.
Steve: So that will give you a sense of the relative importance in the world of Václav Havel versus Pierre Trudeau.
Václav Havel, he was a playwright and a dissident in Czechoslovakia under the Communists and he became active in various movements including the Helsinki Accord and there was an organization called the Citizens Forum.
And so not only were his plays played throughout the world, he was quite a well-known playwright, but he became a well-known sort of dissident figure and he was actually put in jail.
I think he was jailed for a total of five years.
So he’s a figure like Sakharov in the Soviet Union, someone who was front and center challenging the Communist Regime.
And so when the Iron Curtain came down, so to speak, with Perestroika and the end of the Berlin Wall and everything else, he then became the first President of Czechoslovakia and then he subsequently became the first President of the Czech Republic because the Czechs and the Slovaks separated.
I think part of the reason why he is so respected is that he’s a bit of a Nelson Mandela figure.
He did not sort of take revenge on the Communists.
He’s very much a sort of live and let live.
Once they had basically overthrown the Communist Regime, he had no trouble with the Communist Party being active in Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic.
When the Slovaks wanted to separate from Czechoslovakia he didn’t obstruct it.
There’s no vindictiveness in him, so he is that kind of a figure.
In fact, I remember listening on my Czech radio just a few days ago.
I mean he’s no longer President, but his last semi-official act was to meet with the Dalai Lama.
Dalai Lama of course has his critics and Václav Havel has his critics too, right?
But the Dalai Lama at least again has his persona and he’s a very charming person, speaks so well and kind of represents this idea of human dignity and human freedom and sort of opposes the idea that might is right.
I think that’s what people see in Nelson Mandela, that’s what they see in Havel and that’s what they see in the Dalai Lama not withstanding the Chinese Government authorities who get absolutely frothing at the mouth over the Dalai Lama.
And who knows, there are undoubtedly more rabid nationalists in the Tibetan Nationalist Movement.
In the Czech Republic I know that there are many Czechs who wanted to be more sort of vengeful and pursue the former Communists and hold them more responsible for what they did and so forth and so on and he didn’t want it.
So I think part of it is that and plus that he was a voice for freedom and human dignity.
Little things like he goes to visit Australia and it’s very unusual.
He doesn’t go to Canberra.
His first ever visit to Australia he visits an aboriginal village in north Australia.
Alex: Oh, really?
Steve: Now, you could call that maybe unwanted interference in Australia, but that just a bit of a statement.
Now, here are these people — aboriginals — who kind of have gotten the short end of the stick in history.
I mean what’s Czechoslovakia or Czech Republic?
It’s 10 million people, it’s not like China, but he’s a spokesman.
He’s his own person.
He does what he thinks is right and so there’s a sense that he represents a certain level of integrity, which we don’t necessarily identify with Kim Jong-il for example.
Alex: Well, that’s an interesting thing too is these two figures are almost known for the exact opposite things.
Alex: Václav Havel was known for what he did for humanity, the positive and beneficial things that he contributed, whereas Kim Jong-il on the other hand is infamous for the crimes against humanity.
Steve: I mean when you read about Kim Jong-il, it’s almost like if you and I were to write a script about some evil kingdom ruled by these evil people we couldn’t write a more unrealistic script.
I mean this guy, from what I read, not only all these hyperbolas about he was born under some star and he goes out and the first time he ever plays golf he has 11 holes to one, but then he has these troops of performing girls, some of whom dance for him, some of whom provide sexual favors, some of whom scrub his back or give him a massage.
He apparently has a special taste for certain kinds of foods, certain kinds of imported liquor and yet people in his country are starving to death.
I mean it’s just unbelievable.
It’s unbelievable that that goes on.
I don’t understand it.
Anyway, I don’t know.
Alex: But it’s so interesting to see.
I mean, in a way, when you compare the two it’s almost like it’s a different species.
The thoughts that go through their heads are so differing.
In a way, you can compare say Hitler to Martin Luther King, Jr.
where they stand for things in the complete opposite spectrum I mean.
What I think is unusual with people like Martin Luther King, which is another good example, or Havel or Nelson Mandela — and I think to some extent, although I don’t know that much about the Dalai Lama, maybe in fact he does abuse his power — but there is that expression “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see it in politicians or even people who have a lot of money.
Once they have power and influence they become corrupt.
It corrupts people and what’s striking about those people is that they weren’t corrupted by power; at least they were able to give the impression that they weren’t corrupted by power.
We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, right?
So Havel, everyone, when I read my Czech newspapers, they talk about how he remained the same.
That Havel the playwright, Havel the dissident, Havel the President were the same person; whereas the people in North Korea obviously have enormous power.
They have power of life and death, hunger and not hunger, whatever, over all of their citizens and they just use it to the max, including whatever indulgences they want and they just do it, which is largely what Mao did in China, what Stalin did in Russia and we can go on and on in varying degrees.
Steve: So to that degree Havel is a departure and I think that’s what people respect in him, even though they can’t necessarily live up to it.
If we see the Berlusconi’and the Sarkozys of Europe, not to mention the Obamas, there is that element of I’m in power now so, you know, not the same.
So I think that’s part of the appeal and that’s, I think, why Trudeau didn’t have such appeal because he was extremely arrogant.
He was arrogant before he became Prime Minister and he remained arrogant.
Alex: He was the same Prime Minister and the same…
Steve: Right, he was just arrogant.
He was arrogant and he had a certain flair which in the dull world of Canadian politics then and now made him seem like a media star.
But, in fact, he was extremely arrogant and he seemed to enjoy flipping around, going to China and Cuba, but none of this amounted to anything in terms of any constructive foreign policy.
So in the end Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro were the only people who came to his funeral.