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Vaclav Havel: Artist And Freedom Fighter

The politics, life and vision of the great Vaclav Havel, artist and freedom fighter.

Vaclav Havel, nominated for the Presidency reads out the names of Czechoslovakia’s first non-communist Government since 1948. Thousands of people gathered on Sunday, Dec. 10, 1989 in Prague’s infamous Wenceslas Square to bare witness to the success of their peaceful revolution. (AP)

Vaclav Havel, nominated for the Presidency reads out the names of Czechoslovakia’s first non-communist Government since 1948. Thousands of people gathered on Sunday, Dec. 10, 1989 in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to bare witness to the success of their peaceful revolution. (AP)

The great Czech artist, playwright, dissident, president, freedom fighter, philosopher Vaclav Havel died Sunday at 75. For anyone who lived through fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, Vaclav Havel was a hero of dizzying dimensions.

The playwright in prison who insisted on the moral and real power of the powerless. Who earned real power as Czechoslovakia’s president in the Velvet Revolution. Who laughed and told the whole world that truth and love must prevail over lies and hate.

This hour On Point: the life and vision of Vaclav Havel.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Oldřich Černý, is the Executive Director of both the Forum 2000 Foundation and the Prague Security Studies Institute.

Carol Rocamora, the founder of the Philadelphia Festival theatre for New Plays and is currently on the faculty of the Tisch School of the Arts in New York University. She is the author of Acts of Courage: Vaclav Havel’s Life In The Theatre.

Michael Meyer, is currently Director of Communications for the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Between 1988 and 1992, he was Newsweek’s Bureau Chief for Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans, writing more than 20 cover stories on the break-up of communist Europe and German unification. He’s the author of The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Photographs

From Tom’s Reading List

The Guardian “The former president of the Czech Republic was the epitome of a dissident because he persisted in his struggle, patiently, non-violently, with dignity and wit.”

Project Syndicate “PRAGUE – I recently read an article entitled “Politics as Theatre,” a critique of all that I have tried to do in politics. It argued that in politics, there is no place for a realm as superfluous as theatre. To be sure, in the early months of my presidency, some of my ideas demonstrated more theatrical flair than political foresight. But the author erred in one fundamental issue: he misunderstood both the meaning of theatre and a crucial dimension of politics.”

Project Syndicate “Aristotle once wrote that every drama or tragedy requires a beginning, a middle, and an end, with antecedent following precedent. The world, experienced as a structured environment, includes Aristotle’s inherent dramatic dimension, and theatre is an expression of our desire for a concise way of grasping this essential element. A play of no more than two hours always presents, or is meant to present, a picture of the world and an attempt to say something about it.”

Slate “Back in the early 1980s, when Poland was frozen under martial law and Czechoslovakia, as it was then still called, suffered under one of the stupidest of all of Communist regimes, the Polish dissidents and the Czech dissidents resolved to have a meeting. By separate routes, they made their way to their mutual border, high in the Tatra mountains. I once saw the photographs that were taken to mark this improbable occasion: a dozen blue-jeaned activists, veterans of Solidarity and Charter 77, grinning widely, toasting the camera, celebrating the fact that they had eluded their respective secret police services once again. It looked like a lot of fun.”

Playlist

“Magicke noci” The Plastic People of the Universe
“Plastic People” Frank Zappa

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  • gary c

    finally something of substance to wash my brain of that silly time wasting Tim Tebow show last week, welcome back to journalism. 

    • Jasoturner

      I dunno.  America is ostensibly this “religious” country.  Some even call us a “Christian” nation.  In that context, talking about Tebow and his role in American culture seems not so silly.  Indeed, if we could somehow extract religion from partisan politics, it seems to me that would be a huge win for the country.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Good Luck with that!  ‘Compassionate’ ‘conservative’ ‘Christian’, ‘born-again’, NO matter what the person’s background, will get the vote of a lot of un-thinking individuals!

        • Modavations

          Come on dude,just tell us about how you were molested by Priests.You’ve born the burden too long.For gods sake,just tell us the story.You’ll be liberated.By the way,what percent of pervert Priests are Dem.and what % are Republican?

  • http://www.joshuahendricksonnovelist.blogspot.com/ Joshua Hendrickson

    This week we lost three interesting people:  one politician (Kim Jong Il), one writer (Christopher Hitchens), and one man who was both writer and politician, Vaclav Havel.  Of the three, Havel was the worthiest human being by far, although I respected Hitchens for many (but not all) of his opinions and his courage. As for Kim Jong Il, he kept on breathing far longer than he deserved; I don’t believe the reports of his death by heart failure, for the man never actually possessed such an organ.

