Courage Assume the Responsibility

On Monday evening, a well-attended debate took place at Vaclav Havel Library. The occasion was the annual conference Forum 2000 and the topic was “What are the chances of value-based politics in the 21st century?” On Tuesday morning, the meeting held between the Tibetan Dalai Lama and the Czech Secretary of State for Culture offered an answer to the question.

During the meeting, the charismatic Tibetan spiritual leader did not say anything we had not heard before. He spoke of compassion, love, hope and peace that comes from the inner peace of a man. There were roughly forty attendants – politicians, civil servants or a Dominican priest; they witnessed the Dalai Lama to share refreshments with those not sitting right at the table, to care if people would understand if there was no interpreting, to comply with requests of those who wished to take a picture with him. Informal, no special effects, sort of festively ordinary. What was not ordinary was the fact that the meeting was held at all. The host was under a strong pressure not to let the Dalai Lama in the Nostitz Palace. Under such circumstances, you ponder your decision. Compromises and politics are the same as meat and salami. Should one oblige and avoid trouble, or maybe even gain something, or should one risk possible unpleasant consequences? Should one shirk responsibility and remain in good graces of the powerful or should one assume the responsibility and risk falling out of their favour? Questions that fit the Forum 2000 like a glove. Havelian topic. The key to grasp the nettle is a courage to assume the responsibility.

Involving values in politics is usually difficult; it is ungrateful, few people will understand, few people will believe. Sometimes, a single act does the work of thousands of words. I believe that the Tuesday meeting with the Dalai Lama was exactly of that sort. It would be worth it even if nothing at all followed. The refining provoked by the meeting increased its value even more. The pattern keeps recurring in our history again and again: unexpected, exaggerated and heated reaction to something as normal as a band concert, publication of an interesting text or for example meeting a monk uncovers who is who, encourages the hesitating, gets off the fence those still sitting on it.

What are the chances of politics based on values in the 21st century? Not hopeless at all. We will see.