Today was a rough day. A leader of the Velvet Revolution, the first president of Czechoslovakia and (later) the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, passed away. I did not know him personally (of course) and had the Fates smiled on me and allowed me to meet him when I visited Prague several years ago there would have been very little we could say to each other thanks to a significant language barrier, but this is one world leader whose passing leaves a gray cloud hanging over my soul.
Vaclav Havel was an inspiration to me and many others of my generation, people who wanted to see that a dissident writer, jailed numerous times for his bold writings against the communist state, could promote nonviolence...and win. Sure, our history books have Gandhi, and the American Civil Rights Era had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but our era -- the late 80s -- seemed removed. Vaclav Havel showed us that standing for one's belief in a nonviolent way did not mean that one was passive and it most certainly did not mean accepting defeat. It meant struggling over and over every day to make the world a better place and in the end that works.
I did not always agree with Havel. There were times in this post-9/11 world that he supported military or government actions that I felt were harmful -- or at the very least not conducive to promoting a peaceful existence. Regardless, I respected him because I knew from reading so many of his essays and books that he struggled with the idea of making moral and ethical decisions to run a country with the apparent necessity to make harsh political decisions. Juggling politics and ethics was, to him, the Art of the Impossible. A CNN article on his passing quoted Havel as saying, "'I would be glad if it was felt that I have done something generally useful,' he said. 'I don't care much about personal fame or popularity. I would be satisfied with the feeling that I had a chance to help with something in general, something good. That history gave me that chance.'"
In my mourning I was comforted by a student who told me that he remembered what I taught about Havel and the Velvet Revolution -- and the student said "'I'm sad to hear your hero is gone, but that doesn't mean what he did in the past won't have an inpact on others in the future. So see it this way: he is still very much alive to us through history and maybe one day his words/actions may inspire a new revolutionist for the future.'" Yes, may that be true. May Havel's words, his passion for understanding the human endeavor, and his desire to improve the world through nonviolent means be an inspiration for all future generations.
Vaclav Havel, I will miss you. Rest in peace.
(For more on my obsession, you can see an earlier blog post here and here.)