Vaclav Havel, the dissident Czech playwright who helped bring down Communism in his home country and became a national hero during the Cold War, has died in his sleep aged 75.
An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers such as Frank Zappa and Lou Reed, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish.
Havel’s arrest in January 1989 at another street protest and his subsequent trial generated anger at home and abroad. Pressure for change was so strong that the communists released him again in May. That fall, communism began to collapse across Eastern Europe, and in November the Berlin Wall fell. Eight days later, communist police brutally broke up a demonstration by thousands of Prague students. It was the signal that Havel and his country had awaited. Within 48 hours, a broad new opposition movement was founded, and a day later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets. In three heady weeks, communist rule was broken. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones arrived just as the Soviet army was leaving. Posters in Prague proclaimed: ‘The tanks are rolling out – the Stones are rolling in.’
Now the other Vaclav, Vaclav Klaus, is a better conservative than Vaclav Havel. Many conservatives would just as soon punch a flower child than pay him any respect. I admire and respect Vaclav Havel because his body of work in words and deeds made for a better life for many people of the former Soviet Union. Below are a few quotes of Vaclav Havel including some things he had to say just nine days before his death.
December 9, 2011, the morning after Czech President Vaclav Klaus declined to comment on the post-election situation in Russia during his Russian counterpart’s visit to Prague, an appeal to Russian citizens and the country’s opposition movements by Vaclav Havel, the first post-communist Czech president, was published in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta.
There can be no talk of democracy as long as the leaders of the state insult the dignity of citizens, control the judiciary, the mass media and manipulate election results. The opposition should appeal to fellow citizens who through personal experience in the West have seen that democratic freedoms work, and call upon them to remember their roots and support the development of a civil society in their homeland
In an interview just two months ago, Havel rebuked Russia for invading Georgia two months earlier, and warned EU leaders against appeasing Moscow.
We should not turn a blind eye … It’s a big test for the West.
Havel also said he saw the global economic crisis as a warning not to abandon basic human values in the scramble to prosper.
It’s a warning against the idea that we understand the world, that we know how everything works.
What became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by:
Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred
On Dec. 29, 1989, Havel was elected Czechoslovakia’s president by the country’s still-communist parliament. Three days later, he told the nation in a televised New Year’s address:
Out of gifted and sovereign people, the regime made us little screws in a monstrously big, rattling and stinking machine.
Early in 2008, Havel returned to his first love: the stage. He published a new play, ‘Leaving,’ about the struggles of a leader on his way out of office, and the work gained critical acclaim.
My return to the stage was not easy. It’s not a common thing for someone to be involved in theater, become a president, and then go back.
It’s interesting that I had an adventurous life, even though I am not an adventurer by nature. It was fate and history that caused my life to be adventurous rather than me as someone who seeks adventure.
Man is not an omipotent master of the universe, allowed to do with impunity whatever he thinks, or whatever suits him at the moment. The world we live in is made of an immensely complex and mysterious tissue about which we know very little and which we must treat with utmost humility.
Vaclav Havel appointed Frank Zappa as “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism.” Zappa shared his ideas about increasing tourism to Czechoslovakia, and explained the concept of credit cards which were then an unknown quantity in this part of the world.
Frank Zappa was one of the gods of the Czech underground.
Vaclav met rock star Lou Reed in 1990.
Lou was the first to come to my office from the heaven of stars. No one so famous had come to Czechoslovakia before.
Havel had invited Michael Jackson to Prague Castle in 1996, because he was interested in the pop star as a “civilization phenomenon,” but found him “disappointing.”
Rather than discuss his own cultural significance, Jackson wanted to go to the third courtyard and say hello to the children.
On this Sunday afternoon I’m taking a little break from the 2012 campaign for conservative Republicans to rise up. A person who, while not a conservative, was one of liberty’s great heroes has died. I can take some time today to pay him some respect while I watch a video of one of his favorites by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.