Monday, December 19, 2011

Václav Havel, 1936-2011

CNN reported yesterday afternoon that Václav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia, and later of the Czech Republic, died at the age of 75. There are very few people on this earth for whom I have as much admiration as I do for this man, who skillfully used the power of the pen to undermine the Communist régime in his country. In that effort, he suffered imprisonment for 4½ years; but emerged victorious in the Velvet Revolution that ended Communism in Czechoslovakia. The last Communist Parliament elected him President of the republic, an office he held until the "Velvet Divorce" that established the independence of Slovakia. Mike Tuggle at Rebellion aptly described Mr. Havel's approach to Slovak independence:
Faced with a secessionist movement by the eastern half of Czechoslovakia, he took the role of the anti-Lincoln, and respected the Slovaks' right to govern themselves. The two nations continue to live in peace.
He later returned to serve as President of the Czech Republic. During his presidencies he displayed moral leadership to an exceptional degree, which has been recorded in his speeches (particularly his first New Year's speech as President of Czechoslovakia) and writings, such as his book The Art of the Impossible. (He wrote several other books, but this one stands out for me).

He was a modern man, in that he was a playwright in the absurdist style and liked rock and roll music. In fact the Charter 77 declaration that established him as a dissident was inspired by the Communist arrest of a Czech rock band.

He was the rare leader that did not allow power to go to his head, but acted as a servant of the people. He continued that role to the end of his life. Last year, he protested the arrest of a Chinese dissident whose movement was modeled on Charter 77.

He will be missed; but more importantly, he provides a model of statesmanship that we would do well to follow.

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