Former Czech President Vaclav Havel died yesterday at the age of 75 after a lengthy illness.
A playwright by trade, his works would be banned in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring in 1968. This would not deter his political activity. In 1977, Havel was one of the founders of the Czech dissident group Charter 77. This would result in Havel being imprisoned by the Communist regime on multiple occasions. He spent nearly half the 1980s held in confinement.
In 1989, Havel led the non-violent Velvet Revolution which resulted in the fall of communism and in him becoming President of Czechoslovakia. Havel would reluctantly oversee the break up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 remaining President of the Czech Republic until 2003.
Havel’s political inclinations were far more social democratic than conservative. But Havel was held in high esteem by the likes of Margaret Thatcher. Lord Powell, who served as Thatcher’s Private Secretary from 1983 to 1990, wrote in The Daily Telegraph, “She took to him because he was articulate and shared her views on communism and in particular her moral views of communism.”
Indeed, when Havel visited Thatcher at 10 Downing Street in March 1990 she paid him the highest of tributes. “During the darkest years of Stalinist oppression, you were an inspiration to your people,” said Thatcher, “In your plays, you exposed and opposed the deceits and injustices of totalitarian rule. You stayed true to your principles through long periods of imprisonment and illness.”
Every once in awhile someone will tell me that I am brave for reading my poems. I am to quick reply that I am not brave. Whatever inconveniences I have been subjected to as a result of my poems are inconsequential (up to and including being banned from reading.) I can always go home to sleep in my bed and get up a write the next day. The same could not be said for Havel and thousands of men and women like him who lived under the thumb of totalitarianism. Yet the life of Vaclav Havel is proof that good can persevere and triumph over evil. Or as Havel put it, “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.”
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