Vacláv Havel: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."

In the main square in Ostrava
Yesterday, I joined my colleague Hanka M., her husband, and two of her university friends at her home to bake yet more cookies.  She has been adamantly cultivating my Czech and encouraged her friends to speak with me in Czech.  Not feeling particularly ambitious, I kept a bit quiet during much of the time, simply enjoying being amidst a group and I focused my attention on the cookies which I decorated with American abandon.

While we were setting the table for lunch, Hanka said something to me about revolutionary and former president Vacláv Havel.  I repeated his name, but I didn't know what she said.  "He died today," she repeated, in English.  I was shocked.

I remember when I first learned about Vacláv Havel; I was trying to brush up on my Czech history--which had usually been focused more on the Hussites than the more recent Velvet Revolution.  As I learned more about Havel, I promptly went to the library to check out one of his books.  I was enthralled when I realized that he was still living.  It was like something you thought to be myth walked out of the pages and greeted you.  I was fascinated by the man and the legend, a poet revolutionary, who used truth and words and nonviolent protest to help enact real social change.  There is a lot of romance in his story--dissidence, art, imprisonment, endurance and persistence.  There were many others, I'm sure, who shared his ideals and vision, but I don't believe that Havel was just "at the right place at the right time."

Hanka shared that some Czechs have held onto this sentiment.  As I read through an article today, it shared similar reports, noting that Havel "was recognized worldwide as the most famous Czech. Unfortunately, he was more welcomed and honored abroad than at home. Modest and shy though he was, he stood up for himself in meetings and negotiations with the most powerful people in the world. I just hope that we are now conscious of what a man we had as a fellow citizen and hold him up as an example.” (A quote from Karel Schwarzenberg.)

I am grieved to think of how few Americans probably know his story.  I am grieved by my own ignorance, for it is far easier to get swept up in the retrospective legend of a man than it is to deeply ruminate on the struggles he must have encountered all along the way.  As I spoke with another colleague about his passing, she mentioned that in losing Havel, the Czech Republic is losing one of it's strongest moral voices.  She then related an encounter she had with him once in Prague.  She was looking at an exhibit of outside sculptures--cows, to be specific.  She looked over, and there he was.  She remarked to me, "He was so humble."  What beautiful testimonies of this great man.  May we all learn and take courage from his example.


Popular Posts