This weekend, we learned that former Czech President Vaclav Havel has died at age 75. The world mourns the loss of a giant whose ode to freedom in his country generated the spark that ended the Cold War and brought freedom to many in the former colonies of the Soviet bloc.
One of Havel’s most famous sayings was that “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.” It became his revolutionary ideal which he said he always strove to live by.
Havel also opined that he saw the global economic crisis as a warning not to abandon basic human values in the scramble to prosper. He was a prophet who understood well that there must be a balance between human dignity and the return on investment.
Born in Prague on October 5, 1936, he was the child of a wealthy family which lost extensive property to communist nationalization in 1948. As a result of growing up in a turbulent time, Havel was denied a formal education. Nevertheless, he was never a quitter, and eventually earned a degree at night school and started out in theater as a stagehand.
On December 29, 1989, the country’s still-communist parliament elected Havel Czechoslovakia’s president. Three days later, he told the nation in a televised New Year’s address: “Out of gifted and sovereign people, the regime made us little screws in a monstrously big, rattling and stinking machine.” Totalitarian governments are known to ignore talent that can be used for worthwhile causes. Instead, they pay attention to talented individuals only when they can come up with ideas to keep themselves in power.
Havel was a friend of Cubans and Cuban-Americans who sought to restore freedom and democracy to their homeland since 1959. In a speech in 2002, he indicated “”I want to express my solidarity to all those who struggle for a free life in Cuba.” In 2006, he stated that “I cannot go to Cuba to relax on the beach and keep my eyes shut, while dozens of political prisoners are behind bars there.” His words should be required reading to Americans who want to travel to Cuba to dance cha-cha and drink mojitos in Havana nightclubs, while ignoring the plight of daily life for average Cubans.
Although a diminutive man in height, Havel served as a source of inspiration to human rights dissidents throughout the world. He’s left us with a legacy that those who fight oppression by all means necessary will be victorious in the end.