Guest op-ed from Jim Chrisinger, an Iowan assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Prague from 1987-1990
We celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe in part because they followed decades of unwavering American support for democracy and freedom.
Every day, Voice of America broadcasts countered Communist propaganda with truth. When President Ronald Reagan called out an “evil empire” and demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall,” the cheers echoed loudest on the eastern side of that wall.
Other Western countries hedged on human rights and democracy to gain commercial deals behind the Iron Curtain.
The U.S. was the country most dedicated to democratic ideals and practice and the people of Czechoslovakia knew it; they told me how much they appreciated it. They admired us.
Never have I been prouder or more fulfilled in a career of public service than my tour as a foreign service officer at our embassy in Prague in 1989. How far and how fast we have fallen.
Vaclav Havel led the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Playwright, essayist and philosopher, Havel advocated above all “living in truth.” Living in truth means living authentically, refusing to look the other way when lies poison government and community. His writing illuminated the individual and societal corrosion caused by living the web of lies that was Communism.
Havel’s insights speak to us today. Here’s how:
Communists lied to create an alternative reality and punished anyone who tried to deny that reality. Their media only reflected the Party’s version of the world. Communists trashed Western institutions by spreading disinformation and lies with just a sliver of truth to make them credible.
They had many good laws, even human rights provisions in their constitutions, but they were lies because they were not enforced. The Communists picked judges who would rule the “right” way. When a person or event later became inconvenient, the past was changed, another lie.
President Donald Trump lies in all these ways.
As Havel taught, truth matters. Without a constant, diligent pursuit of facts and truth, there can be no accountability, no rule of law, and no democracy. A constant stream of lies, echoed in collaborating media and reinforced by us-versus-them rhetoric, threatens the very concept of truth.
For Havel, an essential element of living in truth was not remaining silent. Silence, particularly by those in authority, is complicity.
Thirty years ago last month, Czechs and Slovaks refused to “live within lies” and remain silent any longer. At long last they lived in truth and at great risk they reclaimed their democracy.
When will Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and their Senate and House Republican colleagues live in truth and preserve our democracy?
By Jim Chrisinger
Photo via Wikipedia