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Steve: Oh, and I wanted to mention, it’s interesting — because I also listen to the Russian media now because I’m trying to finish off my Russian, but I can’t let go, right – and, of course, Václav Havel is not appreciated…
Alex: Oh, really?
Steve: …by the Russian Government and I would say by public opinion, because public opinion in Russia largely supports the Government.
He is appreciated by people in the Human Rights Movement, the Helsinki Group or whatever and I heard some of them interviewed on my Czech radio and even on Echo Moskvy there were people who had positive… In fact, one guy very sarcastically commented on the fact that Russia sent their condolences to North Korea over the death of Kim Jong-il and they did not send condolences to the Czech Republic.
Now, you can argue that Václav Havel is not a ruling head of state or government official.
He’s not in office, so therefore according to protocol they’re not obliged to do anything; whereas Kim Jong-il was the de facto, whatever he was, President, glorious leader, but beneath that of course is the real reason and the real reason is several.
Havel, of course, opposed the Communists.
He opposed the influence of Russia because the common turn and Communist sort of hold on Eastern Europe was an extension of the power of Russia.
Call it Soviet Union, call it World Communist Movement, call it what you want, it was Russia, so he has always opposed that.
I think Havel was hoping that Russia would evolve in the same way that say the Czech Republic has evolved into more of a liberal democratic state, which it hasn’t under Mr. Putin.
Havel in 2003 won an award — I can’t remember the name of the award — as being a role model for someone who fights for human rights and that sort of thing.
This was a German award that was established after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Alex: Oh, interesting.
Steve: So it’s like a Nobel Prize, if you want, but for that specific, you know people who defend human rights.
That German committee decided to give the award in 2005, two years after Havel got his, jointly to Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin and, of course, they do it for purely cynical geopolitical reasons because they’re dependent on Russian oil and natural gas and they hope that if they’re nice to Putin he’ll be nice back at them, basically.
So the fact that he has nothing to do with protecting freedoms, freedom of speech and all the rest of it is kind of wiped off the slate.
Havel said if you give Putin the award I’m giving mine back.
So, obviously, Vladimir Putin didn’t like that gesture on the part of Havel, not to mention the fact that Havel took the side of Georgia in the war between Russia and Georgia.
But, at any rate, the commentator at Echo Moskvy was quite cynical in saying that it says something about the values of our government when they… I can’t remember what.
You know, Kim Jong-il is a good guy and Havel is a bad guy to our government.
So it’s at least refreshing to hear that there are some voices in Russia that are not afraid to express their own views.
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Steve: We should never confuse Russia with even China when it comes to freedom of expression.
A lot of these views are not popular in Russia, but you are allowed to say them.
And now we’re seeing more sort of demonstrations of some dissatisfaction with Putin’s rule, so it’s not at all like China.
In China it’s more like it was in the old days insofar as criticizing the government.
You can say many things privately, but publicly you can’t.
So, yeah, this is interesting.
I mean Havel was 75.
Alex: Oh, was he?
Alex: Kim Jong-il was I believe 70 or 71.
Steve: Yeah, 68 to 70. And there are all kinds of conspiracy theories.
Alex: There will continue to be.
Steve: Well, exactly.
There’s one guy in Japan who wrote a book saying that Kim Jong-il was actually assassinated some years ago and that this is a dummy.
Okay, that’s one.
There is the feeling that there is dissention within the ranks.
That because Kim Jong-il was made you know, whatever, a Marshall in the Army without ever having served in the Army that that annoyed some members of the Army and the fact that Kim Jong-il was prepared to do a deal with the States in order to receive shipments of grain in exchange for stopping their nuclear program that that annoyed some other section of the Army and that there are dissentions.
Of course there are always factions.
Steve: Always, so who knows what’s going to happen.
You’re more familiar with the whole Korean scene than I am.
Alex: Yeah. Well, even then.
I mean even to people who know a lot about it North Korea is so illusive.
It’s so difficult to find any substantive information to really learn more about it.
I had the privilege of talking to a lot of professors who study Korean history and Korean politics and have spent a good portion of their life on this and even to them there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to really having insight into North Korea.
Steve: Well, you know it’s interesting.
I read in the paper that children are taken from their parents and brainwashed from the age of like two.
I mean that is tremendously powerful and so they probably did think that Kim Jong-il was like their father.
They’re told that all the time.
I know from listening to Echo Moskvy that when Stalin died, despite you know perhaps one in 10 Russians were either killed or imprisoned by him and I mean massive famine in farming areas all caused by this man, plus out and out just eliminating people, like shooting them, having them shot and yet when he died everyone thought they’d lost a family member because the power of indoctrination is so great.
So maybe those people sincerely feel they lost, in a sense, somebody more important than their father.
Alex: Right, exactly.
Steve: I don’t know.
Alex: Yeah. I mean it’s interesting.
I think one thing, in a way, that sets it apart too is that in the time of Stalin something like the Internet was not even conceived, barely.
Steve: Long before the Internet, yeah.
And so looking at it from that perspective it’s so interesting to see that some 70 years later in a world where now we’re so connected with each other — you know, we’re talking here and people are listening to us in countries all over the world — that North Koreans, basically, are not allowed to have anything outside.
Alex: Everything is totally restricted.
If they’re lucky then they get smuggled radios so that they can hear South Korean radio stations and that’s it.
Steve: Well, yeah.
I mean you can’t blame individual Koreans who are conditioned by this regime and perhaps many of them sincerely have no idea of the mentality sincerely are grieving.
Probably some are not, we don’t know, but to create a regime like that where a small group of people so thoroughly control the lives, the calorific intake, the thought processes, everything of other people, what right?
To me, whatever else you say about democracy, it’s corrupt, money talks, all the politicians are the same, they’re all self-seeking people who never fulfill their promise, you can say all these things, but at least you have the means to change it if you want.
You can go run yourself, you know?
It’s as Churchill once said “It’s a terrible system, but it’s the best system we’ve got.” It’s a terrible system, because if you have a system with a small group of people and the temptation is always there ‘Well, you know, democracy is so wasteful.
What we need is a really good dictator, someone who will always do the right thing and that will just be so much more efficient and Hitler got everybody working again’ yeah, maybe.
There is an X-percent chance that the dictator will be a genius, fair, always make the right decision and everybody will live happily ever after, but the chances are very low.
It’s far more likely that we’ll end up with variations of Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, you name it.
So any time you allow a small group of people to basically control the fate of so many people it’s evil and, unfortunately, they have nuclear weapons.
Alex: Yeah. I mean in closing that’s what’s interesting too.
A guy like Kim Jong-il, basically, him and his little crew they took control.
Alex: They made the decision that they wanted control of this and whatever means it cost they did it.
Alex: But at the same time a guy like Havel is the opposite where he, in fact, attracts the respect of people. He earns that respect.
Alex: He allows people the decision to say I like you, I dislike you, but in doing that and in being just and in being fair from a completely different ideology he has excelled so much further.
Steve: Well, he’s certainly gained much more respect.
By the way, I understand that Kim…what’s the first guy’s name?
Alex: Kim Il-sung?
Steve: Kim II-sung is still the leader. It’s beyond a kingdom there.
Steve: It’s like a new theology.
Like he still rules from the grave, I mean it’s just absolutely extraordinary.
Not only is it a family monopoly, but the old man is still ruling from the grave.
That’s the kind of system they’ve got there.
Anyway, one day…
Steve: We won’t be visiting there soon. Okay, thank you for listening.
Alex: Thanks for listening everyone.