Václav Havel, playwright and former Czech president, passed away this weekend. He was widely recognized for his struggles on behalf of democracy and human dignity.
The New York Times remembers Havel:
A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.
All the while, he came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single bullet fired.
He was chosen as democratic Czechoslovakia’s first president — a role he insisted was more duty than aspiration — and after the country split in January 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic. He linked the country firmly to the west, clearing the way for the Czech Republic to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and the European Union five years later.
The Economist published a personal memoriam:
Mr Havel was (in my eyes) a superb president. He rollerskated through the corridors of Prague castle, exorcising the ghosts of the communist usurpers with his humanity and humour. In what would be a hallmark of his political approach, he made a point of lending support to beleaguered but likeminded figures abroad. He invited the Lithuanian leader Vytautas Landsbergis to Prague, as that country struggled to turn its declaration of independence from Soviet occupation into reality. It was in Mr Havel’s company that I first met the Dalai Lama—also an honoured guest in Prague.
The Washington Post writes:
After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country’s parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech on Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a “spoiled moral environment.”
“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.”
Rest in Peace.