I can’t help but be struck by two symbolic images over the past week that are reminders of what a long road remains in the struggle for elementary freedoms. The stark photo at left, of a Cuban flag draped over a solitary chair at the EU’s presentation of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, held in Strasbourg, France and awarded to the dissident Guillermo Fariñas, follows last week’s absence at the Nobels (and again, the empty chair, below) of Liu Xiaobo, winner of this year’s Peace Prize. The Cuban government did not allow Fariñas to travel to Europe to accept in person, and Liu Xiaobo sits in a Chinese jail serving an 11-year sentence. Both men are guilty of no more than a simple belief in basic human rights.

I’ve long maintained that had the same global shunning and sanctions (economic and otherwise) that brought down apartheid rule in South Africa been shown towards Cuba (with its own brand of day-to-day apartheidism) the end of that island’s dinosaur-relic regime may have been hastened as well. (China is, of course, a more complicated story). As it is, one feels diminished as a citizen of civilized society that these two sad images can even exist in a circa 2010 world.