Last week, the world lost the great dissident and leader Václav Havel. Havel fought for human rights, and the Czech Republic that he founded remains politically liberal. Not so its neighboring Hungary, which experienced its own revolution in 1990. After years of socialist rule, the right wing has taken charge there and directly attacked the very freedoms won by the generation of Central and Eastern European left-liberal visionaries that includes Havel and his ilk.
At the beginning of 2011, Havel joined with other stars from the revolutions of 1989 to appeal to the European Union regarding Hungary?s crackdown on liberty. The Budapest Appeal, organized and signed by Havel, Miklos Haraszti, Adam Michnik, and others, asks the EU to consider the fragile state of democracy in the region.
We the undersigned are members and supporters of the democratic movements that fought against the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe?fought for our nations to join the community of European democracies. We can never forget the risk of losing basic rights to power-hungry governments.
This time, the destruction of democracy?s guarantees is unfolding right before the eyes of the European Union, the very alliance founded to ensure that respect for our common values remains indivisible?Just twenty years after communism collapsed, Hungary?s government, though elected democratically, is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy?s checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions, and the media?Our hard-won freedoms need to be made accountable! There exist no common European democratic values if they are not served by a common European law.
Havel?s legacy is secure in the Czech Republic, but not so in Central Europe overall, or in Hungary especially. The region?s intellectuals came together with trade unionists and others a generation ago to fight for freedom. Perhaps a new generation will take on the struggle to reaffirm that censorship and attacks on liberties must disappear for good, not reemerge after communism under new labels and under the European umbrella.