    I recall Noam Chomsky using Havel as an example of the difference between how the Communists dealt with dissidents and how our own American-sponsored right wing dictatorships in Latin America dealt with theirs.  Communists usually locked up their dissidents; in Havel’s case, he, like Nelson Mandela, famously went from prisoner to president.  In the case of the El Salvadoran dictatorship which we sponsored in the Reagan years, their dissidents were taken by death squads and their bodies dumped on the side of the road somewhere.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDH4GYJMIUFU373W3XUQVD2V4E Patrick

      Great point.  When is On Point going to do an hour on Archbishop Romero?  Why is it that we lionize dissidents in “enemy” countries but ignore dissidents in our proxy states (where we actually have influence and responsibility).  In Kissinger/Pinochet’s Chile, they would have disappeared Havel.

      • Modavations

        You mean the communist of El Salvador?They already did a movie.Piniochet’s Chile is the envy of S.America and no Allende wasn’t offed,he commited suicide

    • Modavations

      What exactly did that fossil ever do in his life, except praise every despot Communist regime on the planet

  • Terry Tree Tree

    The art of this Freedom Fighter will be with us!
        Thank you for the program!

  • Terry Tree Tree

    The caption says they gathered to bare witness to the change! 
       Some former streakers would rather bear witness, at such a solemn and important announcement.

  • Jasoturner

    From what I know of Mr. Havel, he was a great man in human history.  Few of us can even aspire to such achievements.  He truly had the courage of his convictions.

  • David Gann

    The point needs to be made that the tyranny that Vaclav Havel struggled against, and was victorious over, was a “left wing” government, swept into power by the Marxist-Leninist far left, as part of the former Soviet Union, after World War II.
     
    Also most worthy of note is the affect of Ronald Reagan’s policy of calling an evil empire an “evil empire”, and the encouragement this telling of the truth had on people like Havel and other “right wing” leaders, seeking an end to the oppression of the political left Marxist, behind the “Iron Curtain”. 
     
    I am old enough to remember the cold war and the cries from the political left in this country defending the Soviet Union and Marxism.
     
    And the far left has not changed at all. Anyone who considers the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as “freedom fighters” is just plain sadly mistaken. The proof is in the outcome. And communist Cuba is in fact, simply another version of the Communist Government of Czechoslovakia that Havel helped to defeat.
     
    It is amazing to me the number of survivors of the former Soviet Block that I have met and spoken with, who firmly believ that this nation is headed down the same path as pre Havel Czechoslovakia. Trapped by a centralized, all powerful state government.
     
    No doubt the term conservative will be used during this broadcast to describe the Marxist government that was put down during the “Velvet Revolution”. However it must be noted that the term applies only in the most generic sense, if at all.
     
    In summary, Vaclav Havel, as far as his political struggle is concerned, was far more in line with Ronald Reagan and the conservative right in this country, than any left wing politician or pundit, either behind the Iron Curtain of his day or sitting in Washington D.C. D.C. today.
     
    Vaclav Havel was a true “Right Wing Freedom Fighter”!

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Thanks David.  It is very frustrating that people treat “socialist” and “Nazi” or “fascist” or “communist” all as interchangeable…

      Neil

      • Modavations

        I certainly do.Why are you guys forever hiding behind names.I’m a liberal,no progressive,no democrat,no socialist,no,no…….By the way,your lights are efficient only if you leave them on continuously.I turn mine off and on all the time.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Hundie, Modavations is leading the charge again!   Where are you?  You are dedicated to backing up your leader!

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          Look them all up, if you are confused.  For your information, none of those are equivalent to “liberal” or “progressive” or “Democrat”.

          Those English speakers are *so* *tricky*!  They have a different word … for everything!

          (Tip of my hat to Steve Martin…)

          Neil

    • Anonymous

      That’s an interesting idea. However you are very much mistaken. Vaclav Havel was against right wing ideology as much as he was against the ideology of the totalitarian former USSR. There is a huge difference between Social Democracies and the idea of social justice. Which is what Havel stood for not the kind of divisive nonsense.

       

      • Modavations

        What pretell is Social Justice?Havel and Lady Thatcher were mates.I’ll check out Reagan,but I hold anything you say,suspect

    • Modavations

      Absolutely right.You want to see life in the East.Jeffee88′s paradise.check out the movie “Lives of Others”.It’s about poets and actresses in E.Garmany.Havel loathed the left and no Jeffee,Che and Fidel are not cool.

  • Kenkneram

    Sorry but I’ve been beten far too meny times. I don’t do “PASSIVE” resistence. If you realy want freedom then KILL YOUR OPPRESSORS!

    • Terry Tree Tree

      I am sorry to hear that you have been beaten!  So many questions, with too many answer possibilities.  Here’s hoping for a more sane, realistic, peaceful world!

  • Chris

    My first hearing of Mr. Havel was from a funny audio essay by Kevin Kling called Czechoslovakia.

