Vaclav Havel, leader of ‘Velvet Revolution,’ dies

Michael Winfrey
Reuters
12/18/2011

Václav Havel, a dissident playwright who was jailed by Communists and then went on to lead the bloodless “Velvet Revolution” and become Czech president, died at 75 on Sunday…

…Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter, “Vaclav Havel was one of the greatest Europeans of our age. His voice for freedom paved way for a Europe whole and free.”

“We will remember his commitment to freedom and democracy just as much as his great humanity,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We Germans especially have much to thank him for.”

The diminutive playwright, who once took Bill Clinton to a Prague jazz club and was also a friend of Mick Jagger, rose to fame by facing down Prague’s communist regime when he demanded they respect at least their own human rights pledges.

Just half a year after completing his last jail sentence, he led the peaceful uprising that ended Soviet-backed rule in Prague and emerged in charge at the mediaeval Prague castle.

“I am extremely moved,” an emotional Prime Minister Petr Necas told Czech Television when told of Havel’s death.

“He was a symbol and the face of our republic, and he is one of the most prominent figures of the politics of the last and the start of this century. His departure is a huge loss. He still had a lot to say in political and social life.”

Havel became a guarantee of peaceful transition to democracy and allowed the small country of 10 million to punch well above its weight in international politics…

The complete article is at Reuters.

H/T Reason Magazine

Also at Reason, a 2003 article by Matt Welch, Velvet President

…Like Orwell, Havel was a fiction writer whose engagement with the world led him to master the nonfiction political essay. Both men, in self-described sentiment, were of “the left,” yet both men infuriated the left with their stinging criticism and ornery independence. Both were haunted by the Death of God, delighted by the idiosyncratic habits of their countrymen, and physically diminished as a direct result of their confrontation with totalitarians (not to mention their love of tobacco). As essentially neurotic men with weak mustaches, both have given generations of normal citizens hope that, with discipline and effort, they too can shake propaganda from everyday language and stand up to the foulest dictatorships.

Unlike Orwell, Havel lived long enough to enjoy a robust third act, and his last six months in office demonstrated the same kind of restless, iconoclastic activism that has made him an enemy of ideologues and ally of freedom lovers for nearly five decades…

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