This holiday week also marks the passing of one of the great freedom fighters of the last fifty years. As a dissident playwright in what was then the satellite country of Czechoslovakia in the Soviet Union – an empire of incredible and brutal suppression of individual rights and free self-expression – Havel courageously led the 1989 “Velvet Revolution” against communist rule.
The Velvet Revolution began a process that culminated in restoring democracy to a peoples long oppressed spiritually, politically and in every other respect. He became President of Czechoslovakia from December 1989 until July 1992, leading the nation through the treacherous waters of re-establishing a free society in a place where the infrastructure for freedom had been utterly destroyed. After the nation split in two along ethnic lines – the Czech Republic and Slovakia – Havel served as President of the Czech Republic from 1993 until just before the nation joined the European Union in 2003.
The significance of Havel’s bravery in openly defying the Soviet communists cannot be appreciated without understanding that opposition to the regime, even suspected opposition, meant a life of being ostracized and persecution for the individual and his family and friends; removal from important positions in all aspects of commerce, education, culture et al; detention, interrogations, imprisonment and torture, or banishment to “re-education camps” (gulags) in Siberia, where forced labor and harsh conditions often meant incredible deprivation and suffering, or death. That a talented playwright could make the transition to a very astute and effective political leader who could guide a nation out of bondage is another mark of Havel’s greatness.
Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery salutes this inspirational human being. “Mejor morir en pies, que vivir en rodillas!”( “It is better to die on your feet, than live on your knees!”) (Praxedis G. Guerrero)