Tag Archives: human rights movement

Reflections on Taking Responsibility

by Sara Rhodin ’02, history department

In his 1978 essay, the “Power and the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel, the esteemed Czech dissident and later president of the Czech Republic, tells the story of a manager of a fruit and vegetable stand who places a sign in his window– as instructed by the Communist authorities– exclaiming “Workers of the World Unite!” Why does this aforementioned greengrocer display such an enthusiastic cry for unification of the world’s workers in his window? Does he really care about the unification of workers, or has he even given thought to what such a unification would look like? Likely, Havel argues, the vast majority of greengrocers in Communist Czechoslovakia don’t even think about the signs they place in their windows or care about the message they are conveying by engaging in this act except to say, as Havel puts it, “I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” It’s an action stemming from a deep fear of losing one’s freedom, livelihood, and in the most banal of terms, “a relatively tranquil life.” But by engaging in this action, by placing this seemingly empty slogan in the window of his store, the greengrocer is taking a political stance; he is lending legitimacy to a totalitarian regime in order to protect his own interests. Continue reading

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