Leading article: The velvet revolutionary

Share
Related Topics

Vaclav Havel was a man who transcended his nation and lived many lives. When his death was announced yesterday, his myriad achievements vied with each other for precedence in his legacy. He was a playwright, a cultural luminary, an anti-communist dissident, a human rights campaigner, a political prisoner. He was a peaceful revolutionary who became the first president – and the father – of the land he had inspired to its rebirth. Twice married, he was also reputed to be a great lover.

His improbable career, which saw him negotiate the end of communism with the very ideological enemies who had imprisoned him, was at every juncture a true mirror of the age. He had known wealth as a child, dispossession as a young man; exhilaration and hope – during the Prague Spring – and bitter disappointment, when the Soviet tanks enforced what became grimly known as the Brezhnev doctrine in 1968.

But the climax was surely his acclamation in Prague's Wenceslas Square, when he led the 1989 Velvet Revolution to its triumph, and accelerated the liberation of Central Europe. Three years later, he could do little more than watch as the country split in two – acrimoniously, but again without bloodshed. Havel's acceptance of difference, not a cast of mind ever nurtured by communism, made that "velvet" divorce possible. His last 10 years in public office were as President of the Czech Republic.

Havel never concealed his aversion to the trappings of high office or his preference for the theatrical world over that of politics, even as he appreciated the absurdity of what they shared.

That he felt called upon to engage with both, and was equal to the challenge, placed him in a class of his own, even in those years of extraordinary events and accidental leaders. It is not only nostalgia that makes him seem a model of the very qualities so grievously lacking in Europe's politicians today.

The temptation is always to say of remarkable individuals that they changed history and that the world will never again see their like. With Vaclav Havel, both the man and the turbulent times he lived in make those sentiments an understatement of the truth.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
‘Would Gary Lineker depart if his pay were halved, and would it affect the quality of MoTD?’  

BBC Me – no Archers, and no Fiona Bruce

DJ Taylor
Feeling the heat: David Cameron last week in Lanzarote  

The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Joan Smith
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit