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Who Threatens Our Identity?

To commemorate its founding 25 years ago, PS will be republishing over the coming months a selection of commentaries written since 1994. In the following commentary from 2001, Václav Havel urges Europeans not to close themselves off “in the hope that the various winds of this world will pass them by,” but to engage with the world and assume their share of responsibility for it.

PRAGUE – Identity and sovereignty are often discussed nowadays. But what do they actually mean? Both probably consist of feelings that a community can only be its true self when it can be so without hindrance – in essence, when a community can decide its own fate.

Today’s talk about identity and sovereignty is often rather gloomy. Both are allegedly endangered: by a European Union that wishes to assimilate “us” as much as possible; by the European Commission with its standards; by NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank; by the United Nations; by foreign capital; by Western ideologies; by Eastern mafias; by American influence; by Asian or African immigration; and by God knows what else.

Some of these concerns may contain a rational core. Yet they all derive from a traditional misconception – the belief that upholding character, identity, or sovereignty is not principally the task of a community or a people but is something left in the control of others; that is, left to those who would attempt to deprive “us” of our identity, or at least to weaken it. I do not think, however, that the world’s main concern is to find ways to rob people of their identity and sovereignty. Respect for any country’s unique character, the manner of its development, and the degree to which a community decides its fate, are determined primarily by those living within it.

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