To extend Fr. Józef Tischner’s brilliant metaphor about the Solidarity movement beyond the borders of Poland, the Revolution of 1989 in central and eastern Europe was a “vast forest planted by awakened consciences.” The awakening of those consciences was, of course, a very private, one-by-one thing; everyone had to make up his or her own mind to “live in the truth.” That new “great awakening” was, however, embodied, even as it was led, by two men of conscience, Blessed John Paul II and Václav Havel. They were both literary men, both playwrights, and their writers’ souls gave them unique insights into the specific, lethal wickedness of the Communist project: that it was a structure of lies built on the Big Lie, which was Communism’s denial of the spiritual nature of the human person. Every other idiocy and cruelty of Communism flowed from that. Men who spat in the face of God ended up spitting in the face of their fellow human beings, and built societies in which mendacity dominated the ambient public culture. Conscience demanded that such lies be fought, and the fighting was best done with the weapons of truth – that was the lesson taught by Havel, as it was by the Polish pope.
Václav Havel had a complicated relationship with Christianity and the Catholic Church, but I cannot get out of my mind the image of Blessed John Paul II showing the former president of the Czech Republic the ropes around the Throne of Grace. It must have been a moving reunion.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.