A friend sent me this Czech tv video on the mourning march to the St Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle. I can’t watch it without tearing up. It’s entirely worthy of the great Czech poet, playwright, and revolutionary hero. [. . .]
He wasn’t lucky in his choice of birthplace: Czechoslovakia, 1935, and the Nazis would soon arrive. He came from a good family (dad was a restaurateur), but that made things harder for the Havels once the Communists took over after the war. Given his “bourgeois” background, Havel was kept out of prestigious university programs, and he did manual labor for a while. He fought Communism all his life, got thrown into jail for four years, and when he came out the regime offered him the chance to emigrate to the West. He laughed at them, went on to lead Charter 77 and then the whole country.
So he came from the wrong sort of family, didn’t have the credentials to ensure literary or intellectual success, and was singled out for punishment and repression by a very nasty regime. Yet he was one of a handful of people who changed the world by fighting totalitarian Communism and then, having defeated it, inspired his people to rejoin the Western world, embrace capitalism, and support democratic dissidents everywhere. [. . .]
One by one the great men and women of the generation that survived Nazism and defeated Communism are passing away. The current crop are midgets compared to Havel and his contemporaries, and we can only hope that a new generation of worthy leaders is on the way. As he hoped. And showed the way.
You should watch the video. Like Michael, I can’t watch this procession without tearing up.
Here are a few paragraphs from Havel’s “Farewell to Politics”:#more#
I am saying only this: to set out on the path of reason, peace, and justice means a lot of hard work, self-denial, patience, knowledge, a calm overview, a willingness to risk misunderstanding. At the same time, it means that everyone ought to be able to judge his or her own capacity and act accordingly, expecting either that one’s strength will grow with the new tasks one sets oneself or that it will run out. In other words, there is no more relying on fairy tales and fairy-tale heroes. There is no more relying on the accidents of history that lift poets into places where empires and military alliances are brought down. The warning voices of poets must be carefully listened to and taken very seriously, perhaps even more seriously than the voices of bankers or stock brokers. But at the same time, we cannot expect that the world—in the hands of poets—will suddenly be transformed into a poem.
Be that as it may, there is one thing I know for certain: that regardless of how I played the role allotted to me, and regardless of whether I wanted it in the first place, or deserved it, and regardless of how much or how little I am satisfied with my efforts, I understand my presidency as having been a magnificent gift of destiny. After all, I have had the opportunity to take part in truly world-changing historical events. And that—as an experience of life and a creative opportunity—has been worth all the traps that lay hidden within it.
But this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of this piece by Reason’ s Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie called “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World: How the Velvet Underground and Václav Havel built a blueprint for toppling totalitarians and other censors.”
Charter 77, just like the Plastic People of the Universe, is a relatively obscure reference in twenty-first-century America. Yet, its 1970s-era call for freedom of expression in communist Europe is at the very center of the single-most foundational story of how supposed Western cultural decadence combined with dissident aspirations in the unfree world to produce not just unprecedented liberation but a useable blueprint for oppressed people everywhere to cast off the shackles of their masters. Standing at the center of that story is the literal author of the blueprint, a rumpled star child of the 1960s whose love and understanding of rock music helped free his country and inspire freedom in so many others: Václav Havel, the late leader of what came to be known as the “Velvet Revolution.”
Rest in Peace, Václav Havel.