November 26, 2014


Underrated: Václav Havel (DANIEL JOHNSON, December 2014, Standpoint)

There are plenty of pseudo-revolutionaries in history. Václav Havel was the real thing.

According to the magnificent new biography (Havel: A Life; Atlantic Books, £25) by Michael Zantovsky, who was for many years Havel's spokesman and is now the Czech Ambassador in London, there was nothing accidental about the apotheosis of the dissident playwright who became the hero of the Velvet Revolution and the first President of a free Czechoslovakia exactly 25 years ago this month. It happened because Havel understood that those who overthrow a system have a responsibility to prove that they are morally superior to those they have ousted. He was magnanimous in victory: "Those who have for many years engaged in a violent and bloody vengefulness against their opponents are now afraid of us. They should rest easy. We are not like them."  [...]

There was no secret agreement between Havel and the Communists -- Zantovsky quashes the rumours to this effect that have circulated ever since. "What had always distinguished Havel from many of his fellow dissidents was his sense of the possible," writes Zantovsky. He became President by popular acclaim because he had earned it: by spending five years in jail, by keeping alight the Charter 77 movement, by fearlessly satirising the regime in his plays. (Havel was perhaps the only man ever to have deserved both the Nobel Prize for Peace and for Literature. He received neither.) Havel earned his 13 years as head of state by proving that a revolutionary can make the transition to statesman.

Posted by at November 26, 2014 9:00 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus