Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

The playwright turned hero died on December 18,2011.  He was described by CNN as “the shy but iron-willed Czech writer endowed with a playful sense of humor and a powerful moral compass.”

W. L. Webb wrote in Havel’s obit:

… it was a stocky Czech dramatist lately released from prison who produced the abiding metaphor for what had happened. In 1947, after Yalta and Potsdam, said Václav Havel, who has died aged 75 after a long illness, the clock of history had been stopped in his half of Europe – and now it had started again. Havel’s own career might resemble the very incarnation of that metaphor – of the notion it encapsulates of communism as no more than a bracket in history, a long deviation from the onward march of capitalism’s permanent revolution.

This unlikely hero is owed a debt of gratitude by freedom-loving people around the world. His “body of work” was greater than can be described by merely citing his literary and political accomplishments. He stood up bravely against totalitarianism when it was both lonely and suicidal to do so.

There are too many passages from his work worth quoting. I chose the following because it describes so well current conditions in the US and much of Europe:

The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.

It is people like Mr. Havel who rise to the occasion when the natural states of freedom and liberty appear endangered. They refuse to tolerate the unnatural condition of slavery into which unconstrained and oppressive government devolves.

There is no particular training or way to spot these seemingly ordinary individuals. There is no school to which they go. Their  origins and preparations differ.  They are out there, often in the most unlikely of places, going on with their lives like others. Yet when freedom is threatened, these quite typical citizens rise to greater heights. They are the reason that freedom will never die. They are the true patriots. They are not patriots to oppressive government. They are patriots to the natural need of human beings — freedom.

Mr. Havel, you were an unlikely, and remain a, true hero. Thank you for your distinguished service to freedom and mankind. Your contributions go well beyond the borders of your own country and serve as a beacon in these increasingly dark times.

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