Vaclav Havel: The Dissident in Power

The life of Vaclav Havel, who is stepping down as president of the Czech Republic, could serve as inspiration for one of Havel's own absurdist plays. Born in 1936 into one of the wealthiest Czech families, Havel was one of the people persecuted because of their "wrong class origins" after the Communist takeover of 1948.

Havel defied his misfortune by establishing himself during the 1960s as one of Europe's leading playwrights, only to become a pariah again after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia crushed the "Prague Spring" reform movement in 1968. But he returned to lead his country's tiny dissident community. Famous around the world for both his writings and his struggle against communism, he endured ceaseless harassment, including imprisonment for five years at the beginning of the 1980s. In fact, he was just released from another term in prison when the "Velvet Revolution" of November 1989 catapulted him into the presidency.

It is impossible to separate Havel the playwright from Havel the dissident or Havel the political leader. His earliest plays were political, ridiculing the wooden locutions of communist rhetoric. Even during the liberal Prague Spring, Havel remained a dissenter, never accepting the idea of "socialism with a human face," arguing instead that real democracy was the only alternative to communism. Later, as a dissident, Havel continued writing and became a politician of sorts as the unofficial leader of the anti-communist opposition. Later still, he became the leader of that opposition at its moment of triumph.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/t5hNqx6;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now