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Vaclav Havel's Lasting Words

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
December 18, 2011

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Vaclav Havel, who died on December 18, was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. He was also a renowned writer and humanist who became a staunch advocate for the Euro-Atlantic alliance and a leading global voice for human rights. Following are a few of his seminal writings and speeches.

"The Power of the Powerless" 1978 essay:

"Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves." Read More.

Address to Czechoslovakia after Communist overthrow, January 1, 1990:

"The recent period — and in particular the last six weeks of our peaceful revolution — has shown the enormous human, moral and spiritual potential, and the civic culture that slumbered in our society under the enforced mask of apathy. Whenever someone categorically claimed that we were this or that, I always objected that society is a very mysterious creature and that it is unwise to trust only the face it presents to you. I am happy that I was not mistaken." Read More.

Address to Czech Parliament October 12, 1993, on importance of NATO:

"I should like to repeat that joining NATO does not mean merely stepping under a protective umbrella held by others above our heads. It also means a substantial commitment, an act of recognition of our co-responsibility for the cause of freedom and democracy and of our readiness to make sacrifices in their defence in the event of an extremity." Read More.

"A Call for Sacrifice," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994:

"The world has suddenly become unusually complex and far less intelligible. The old order has collapsed, but no one has yet created a new one. Meanwhile, the "post-communist world" is constantly springing new surprises on the West: nations hitherto unheard of are awakening and want countries of their own. Highly improbable people from God knows where are winning elections. It is not even clear whether the very people who four years ago so astonishingly roused themselves from their torpor and overthrew communism do not actually miss that system today."Read More.

"A Farewell to Politics," September 19, 2002, New York:

"There is no more relying on the accidents of history that lift poets into places where empires and military alliances are brought down. The warning voices of poets must be carefully listened to and taken very seriously, perhaps even more seriously than the voices of bankers or stock brokers. But at the same time, we cannot expect that the world—in the hands of poets—will suddenly be transformed into a poem." Read More.

Interview with RFE/RL on 'Arab Spring' and human rights, February 2011:

"It shouldn't be that we can't discuss the killing of journalists in Russia, or the suppression of human rights, or all the warning signs surfacing in Russia because of oil and gas or other economic reasons. It's a big problem, but it's the same in Western relations with Arab states. There's a dilemma over how to balance concrete economic interests with critical opinions on the state of human rights. It's the human rights that suffer, and that's a great price to pay." Read More.

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