Sometimes great good and vast evil go together. In terms of timing, that happened last weekend after the freedom-loving former Czech president Vaclav Havel died. As most of the world mourned, news emerged that an ultimate evil bastard, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, had kicked off too.
Two famous men couldn't be more different, nor could the global reactions to their departures. Commentators in most countries paid tribute to 75-year-old Havel, a former playwright, as a humble and peaceful man who resisted communism and helped to liberate Eastern Europe. Among the greatest Europeans ever, he inspired others to stand up for what's right and to oppose tyranny. Previously a heavy smoker, he had survived several lung-cancer surgeries. He passed away at his country home north of Prague.
“His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon,” said United States president Barack Obama. Other national leaders expressed similar sentiments.
As for 69-year-old Kim, the world responded to his demise with something closer to celebration, tempered by some disturbing uncertainties about what happens next for North Korea and its long-suffering people. A ruthless dictator, Kim (unlike Havel) always placed his own interests high above those of others, ruling by brutal force, living in luxury as millions of his people starved, always buttressed by a massive military, merciless prison camps and a relentless propaganda machine. State television reported that he died when on a train journey.
Allegedly, Kim had suffered a stroke in 2008. Then he began to prepare for his third son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. Maybe that succession will fall into place, or maybe a power struggle will begin. If North Koreans possess the wish and strength to follow the example of northern Africans by rising up to secure greater freedoms, now looks like a prime time to act.
A man of many quirks, Kim always traveled by train, not plane. Now his spirit need not fly either.
Some religiously-inclined people and political cartoonists may expect Havel and Kim to meet at a gateway to the great beyond. But that's unlikely. Anyone believing in heaven and hell will deduce that the departures of such different men send them on journeys in opposite directions -- with Havel ascending and Kim descending.
Vaclav Havel: among the
'greatest Europeans ever'.
Kim Jong-il: more of a nasty brute.