Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vaclav Havel (1936 - 2011)

Vaclav Havel was primarily an eloquent humanitarian playwright, a passionate advocate and practitioner of non-violent resistance to injustice and oppression.  His famous motto was: “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred”. 


In 1968, he was one of the supporters for the Prague Spring - the reform movement against the Communist dictatorship that was brutally suppressed.  As a result, he was banned from the theatre.  Instead of being cowed into submission, he became more politically active. He continued to write plays exposing the absurdities of life in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule, such as "The Power of the Powerless". His manuscripts could only be published clandestinely in Czechoslovakia. In 1977 he was one of the co-founders of the Charter 77 manifesto, which criticized the Czechoslovakian government of failing to respect human rights.  He was imprisoned many times.  Yet he never gave up peaceful resistance, nor did he turn to violence. 


In 1989, the peaceful Velvet Revolution brought down the Communist government in Czechoslovakia, as the tide turned against decades of Communist rule in Eastern Europe.  In December, Vaclav Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia.  He resigned from the presidency in 1992 in opposition to the Slovaks’ declaration of independence.  After the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia, he was elected the first president of the Czech republic in 1993.  After stepping down in 1993, he continued to speak and work for human rights, and remained one of the most respected and influential figures.  He jointly nominated Liu XiaoBo (劉曉波) for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.


Czech is a beautiful place, steeped in history.  Charles University in Prague, found in 1348, was the first university in central Europe.  John Hus (1369 - 1415) was one of the earliest church reformers, speaking out against indulgences and other corrupt practices, preceding Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.  He refused to recant and was burnt at the stake.   Czech was formerly Bohemia.

Perhaps it was this rich heritage of independent thinking, humanist tradition, and strong backbone that produce people like Vaclav Havel.  He set an example for all of us.  How I wish that we have more people like him here in Hong Kong.



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