On-line at the NYTimes news of Vaclav Havel’s death. He was the most remarkable observer and writer on the uphevals in Eastern Europe in the 1980s leading finally in his own country, then Czecheslovakia, to the “Velvet Revolution.” Here from one of his most inspiring and acute essays, “The Power of the Powerless.”
“The point where living within the truth ceases to be a mere negation of living with a lie and becomes articulate in a particular way, is the point at which something is born that might be called the ‘independent spiritual, social and political life of society.’ This independent life is not separated from the rest of life…by some sharply defined line. Both types frequently coexist in the same people. Nevertheless, its most important focus is marked by a relatively high degree of inner emancipation. It sails upon the vast ocean of the manipulated like little boats, tossed by the waves but always bobbing back as visible messengers of living within the truth, articulating the suppressed aims of life.”
Rereading this essay, full of trenchant observations, in recent weeks, I could not help but apply his words to our own current situation.
From the Times obit: “A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.
“All the while, he came to personify the soul of the Czech nation. His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single bullet fired.”