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Vaclav Havel speaking at the European Parliament on 12 November 2009. Photo: European Parliament
Vaclav Havel speaking at the European Parliament on 12 November 2009. Photo: European Parliament

Vaclav Havel, the dissident, playwright and later president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003) described the concept of "dissidents" in his 1984 essay "Politics and Conscience". There Havel argued that the impact of dissidents in authoritarian societies  may be difficult to measure precisely and it usually has a long-term nature, yet he stressed that even a single person daring to speak the truth may have a greater influence than a well-organized state propaganda apparatus:

"I am convinced that what is called 'dissent' in the Soviet bloc is a specific modern experience, the experience of life at the very ramparts of dehumanized power. As such, that 'dissent' has the opportunity and even the duty to reflect on this experience, to testify to it and to pass it on to those fortunate enough not to have to undergo it. Thus we too have a certain opportunity to help in some ways those who help us, to help them in our deeply shared interest, in the interest of mankind.

One such fundamental experience, which I called 'anti-political politics', is possible and can be effective, even though by its very nature it cannot calculate its effect beforehand. That effect, to be sure, is of a wholly different nature from what the West considers political success. It is hidden, indirect, long term and hard to measure; often it exists only in the invisible realm of social consciousness, conscience and subconsciousness and it can be almost impossible to determine what value it assumed therein and to what extent, if any, it contributes to shaping social development. It is, however, becoming evident

March 2011

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