In my recent pre-election compilation, I had a short flashback to a quote by Jiri Dienstbier, the Chzech diplomat and UN human rights envoy who spent his final decade on this earth aghast at the Kosovo that America Made. It was only a few weeks before mentioning him in that recent blog that I’d found out he died last year. Below is The Economist’s obituary, which mentions that Dienstbier had been “on the sidelines since 1992.” A year that coincides with the West’s Germanesque assault on the Balkans.

Such is the political fate of a dissident who remains such — that is, who continues to take the moral position even when the “Free” World is the dictator. How ironic that he too — as I learned only from reading this — longed for a united Europe, and headed the rapprochement with Germany. Almost immediately, then, he found out what I did: that the only answer the West has to Communism is Fascism. Or rather, a hybrid of the two, which is what we’re experiencing now.

A Czech’s career
An idealistic ex-stoker mourned by the country he served
(Jan. 13)

INCONVENIENT truths tend to get lost in Bohemia. Jiri Dienstbier, a dissident who became Czechoslovakia’s first post-revolutionary foreign minister in 1989, kept a sharp eye on them. He was a journalist at heart: a star foreign correspondent in the 1960s. But his idealism made him one of tens of thousands of the brightest and best Czechs and Slovaks to be purged after the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 crushed the reformist hopes of the Prague Spring.

The urbane, polyglot Mr Dienstbier took a series of menial jobs, before settling down to work as a furnace-stoker on the Prague subway. It could have been worse, he said: at least it gave him time to read. In 1977 Mr Dienstbier was one of a tiny band of dissidents, which included his friend Vaclav Havel, to muster the courage to launch a modest human-rights manifesto called Charter 77.

Few remember now how hopeless that struggle seemed. The cold war was near its height. It required a huge act of faith to believe that communism was doomed and that Europe would be reunited. Mr Dienstbier, like many other Charter supporters, was persecuted and jailed. It did not stop him: he founded and edited a flimsy underground newspaper, Lidove noviny (The People’s News), the dissident press’s flagship (and now an important Czech daily).

In a few heady late November days in 1989, communism crumbled. The streets of Prague were thronged with demonstrators who booed their leaders and cheered the unknown outcasts of the dissident movement. Mr Dienstbier helped lead the negotiations that pried the regime’s nerveless fingers from the levers of power — breaking off during the talks to stoke his furnace. A few days later he put down his shovel for good and took up his new post as foreign minister of a free Czechoslovakia.

Though not a natural administrator, he was the right man for the job. His biggest achievement was a rapprochement with Germany that buried Czech resentments about Nazi aggression and German ire about post-war deportations. He negotiated the end of the Warsaw Pact, the military wing of the Soviet empire. Wielding bolt-cutters, he chopped symbolic holes in the barbed-wire fence along the Czech-West German border. Mr Dienstbier’s diplomats, mostly communist-era recruits, pirouetted obediently to the new tunes.

His big thing was Europe: a cause he adored before (and after) it was fashionable. He was not a natural Atlanticist, and a bit too soft, some thought, on Mikhail Gorbachev. Those struggling to leave the evil empire in 1990 and 1991 found it hard to convince Mr Dienstbier that they wanted the same freedom the Czechs and Slovaks had already won.

His career fizzled after he left office in 1992. He fell out with many former allies over the wars in Yugoslavia: family connections made him sympathise with Serbia. [Naturally, an objection to the Balkan war story could only be because of “family connections”; surely he didn’t genuinely discern Fascim being reborn in the heart of Europe.] He stayed on the margins of public life until his death on January 8th, aged 73. His son, another Jiri, is a rising star in Czech politics: a blessedly dull trade compared with his dad’s career.