  • Kurt Daims

    It seems that some countries model their leaders on poets and writers, while in our country follows businessmen and military men.  Can the panelists recommend some writing of Mr. Havel which might explore this difference ?

    • Alan in NH

      A good question. Something in our history, our cultural makeup, I guess. When we pick a leader from among the ranks of the writers and poets, hwever, I think we will have arrived at some higher level of civilization.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Weaving down the road of civilization between the ditches of FAR Left, and FAR Right, trying to utilize the BEST of each, while avoiding the WORST of each, is our fate, until one or the other WORST takes over! 
        Those that want a religion to control this country, want THEIR religion to control it!  You DON’T hear ‘Christians’ clammoring for a ‘Muslim’ government, or vice-versa! 
        Those that yearn for slavery, DON’T want to be the slaves!
        ‘Supremists’ do NOT clammor for the ‘Supremacy’ of a race different than theirs! 
        ‘War!!’ is usually the cry of ‘Chicken-Hawks’, that personally won’t sacrifice themselves or their loved ones!
        Thus, we weave down life’s road, veering toward one ditch, then the other!

    • Anonymous

      Interesting points. Now I suppose this has something to do with Vaclav Havel in some way but the gist for some reason seems buried in your prose.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Vaclav Havel led his people from the ditch of one totalitarian regime, without steering them into the other totalitarian ditch?

        • Modavations

          This from the guy who thinks Kim(I’m so Ill) Jong is cool.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            WHERE did I say ANYTHING complimentary of Kim Jong Il? 
               Can’t you read?

    • Modavations

      As usual,you comment on everything and are wrong 100% of the time,unless in trhis case,where you make no sense at all.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Interesting that Havel saw human rights as “taking the back seat to economic interests,” as Oldrich Cerny was telling Tom, if I heard him right — looking at  Asia, I believe he said.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I am wondering about the “plastic people,” whether Havel was trying to express the way humanity expresses itself through suppression and rigorous thought/emotional control.  Are the plastic people strictly absurd?  Or was he trying to liberate the plastic people from their plasticity?

  • Ellen Dibble

    So interesting that Kafka (who worked with the accident insurance company circa 1908, reportedly initiating the idea of the hard hat, the civilian hard hat, anyway an operatchik) wrote about the dehumanized people of a culture in Der Prozess, The Trial, about dehumanized people way back about 1925, as I recall.  A precursor for sure, but in a very different government from the USSR.

  • Ellen Dibble

    One more thing, I did visit Prague in about 1986, to see actually what I viewed as humanity that could not be expressed in the West, given what Havel apparently now sees (saw) as the preeminence of “economic interests.”  I thought Christmas would be a good time to see that.  I did.  But I visited Kafka’s haunts, and didn’t think of Havel at all.

  • Weatheralldesign

    I first went to the then Czechoslovakia in 1988 on the invitation of a woman who wrote to ask me to come teach them the American version of women’s lacrosse. I brought with me a small group of U.S. Team members and we became fast friends with a wonderful group of people there – our new friends had menial jobs – swept the subways etc- and yet they were quietly poets and musicians, so aware of their history and culture. I returned in ’89 just before the revolution and twice again in the early 90′s. I’m was never suprised they chose a poet to be their leader.

  • Lea

    I grew up in Czechoslovakia, was 17 in 1989. One of my strongest
    memories of Vaclav Havel as president is his first new year address
    delivered just a few days after he was elected. He started with “You
    didn’t elect me to lie to you. Our country is not blossoming.” It was
    such a contrast to the pre-fab addresses we were used to then. It felt
    that finally words started to reclaim their meaning, the facade of lies
    has collapsed. Such exhilarating times.

    • Jasoturner

      If only an American president had the guts to say something like that!  President Obama, are you reading?

      And by the way Lea, that was very gracefully put.

  • Everett Barber

    Perhaps a minor point, but for the record, the marvelous subway systsem in Prague, referred to by an earlier caller, was built by the Soviets, early on in their occupation.

    • Jasoturner

      Thanks for the memories.  I remember taking those subways all over Prague with my 11 year old daughter as we explored the city a couple years back.  They are marvelous indeed!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, and Hitler built the autobahn.

      • Modavations

        righteous

  • Modavations

    Go see the excellent movie “Lives of Others”.

  • Anonymous

    What’s really a shame is how Hungry, one of the Czech Republics neighbors fascism is now rearing it’s ugly head.

    http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2011/12/yale-professor-hungary-could-be-going-fascist.html

    • Modavations

      Romanians still make $200.00 a month.The Checks were lucky they had Havel

      • Anonymous

        How can you be taken seriously if you can’t spell Czech? Check is something you use to pay bills.
        Or maybe you should check that spelling for Czechoslovakians. Which is not what they are anymore as Slovakia and the Czech Republic split.
        Something you seem to be ignorant about.

