Vaclav Havel’s death caps a year in which we’ve seen Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians, and others in the Arab world take to the streets en masse to protest for their freedoms. What we see unfolding in the world today, from the Middle East to Moscow, is the unstoppable tidal wave of freedom that Havel helped shepherd more than 20 years ago in his native Czechoslovakia. As British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote, he was “at once director, playwright, stage-manager and leading actor in this, his greatest play.”
Havel brought to the revolution a sense of moral responsibility that some in the comfortable, privileged West, lacked. As he later described in his 1990 address to a joint session of Congress, “Someone who cannot move and live a normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped in this way.” Even after his service as president of his country, Havel exemplified this vision of responsibility in his support for those across the globe seeking freedom.
The forces of democracy will continue to surge in the decades to come. It is too bad that Havel will not be alive to see all of the fruits of his labor. We could use more people with his simple clarity and optimism for the future. We’ve lost a moral giant.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.