“Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them.” Václav Havel
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library wishes to express its condolences and support for those affected by the tragic acts of violence that took place in Orlando, Florida on June 12. This depraved act goes against every tenet we hold true as a democratic nation where all people are created equal with inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
The Pulse Club attack was an act of violence towards the LGBTQ community. However, the details are far more complex than that. Some victims were allies, supporting the people they love in what was meant to be a safe place to express one’s identity. A few victims were parents there with their children, some of whom were barely adults themselves. Many of the victims were people of color, further demonstrating the complexity of this event. At its core, the Pulse Club attack was an act of violence towards individuals considered to be different. Such attacks leave a painful, raw and lasting mark on history, and are human rights violations from which no one benefits.
You may wonder why we, as a museum focused on Czech and Slovak history and culture, are commenting on this event. The reason is simple: our mission and values make it impossible not to do so. At the NCSML, we strive to “inform and empower a free civil society” through cultural engagement. We promote a culture of empathy, understanding, and peaceful coexistence among all peoples. Our stories, which tell about freedom, identity, family, community, human rights and dignity, are meant to link people to the world around them, regardless of background. By teaching our youth about the difficulties faced during immigration, or presenting exhibits on the impacts of war and conflict, we strive each day to foster that sense of empathy and connection among all who come to the NCSML.
Former Czech president Václav Havel, on the topic of human rights, said this: “Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them.” We do not wish to facilitate that silence; it is through open dialogue that communities can build a future and a culture of connectedness and peace, rather than separation and violence. Museums can help to build this culture of peace and understanding.
As we remember those who have suffered, and are still suffering, from the effects of violent acts such as the tragedy in Orlando, each of us must think about what we can do as individuals and communities to help prevent such acts in the future.