Monday, December 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Václav Havel (1936-2011)

Yesterday, on December 18, I was saddened to read that Václav Havel had passed away.

Havel in Prague, 1989.

For those who may not know, Havel was a dissident Czech playwright, poet, essayist, and activist.  As a writer, he specialized in absurdist drama.  After the Prague Spring of 1968 was crushed by Soviet tanks, however, his works were banned in his own country.  In addition, while his plays continued to be performed outside of communist Czechoslovakia, he was prevented by the authorities from ever seeing them.

In 1977, partially in response to the arrest of the members of a non-conformist rock group, Havel, along with other Czechoslovak dissidents, formed the civic initiative Charter 77.  Its purpose was to draw international attention to the human rights abuses of the Prague communist government.  Subsequently, Havel's political activities resulted in several imprisonments (the longest from June 1979 to January 1984) and constant surveillance, harassment, and questioning by the Czechoslovak authorities.

By the late 1980s, with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost (political openness) in the Soviet Union, regimes all over the Eastern bloc began to weaken.  Czechoslovakia was no exception and it was Havel who took the initiative to lead the Velvet Revolution that ultimately led to the demise of communism in Czechoslovakia.  Subsequently, he became of the first and only president of post-1989 Czechoslovakia and, after the split with Slovakia, of the newly-formed Czech Republic.

A visionary artist and a courageous activist, Havel was a true nonviolent revolutionary.  May he rest in peace and continue to serve as an inspirations to others.  After all, as history has shown, pravda vítězí!