Question: How, as president, do you decide when these small compromises are worth it and when they might lead to something more dangerous?
Havel: Politics, it means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller. But sometimes, some of these compromises could be very dangerous because it could be the beginning of the road of making a lot of other compromises, which are results of the first one, and there are very dangerous compromises. And it’s necessary, I think, to have the feeling which compromise is possible to do and which, could be, maybe, after ten years, could be somehow very dangerous.
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I will illustrate this with my own experience. Two days after I was elected president, I invited the Dalai Lama to visit. I was the first head of the state who invited him in this way, directly. And everybody was saying that it was a terribly dangerous act and issued their disapproving statements and expressions. But it was a ritual matter. Later, the Chinese deputy prime minister and the foreign minister came for a visit and brought me a pile of books about the Dalai Lama and some governmental documents about what good care they have taken of Tibet, and so on. They were propagandist, fabricated books, but he felt the need to explain something to me.
I had a press conference with this minister of foreign affairs. And he said, “It was wonderful, meeting, because we were speaking openly. Mr. Havel gave me his opinion, and I explained the opinion of our government. I gave him this book, and he thanked me for it.”
This was unbelievable! Why did they feel the need to explain their point of view to the leader of such a small nation? Because they respect it when someone is standing his ground, when someone is not afraid of them. When someone soils his pants prematurely, then they do not respect you more for it.
Jennifer Rubin has more on Vaclav Havel’s advice to Obama.