In 2012, the Human Rights Foundation created a new prize with a doubly-great title: the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. Why doubly great? Because we always admired Havel and because the idea of “creative dissent” captures so well the difficult, David vs. Goliath nature of resistance to tyrannical regimes. Asia was strongly represented in the inaugural awards, with prizes going to Chinese artist-cum-dissident Ai Weiwei, Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif.
The 2013 prizes have gone to Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, Cuban civil society group the Ladies in White and North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak. New Focus International provides a new profile; our posts on the balloons can be found here. Park has faced trouble on both sides of the DMZ. A recent launch effort was broken up by the police, local residents and governments worry about retaliation by the North—which has threatened it—and Park has survived an assassination attempt. The North is apoplectic about the launches, particularly given the way Park’s organization seeks to dethrone the Kim family; one has a picture of Kim Jong Il drinking a huge glass of no-doubt imported red wine.
In short, the award is a reminder of the great messiness of democracies; hats off to Park.