Confronting Truth
Václav Havel’s courage


The 1989 fall of the Kremlin’s East European viceroys was so peaceful that it enriched our vocabulary with the expression “velvet revolution.” At its soul was a man who was playwright, essayist, poet, dissident, political leader — and staunch anti-terrorist.

In 1990, as soon as he was elected president of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel informed the world that in the 1970s, the KGB community had established a “division of labor” for supporting terrorist states and movements with intelligence, weapons, and explosives. Czech intelligence’s slice of that pie had been to develop and produce an odorless plastic explosive (Semtex-H) that could not be detected by sniffer dogs at airports. Havel called a halt to its production, but he acknowledged that his country’s former Communist regime had already secretly shipped 1,000 tons of this dangerous explosive to Palestinian and Libyan terrorists. According to Havel, tests held in November 1984 by Czech experts had showed that a mere 200 grams of that explosive was enough to blow up a commercial plane in flight. “World terrorism has supplies of Semtex to last 150 years,” Havel concluded.

Western experts have expressed the belief that Semtex-H was used by Qaddafi’s terrorists to blow up Pan American Flight 103 over Scotland in December 1988, killing 270 people, and to bring down a French DC-10 plane in Africa in 1989.

Havel’s revelations helped our experts develop methods for detecting Semtex-H. He should be remembered for making the world not only freer, but also safer.

— Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. His book Red Horizons has been republished in 27 countries.


I met Pres. Václav Havel at the Prague Conference on International Security and Democracy in June 2006, along with Pres. George W. Bush, Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, and Polish president Lech Walesa. In that convention, prominent former dissidents from the Soviet Bloc, including Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik and ex-refusenik Natan Sharansky, sat next to emerging reformers from the Middle East, engineers of the so-called Arab Spring. Dissidents from Iraq such as MP Mithal Allousi, from Syria such as MP Ma’mun Homsi, and others from Libya, Egypt, and the Cedar Revolution of Lebanon stood shoulder to shoulder with Iranian students and women in exile. We were all mesmerized by the mature Czech playwright and ex-detainee in totalitarian prisons, Václav Havel. He addressed us as the new dissidents of the 21st century.

“You have seen us battle against Soviet oppression with our bare hands and words. You can do the same against the region’s dictators,” he said. But after he listened to some of us, he understood that the Middle East’s task of liberation would be harder — not because of the nukes and the tanks, but because of the deep roots of the jihadi ideology. Havel, a lifelong expert on totalitarianism, told the Middle Eastern dissidents that there was no empire more powerful than the Soviet Union. The Soviets, however, crumbled when their ideology was rejected by their own citizens. As we ponder today’s Arab Spring and as we realize that it is not being won by the dissidents of the region, but instead being seized by totalitarians — the Islamists — we must also understand that it is the task of the Middle Eastern people to collectively reject the extremist ideology in order to achieve lasting freedom in their lands. The Central European Havel is gone, but his achievements will no doubt inspire the next Havels of the Middle East.

— Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.