Václav Havel’s Life in Truth

Vaclav Havel was one of the last of a now-extinct breed of politicians who could lead effectively in extraordinary times, because their first commitment was to common decency and the common good, not to holding power. If the world is to make it through its various crises successfully, Havel's legacy must remain alive.

PRAGUE – Long before Czechoslovakia’s communist regime collapsed in 1989, Václav Havel was one of the most remarkable figures in Czech history – already a successful playwright when he became the unofficial leader of the opposition movement. Though he hoped to return to writing, the revolution catapulted him to the presidency of Czechoslovakia, and, after the country split in 1993, he was elected President of the new Czech Republic, serving until 2003.

A political career rooted in historical coincidence made Havel an unusual politician. Not only did he bring to post-1989 politics a certain distrust of political parties; as a former dissident, he considered it essential to emphasize the moral dimension of politics – a stance that steered him onto a collision course with the pragmatists and technologists of power, whose main representative, Václav Klaus, succeeded him as President.

Havel’s public life could be divided into three distinct periods: artist (1956-1969), dissident (1969-1989), and politician (1989-2003) – except that he always combined all three sensibilities in his public activities. As a promising playwright in the 1960s, he was certainly very “political,” focusing on the absurdity of the regime. He was also one of the most vocal critics of censorship and other human-rights violations, which made him a dissident even during the liberal “Prague Spring” of 1968.

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