Prague Diary: Reagan and the Charter

Peter has put up some great posts on Reagan's famous speech at the Berlin Wall. Apart from the question of the wisdom of this or that line in these foreign addresses, one sometimes hears the argument that these sorts of addresses just don't matter that much. They will get some ink in the US and foreign papers the next day--maybe even generate some controversy over a longer span, but fundamentally, they don't mean anything. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

Here is what former Czech dissident Pavel Bratinka told me about Reagan's evil empire speech:

"Andropov paved the way for Gorbachev right at the moment when Ronald Reagan’s truth talk about the Soviet evil empire penetrated the heart of the system with a metaphysical blow from which the system never recuperated. At long last, the Communists met an opposing force declaring determination to bring about the end of Communist empire."

Tonight I was at a meeting with Kamila Bendova (whom I wrote about here). We were discussing her life under Communism--Charter 77, house searches, her husband's imprisonment, you name it. People often make the claim, I said, that the Charter didn't ever accomplish what it was designed to because it never grew into a large enough movement to affect the society as a whole. Well, Mrs. Bendova countered, the Charter did affect future events--it made people imagine new possibilities. She mentioned many other things--among them that it clashed with the peace movement in Western Europe and pointed to its futility and backruptcy. And important people payed attention to the Charter, she said. At this point she got a little smile on her face and she went to her files. She quickly produced a piece of paper containing numerous instances when people in the West had quoted a Charter document. I glanced down at this paper and what did I see? June 4, 1984, President Ronald Reagan, speech to the Irish Parliament:

"In the moving words used by the Czechoslovak Charter 77 group just a week ago, in reply to supporters of nuclear disarmament in the West, they said, ``Unlike you, we have personal experience of other, perhaps less conspicuous, but no less effective means of destroying civilization than those represented by thermonuclear war; some of us, at the very least, prefer the risk involved in maintaining a firm stance against aggression to the certainty of the catastrophic consequences of appeasement.

The struggle between freedom and totalitarianism today is not ultimately a test of arms or missiles, but a test of faith and spirit. And in this spiritual struggle, the Western mind and will is the crucial battleground. We must not hesitate to express our dream of freedom; we must not be reluctant to enunciate the crucial distinctions between right and wrong -- between political systems based on freedom and those based on a dreadful denial of the human spirit."

Can you imagine what this did for the morale of those Charter members? Those people were hounded and harassed by the police, made to live in constant fear. And so this was proof that there was someone out there who was listening to what they said! I don't know if you wrote that one Peter, but cheers to you or whoever did.


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