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May 24th

Vaclav Havel, a shining light

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In 1989, Czech writer and eloquent humanitarian dissident Vaclav Havel initiated an improbable miracle on the streets of Prague. Shy yet morally bound to raise his voice, Havel became the center of the hopeful storm rattling the chains of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. After 40 years of suffering under a dictatorial regime, Havel helped forge the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution. Not a single shot was fired.

Havel’s countrymen elected him post-Communist Czechoslovakia’s first president in 1989. When the country split in 1993, he became the president of the Czech Republic. Like majestic checkers, the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet-controlled regimes toppled their own Communist yokes.

Writers are recessive creatures, inhabiting the imperious realms of heart and imagination. Yet this man who never sought the spotlight found himself at the moral center of Eastern Europe — and the center held for 14 years. When Vaclav Havel died from lung cancer on Dec. 18, 2011, his mourners reiterated the same theme: “He could not do otherwise.”

In 1968, during the Prague Spring, Havel argued that Communism could never work. He wrote the article, “On the Theme of an Opposition,” that advocated the end of single-party rule. Also in 1968, the legendary producer Joseph Papp invited Havel to attend the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of his second play “The Memorandum.” (He wrote 14.) Havel accepted. It was the last time he was allowed to leave the country under Communist rule.

An idealist in spirit, Havel understood the reality of Communism’s oppressive grip. For five years, he was transferred from prison to prison. When he was “free,” intense Communist surveillance monitored his every move for two decades.

For this sweet and fiery individual, no wall was too forbidding or insurmountable. You can chain the body and limit freedom of movement and expression, but the human will still soars like a bird above all boundaries. To touch freedom and bring it home was Havel’s singular vision. To his people, he was a Moses, but Havel probably took a far humbler position. He wrote when political change was a dream denied, and utilized words to crack open those daunting doors.

Dedicated to Jewish causes, Havel visited Israel in 1990, shortly after becoming president. He brought 180 Czechoslovakian Jews with him. In 2010, he helped found the Friends of Israel.

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out,”he wrote. “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart.”

Some lights flicker for an instant and die an even quicker death. Vaclav Havel is an enduring light — to the heavens, to the world, and to us. Let writer and dictator alike take note.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 

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