        • Modavations

          I had no idea they were faminished in Budapest.

    • Modavations

      When I read this quickly,I thought you meant Serbia was getting hungry for war.Then I realized you were refering to Budapest.Now if things were reversed,once again I’d be a a–hole.

  • Modavations

    If Magaret Thatcher liked Havel,I like Havel.Actually I love anyone who hates Communism

  • Modavations

    I remember the first time I went to Berlin.I kept asking my bros,let’s go to East Berlin.They said you’ve been in East Berlin all day.I guess I got there too late.One neat thing about Berlin was there are bullet holes absolutely everywhere.It’s a guy thing

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Neat thing that those bullet holes were the results that people were shot trying to escape the captivity?

      • Modavations

        Again.You comment on everything,but are wrong 100% of the time

        • Terry Tree Tree

          You left of the “J”! 
             I comment on everything?  I’m wrong 100% of the time?   Moda NEVER lies?

          • Modavations

            This is Terences idea of a lie.He actually said this.”Moda lies,he says he taught Indiana Jones archeology.That would make him 100 years old”.If this is what you mean by I lie,then I’m guilty as charged

          • Terry Tree Tree

            You keep leaving the ‘J’ off, so I presume you are making a serious statement!  You said over a month ago, that you would mark with a ‘J’ what you intended as a joke, or attempt at irony!

    • Anonymous

      Oh that’s so neat, bullet holes everywhere.
      How old are you? 

      • Modavations

        60.They have a canal in the middle of Berlin.The Germans were on one side and the Russians on the other.There are some beautiful cemeteries where the statuary have no heads.

        • Anonymous

          You should rent Stalingrad the movie.
          That’s one of the best war films ever made.

          • Modavations

            Never saw it,but I take this to be satire.I thought We Were Soldiers was excellent.

          • Anonymous

            Satire? Stalingrad is anything but. It’s one of the most realistic films about the horrors of war ever made.
            Come and See is hard to find but it is also one of the most realistic films about the horrors of war through the eyes of a young boy in Belarus.  If you know anything about WW2 history you will know about Belarus. If you don’t shame on you.

          • Modavations

            I take you’re being on the level,so I certainly will see it and thanks.I know nothing about Belarus(other then it’s location)and thanks for calling me an a–hole,which is why I didn’t take you seriously in the first place

          • Anonymous

            I don’t care if you see these films or not.
            If you don’t it’s your loss.
            As far as you being a SOB well if your going to act like one you should be able to take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

            In another good war film, Patton, he knows he’s and SOB and he has no problem with it. Maybe watch that semi-fictional film and learn something.

          • Modavations

            I went to Boston College as a Pol.Sci.major

    • Terry Tree Tree

      NOT this guy!

  • Laradcham

    I knew nothing of this man, of his courage, of his fight, but I am MOST intrigued after your story on him and have order his plays, at least the ones I could find in english and also ordered a book that Carol, from your panel, had written about Havel and his plays.  As a writer, a poet, a future playwright and author…I feel the need to learn about Havel’s body of work, so that I understand how I can influence my own country that appears to be in the middle of a mid-life crisis…America! 

    Thank you so much for showing this man in a light that would make a mother proud…he deserves our attention!

  • Modavations

    Who freed the modern world Jeffee88,who defeated the Evil Empire Jeffee88,it was Ronaldo Magnus,Pope J.Paul,Gorby,Yelstin,Thatcher,Lech,Havel.

    • Anonymous

      I think you have some serious issues.
      Reagen did nothing to free anyone. The USSR collapsed from within.

      Ronaldo Magnus? You have to be kidding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josef-Rosler/747670868 Josef Rosler

    I was there when political scene has changed and I am thankful till this day to Vaclav Havel for his presense. The world has lost one of the most friendliest person. There will never be another Havel like him. Thank you Vaclave.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    Vaclav Havel attained a certain level of greatness, but he is also a perfect example of how fragile greatness is when one is involved in the world of politics. He supported the Bush criminal regime’s invasion and occupation of “Iraq.” This was something of a propaganda coup for the BCR, giving them an opportunity to gin up a marketing slogan – “New Europe.”

    He also was a backer of Neoliberalism, the discredited scheme to export jobs, destroy unions, drive poor farmers from their land in third wold countries, and in general wreak havoc worldwide. This also was a result of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. The enemy being Soviet Communism, the friend, the U.S. ruling elite. Politics makes strange bedfellows. That would be a good title for a play.

  • http://www.fisz.co.uk/ Polish translator

    I didn’t know Havel was an artist too!!!

  • Modavations

    Please scroll down and read the post of David Gann from 10:59 AM,yesterday

  • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

    Pay attention to Václav Havel’s words, they mean as much for global politics today as they did for Czechoslovakia a few years ago.

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