In the late 1980s, the fight against global communism entered a crucial phase. President Reagan publicly pressed Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa gave Polish workers the courage to rise up against their communist masters. The Velvet Revolution sprang up in Czechoslovakia.
That last event may be less famous, but it’s no less important. It began on Nov. 17, 1989, when Czech police suppressed a peaceful student demonstration in Prague. Within days, the number of protestors swelled until it reached half a million. In the face of this uprising, and with the governments of other Soviet satellite states collapsing, the Czech communists saw the handwriting on the wall. They yielded power and dissolved the single-party state.
Credit for this victory goes to many brave souls in Czechoslovakia - including Vaclav Klaus, the man who now serves as its president.
Mr. Klaus, who turns 70 on Sunday, has proved himself a leader in the fight for the free society and the rule of law. He recognizes that evil is not something confined to the past, that forces seeking to quash freedom exist even today.
Those enemies, he points out, spread the “virus of demagogy” to suppress a civil society. They cannot be ignored. They must be challenged.
Freedom needs defenders - public and private, in the academy and in politics. Vaclav Klaus is a giant in each category. His leadership has preserved and extended the boundaries of the free society in his nation and has inspired other leaders worldwide.
Without such a leader, the political and bureaucratic minders can suppress the aspirations of those who seek opportunity and prosperity in a free and ordered society. Sadly, such a fate plagues many countries, but not the Czech Republic. Under the leadership of Mr. Klaus, the Czech Republic has become a country that recognizes natural rights, promotes free markets and limits the power of the state.
A contrarian, Mr. Klaus was the first international political leader to predict the threat to freedom from those who advocate “environmentalism first.” A decade before the excesses of global-warming hysteria became clear, Mr. Klaus warned the world at a Heritage Foundation event that “environmentalism with its ‘Earth First’ arguments represents ‘Leviathan Two’ [and is a] menace which may become even more dangerous than old socialism.”
Advocates of such environmentalism “do not accept that it is not possible to get something for nothing … the idea of trade-offs.” Instead, they support “an old doctrine which is based on the wrong conclusion that the more complex the world is, the more government intervention, regulation and control [is required].” Indeed, “green” has become the new red.
Mr. Klaus, an avid reader of Friedrich A. Hayek, understands that the more advanced a society or an economy becomes, the less likely it is that any individual or group of individuals can plan that society’s way to prosperity.
He worried that these entities would seek to impose onerous regulations in every way possible, even circumventing the legislative process to obtain their goals of bureaucratic control. Having survived in a centrally planned society, Mr. Klaus knew firsthand that there still would be “ecological disaster in countries without private property and prices.”
Opponents of freedom view the social order as an opportunity to expand government control by the rulers. But, Mr. Klaus notes, “The more complex a society becomes, the more a free market is required.” As an economy expands, the ability of bureaucrats to regulate the organic nature of multiple decision-makers in the market diminishes. It is the free market that seeks to preserve liberty.
So let us toast the birthday of a man who has worked so hard to ensure that his own country experienced a rebirth of freedom: Vaclav Klaus.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times