The Humble Libertarian

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel, Anti-Communist Playwright Who Led Czechoslovakia, Dies at 75

Vaclav Havel will be missed:

Though my heart be left of centre, I have always known that the only economic system that works is a market economy, in which everything belongs to someone–which means that someone is responsible for everything. It is a system in which complete independence and plurality of economic entities exist within a legal framework, and its workings are guided chiefly by the laws of the marketplace. This is the only natural economy, the only kind that makes sense, the only one that can lead to prosperity, because it is the only one that reflects the nature of life itself. -Vaclav Havel

The New York Times sadly reports (m):

Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident whose eloquent dissections of Communist rule helped to destroy it in revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall and swept Havel himself into power, died on Sunday. He was 75.

His assistant, Sabina Tancevova, said that Mr. Havel died at his country house in northern Bohemia.

A Czech embassy spokesman in Paris, Michal Dvorak, said in a statement that Mr. Havel, a heavy smoker for decades who almost died during surgery for lung cancer in 1996, had been suffering from severe respiratory ailments since last spring.

A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.

All the while, he came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the end of more than 40 years of Communist rule and the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single shot fired.

He was chosen as democratic Czechoslovakia’s first president — a role he insisted was more duty than aspiration — and after the country split in January 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic. He linked the country firmly to the west, clearing the way for the Czech Republic to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and the European Union five years later.

Both as a dissident and as a national leader, Mr. Havel impressed the West as one of the most important political thinkers in Central Europe. He rejected the notion, posited by reform-minded Communist leaders like Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, that Communist rule could be made more humane.

The Cato Institute's David Boaz wrote:

Vaclav Havel helped Czechoslovakia make the transition from one of the most repressive Communist regimes to one of the most successful post-Communist countries. RIP.

Read Reason Magazine's 2003 profile of Vaclav Havel, the Velvet President.




Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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