The passing of the modern Czech Republic’s first President, Vaclav Havel, will be mourned the world over, for the legendary leader of the Velvet Revolution was no ordinary politician—he was a world statesman.
Few others were as passionate or gifted in articulating a vision of a free and open Czechoslovakia throughout the communist years. Havel gave voice to the ideals of individualism, human rights, and democratic accountability. Written in 1978 to inspire fellow freedom fighters across Europe, “The Power of the Powerless” will remain in the annals of literary political history for centuries to come.
When the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, it was Vaclav Havel who put his signature to the instruments of ratification and declared: “The enlargement of the Alliance…signifies the real and definitive end of the imposed division of Europe and the world…Let us hope that we are thus entering a world in which the fates of nations are not decided by powerful foreign dictators, but by the nations themselves.”
Just a year after his departure from the presidency in 2003, the Czech Republic would accede to the European Union. Today, the Czech Republic is a fully functioning European democracy, and Prague is one of Central Europe’s most vibrant cities. It is a nation at ease with itself, right at the heart of Europe.
Vaclav Havel leaves a legacy of political heroism. A founder of the Charter 77 movement, Havel spent much of his opposition days in prison rather than go into exile—even when he had the opportunity to do so. He was a passionate campaigner against anti-Semitism as well as communism. Former U.S. President George W. Bush commended “his strong voice for human liberty (that) changed the course of his country and crossed continents…Un-intimidated by threats, unchanged by political power, Vaclav Havel suffered much in the cause of freedom and became one of its greatest heroes.”
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was also a great admirer of Havel. Speaking in Prague in 1996, Thatcher stated: “Vaclav Havel’s translation from prison as dissident to Palace as President seemed to symbolise not so much a new era as a new world, in which the meek—and the brave and true—would finally inherit the earth.”
The whole of Europe will mourn the passing of Vaclav Havel. It has lost a political giant, an intellectual leader, and a hero of the fight against communism. His legacy, however, will never be forgotten, and it will continue to be celebrated for years to come.