Activists, intellectuals mourn Havel's death

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2011, 12:00am


Mainland liberal intellectuals are mourning the passing of Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and dissident playwright, who they say inspired them in their peaceful struggle against autocracy.

Havel openly expressed his solidarity with mainland dissidents. He presented a petition at the Chinese embassy in Prague in January last year demanding the release of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 for 'inciting subversion of state power' for co-drafting the human and civil rights manifesto Charter 08.

Havel jointly nominated Liu for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which he won. A year ago he and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu wrote in the British newspaper The Observer that Liu was 'sadly emblematic of the Chinese government's intolerance to individual expression'.

Yesterday, Havel's mainland supporters said his advocacy for non-violent struggle for democracy and the rule of law had left an indelible mark on the pro-democracy movement in China.

Rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, who jointly collected the Homo Homini human rights award on behalf of Liu from Havel in 2009, said many intellectuals were inspired by Havel's peaceful and rational opposition to totalitarian regimes. 'His ideas of non-violence, [the insistence on] speaking the truth, the power of the powerless - he also lived under authoritarian rule and believed the powerless should speak the truth and to say 'no' to their rulers,' Mo said.

Havel was imprisoned three times for opposing the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and spent almost five years behind bars. 'His personal story made me believe that if you persist with the truth, China will in the end embark on a road of democracy and the rule of law,' Mo said.

Professor Cui Weiping at the Beijing Film Academy, who translated Havel's essays into Chinese and was credited with introducing his thinking to mainlanders in the early '90s, said: 'He thought one should speak up and take concrete action to help those who have been unfairly treated, otherwise the same will happen to you.'

In an interview with New York-based Human Rights in China in January last year, Havel said it was important to make political prisoners feel 'they are not by themselves', because he himself had enjoyed support and solidarity during his imprisonment over the human rights manifesto Charter 77.

The Czech Republic embassy in Beijing said it had received over 200 e-mails of condolence from ordinary Chinese, with many saying they had read Havel's essays and thanking him for inspiring them into 'free thinking'. For the next two days, the embassy will be open to allow people to sign a book of condolences.