Mr. Speaker, I rise to mourn the death of one of the great heroes of the 20th century, a great hero of human dignity, the late Václav Havel. Through his words, Havel proved that the dignity and moral worth of the individual could outshine and eventually outlast the vast and oppressive apparatus of totalitarian rule.
As he wrote to Alexander Dubcek, the recently displaced reform-minded president of the Czech Communist Party in 1969, “Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance”.
These words proved prophetic in terms of Václav Havel's own life. With his strong and vocal opposition to the Soviet Union's invasion of his homeland in 1968, his artistic protests against physical and psychological hardship under the heavy hand of communism and his participation in drafting Charter 77, Havel's life was a series of moral words and teachings followed by virtuous and courageous actions.
In addition, as foreshadowed in his words to Dubcek, Havel's moral acts, which initially had no hope of any immediate political effect, gradually gained in significance and eventually carried him to the presidency of a free Czechoslovakia. By insisting on raising a moral, human voice in defiance of a soulless and inhuman ideology, this unlikely politician became one of the 20th century's great statesmen.
We were honoured to receive then former president Havel in the chamber during a joint session of Parliament. In the same year, he was also honoured as a Companion of the Order of Canada. I will forever remember being deeply moved by his testimony before us. He brought us back to first principles in saying:
Human liberties constitute a higher value than State sovereignty... the provisions that protect the unique human being should take precedence over the provisions that protect the State.
In word and deed, Havel gave practical expression to these noble principles. As the Prime Minister said upon his passing in December of last year:
The world owes a great debt to Václav Havel. In helping to free his own people he helped spread freedom across an entire continent, and showed us all that even an evil dictatorship can be no match for the power of the human spirit.
On behalf of the government and, indeed, all Canadians, we pray that this great champion of human dignity and freedom rests in peace.