Shameful EU appeasement of Castro puts profit before principle (Vaclav Havel, The Scotsman, February 5th, 2005)

I vivedly remember the slightly ludicrous, slightly risqué and somewhat distressing predicament in which Western diplomats in Prague found themselves during the Cold War.

They regularly needed to resolve the delicate issue of whether to invite to their embassy celebrations various Charter 77 signatories, human-rights activists, critics of the communist regime, displaced politicians, or even banned writers, scholars and journalists – people with whom the diplomats were generally friends.

Sometimes we dissidents were not invited, but received an apology; and sometimes we were invited, but did not accept the invitation so as not to complicate the lives of our courageous diplomat friends. Or we were invited to come at an earlier hour in the hope that we would leave before the official representatives arrived, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.

This all happened when the Iron Curtain divided Europe, and the world, into opposing camps. Western diplomats had their countries’ economic interests to consider; but, unlike the Soviet side, they took seriously the idea of “dissidents or trade”. I cannot recall any occasion at that time when the West or any of its organisations (Nato or the European Community) issued some public appeal, recommendation or edict stating that some specific group of independently minded people – however defined – were not to be invited to diplomatic parties, celebrations or receptions.

But today this is happening. One of the strongest and most powerful democratic institutions in the world – the EU – has no qualms in making a public promise to the Cuban dictatorship that it will re-institute diplomatic Apartheid. The EU’s embassies in Havana will now craft their guest lists in accordance with the Cuban government’s wishes. The shortsightedness of socialist Prime Minister José Zapatero of Spain has prevailed. […]

I can hardly think of a better way for the EU to dishonour the noble ideals of freedom, equality and human rights that the Union espouses; indeed, principles that it reiterates in its new constitutional agreement. To protect European corporations’ profits from their Havana hotels, the Union will cease inviting open-minded people to EU embassies; and we will deduce who they are from the expression on the face of the dictator and his associates. It is hard to imagine a more shameful deal.

Cuba’s dissidents will, of course, happily do without Western cocktail parties and polite conversation at receptions. This persecution will admittedly aggravate their difficult struggle; but they will naturally survive it. The question is whether the EU will survive it. […]

It is suicidal for the EU to draw on Europe’s worst political traditions, the common denominator of which is the idea that evil must be appeased and that the best way to achieve peace is through indifference to the freedom of others.

What must really be painful for a titan like Havel is that almost nobody knows anymore what Europe’s best political traditions are.


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