Reflections on Power of the Powerless

“Our concern is whether we can live with dignity in such a system, whether it serves people rather than people serving it,” wrote Václav Havel. While reflecting on the impact of the “Power of the Powerless”, the essay that discusses the aspects of dissent in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, I had a déjà vu moment. In my country Albania, the same was seen on how a solidarity movement has changed the course of the politics almost over the past decades.

Dissent is defined as the refusal of a group of people to accept the doctrine or the ideas of an established authority. As Havel puts it, dissent was born at a time when the system, for a thousand reasons, could no longer base itself on the unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity.

Photo taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the essay, Havel describes the story of the greengrocer who declared his loyalty to the regime in the only way that the regime is capable of hearing, which is by accepting the given rules of the game. The greengrocer agreed to put up the motto of the regime “Workers of the World, Unite” in his store window. By doing so, he blindly follows the false ideologies and traps the other citizens into believing them, in a way making them instruments of a mutual totality. In such regimes, the attempt of the greengrocer or of a citizen to revolt leads to other consequences to their life.  He accepts the ideology as the only way of being free from the regime and living a peaceful life.

Since the collapse of the Cold War in the 1990s, Albania has seen a power uproar through a vibrant student movement and a vibrant class of young generations rising up against a controlling regime just like in Poland as described by Havel. The regime trapped the citizens in believing and living within false ideologies and leading to the alienation of humanity. The only way to counter this is to always stand for the truth. It is, therefore, a moral act to live within the truth and regain control over one’s sense of responsibility. Citizens have the right to vote and if one attempts to revolt and another one joins and so on, a group of dissidents will form and will be able to affect change. If we decide to accept false norms, we help the system trick more people in accepting that norm.

The mission of World Youth Alliance is to promote human dignity as a universal, intrinsic and inviolable right of the human person. Citing Article 1 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are endowed with reason and a conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. As human beings we will always struggle because we are constantly making decisions throughout our lives. As we make those decisions, we must long for the truth and constantly strive for it.

Published: June 10, 2020
Written by: Ermelinda Gceji, a WYA Advocacy Intern from Albania

What can the ordinary citizen do when he is moved to dissent? Learn about this and more through WYA’s Certified Training Program