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On March 28, 1990, a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the then Pope gave thanks to God "for the fact that the precariousness of lies has been manifest". What did St John Paul, as he now is, mean by this resonant phrase?
 
 
Lies presuppose truth. These concepts also presume that human beings are moral agents, capable of distinguishing between them. The ability to distinguish between lies and truth, in other words, presupposes freedom. And the presumption of human freedom rests on a presumption that we are individuals; that our needs and aspirations are more than merely material ones; that we have duties not only to the state, but to one another; that we have rights by virtue of our humanity; that we are free to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.
 
But in the empire created by Stalin and sustained by force of Soviet arms until 1989, none of these things could be presumed. It was Caesar's representative in Judaea, Pontius Pilate, who asked: "What is truth?" However we choose to interpret that question, Pilate's Communist counterparts in the Cold War certainly did not believe that truth mattered. Like jesting Pilate, they would not stay for an answer. What interested the Pilates of the Warsaw Pact was not truth, but power. Their domination was, however, based less on brute force than on the power to abolish the distinction between truth and lies. The dictatorship of the proletariat was in fact what Pope-Emeritus Benedict meant by the dictatorship of relativism. Of the three categories of relativism moral, cultural and epistemological — it is the last that is most subversive of humanity. Once truth and lies are indistinguishable, it is child's play to excuse the inexcusable. Following the example set by St John Paul, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, however, people were able to confront the "evil empire" with the truth about itself, with all the terrible, shameful lies, past and present, that everybody behind the Iron Curtain suspected, but which they could never openly acknowledge because their way of life depended on deception and coercion.

An appetite for truth, then, was the essential prerequisite in what we still called Eastern Europe for what was to happen in 1989. Václav Havel called it "living in truth"; his works, like those of almost every important writer of that time and of that place, are meditations on the near impossibility of leading such a life in a culture saturated with lies. Dissidents learned to be human lie-detectors; they needed to be, because spies and informers were everywhere. But their dedication to the truth required certain character traits, of which the most striking was stubbornness.

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