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Books & Reviews

Vaclav Havel: A Playwright, Revolutionary, President & Prophet


“The Garden Party: and Other Plays.” By Vaclav Havel (Author)

With the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the world has lost a rational humanist and a gentle man who crusaded relentlessly for the establishment of moral values in society and polity. By pursuing these values throughout his life, he eventually became a prophet.

The end of the year witnessed the sad demise of the legendry Czech leader, Vaclav Havel, who died a hero. He crusaded relentlessly throughout his life for the cause of democracy as a means of awakening, Power to the Powerless.

A poet, playwright, political dissident, president, philosopher, and a philanthropist, Havel successfully grasped through his rare intellect ordinary people’s feelings and aspirations and provided ordinary Czech’s an outlet in the form of a bloodless revolution known as Velvet Revolution that unseated the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989. Vaclav led his country with unique moral guidance as they walked down to the difficult path of democracy.

Widely regarded as a gentle man, he began his social and political career as an undeterred and uncompromising play wright who was misinterpreted by the communist rulers who conveniently made him their scapegoat.

His will was a perfect symbol of truth because it reflected the popular will, as voice of people is the voice of God, which eventually elevated him to the level of a prophet, a rare feat people receive in life while engaging in politics.

Vaclav can be thereby placed almost on a par with Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, allowing for minor differences due to the conditions in their respective countries.

One cannot forget his deep longing for the life of an ordinary manual labourer when the USSR’s red army entered to forcibly occupy the Czechoslovakian government and replaced it with a puppet Soviet regime in 1968.

Havel was found working with daily labourers: perhaps to hear the first-hand account of the trauma and agony of the labouring classes and of the common man’s sufferings in daily life which found expressions in his literary works.

His artistic skill, manifested in his creative writings, made him an immortal harbinger of social and political reforms in his country. His views invited the harsh wrath of the Soviet controlled communist regime in Prague.

His first play, Garden Party, published in 1963, needs particular mention in this context as it severely ridiculed the Communists and not only earned him very enthusiastic reviews from critics but also annoyed the Communist rulers.

Due to his tireless and fearless reformist zeal, he often found himself serving prison time thereby portraying himself as a successful dissident playwright who assumed actively the role of a peaceful protester. It was, in fact, this role which led him to the peak of his social and political career, first as a very well-renowned public figure of his country and finally as the charismatic and popular president of Czechoslovakia.

As president, Havel served his country and countrymen for 13 years, during which time he introduced several reforms which laid the foundation for a truly “civil society” based on popular will or consent as described by a great British liberal philosopher, John Locke.

While serving as the President with limited powers, he preached the true functions of a democracy and the “moral origins of genuine politics” to his colleagues and the citizens, much like Gandhiji had.

However, the fruits of these efforts, waned later as the past decade witnessed a gradual decay of values.

As a consequence, he was very much frustrated by the West inspired rising tide of market-consumerism as an offshoot of globalisation and liberalisation which infused Czech society, and was devoid of a “moral anchor”.

For this reason, Havel was viewed as an opponent of free market economics. This assumption, allowed the free market economist, Vaclav Klaus, the Czeck Republic’s prime minister at the time, to steal the show in 2003, when he replaced Havel as the president of the Czech Republic, in an uneven battle of fact over value, or over the “soul of democracy.”

In fact, it was Havel, whose determined and relentless efforts towards overall reforms of Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, that led to the Czech Spring, which influenced the course of history in the last decade of the 20th century.