Much has been and will be said about the life and legacy of Vaclav Havel. Obviously, I did not know the man personally, but want to share some thoughts about him for those who are not aware of his contributions.
During the ‘80’s I became aware of his writings and began to find out about his life. I was greatly impressed with his ideas on human rights, freedom of religious expression, the free market, and national democratic government. What was so intriguing about that was his ideas were developed while living under the Soviet Communist rule.
In the early 1990’s I had the opportunity to work with some Czech businessmen, getting a first hand look at the state of their economy and business climate. Then, I was in France four years and traveled in the Czech Republic. The business atmosphere was one of enthusiasm and optimism. Although there were elements of assistance from the Central Government, there did not seem to be the “entitlement albatross” hanging around. There was a strong element of entrepreneurism, and a sense of hope for the future of their country.
Some quotes from Havel – the Playwright, the Dissident
“Genuine politics – even politics worthy of the name – the only politics I am willing to devote myself to – is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.”
“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.”
“A state that denies its citizens their basic rights becomes a danger to its neighbors as well: internal arbitrary rule will be reflected in arbitrary external relations. The suppression of public opinion, the abolition of public competition for power and its public exercise opens the way for the state power to arm itself in any way it sees fit. A state that does not hesitate to lie to its own people will not hesitate to lie to other states.”
“We have become morally ill because we have become accustomed to saying one thing and doing another. We have learned not to believe in anything. Not to care about one another and only to look after ourselves. Notions such as love, friendship, compassion, humility and forgiveness have lost their depth dimension.”
Notes from Jan Culik of Scotland (1989)
“In 1979,Havel was sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment for his association with VONS, the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted. Before his trial, he was given leave to emigrate. He declined. Three and a half years later, in danger of his life, he was released from prison as a direct result of international pressure. Throughout the seventies and eighties, Havel wrote a number of essays, political articles and open letters, showing himself to be a man of profound insight and sensitivity.
“Arguably the most important essay in this volume is “The Power of the Powerless”, written in 1978. Here Havel presents a thought-provoking analysis of a typical East European regime prior to Gorbachev’s revolution. He argues that the pre-Gorbachevian East European states were in no way similar to traditional dictatorships. They usurped all means of production and employment, thus wielding absolute control over their citizens. There was no sharp dividing line between rulers and subjugated. In order to be left in peace, every citizen was required to perform certain political rituals.
“Havelwas a supporter of “antipolitical politics”, believing the only remedy for the world’s ills to be a re-introduction of the ethical and moral norms as the guiding principles in people’s lives. He does not regard the Western party political system as an ideal model. Personally, he would prefer an arrangement whereby politicians would be elected into positions of power on individual merit, rather than members of political parties, thus being fully accountable for all their actions.”
Havel was not (apparently) a Christian. However, he studied his Bible and admitted to an affinity for the “Christian sentiment.”
Havel had a huge impact on the fall of the Soviet Union. He was unafraid of the state’s power to muzzle his voice, willing to suffer prison rather than contradict his character and beliefs.
A man – a dissident – willing to live his convictions in the face of a totalitarian regime, stay the course, and see its fall.