What a great life! This week’s Economist has a beautiful tribute to Vaclav Havel, the last leader of Czechoslavkia, and the first of the Czech Republic, who died late last month.
HAD communists not seized power in his homeland in 1948, Vaclav Havel would have been simply a distinguished Central European intellectual. That is how, triumphantly, he ended his career. In between came imprisonment, interrogations, house searches, isolation, heartbreak and betrayals—and adulation on the national and international stage.
Although a highly successful politician, four times head of state and the leader of one of the most famous revolutions in history, he was not a natural public figure. A sincere, impatient and humble man, he detested the pomposity, superficiality and phoney intimacy of politics.
Such leaders don’t come around often. It is difficult to emulate them – they are made from a different timber – but easy and necessary to remember them.
Yet Czechoslovakia’s dissident movement was still tiny and amateurish, way behind Poland’s Solidarity in muscle, or Hungary’s activists in sophistication. Mr Havel and his pals were all but unknown in their own country. Change was in the air, but many were uneasy about what it might bring: economic upheaval, American imperialism, the return of vengeful émigrés, German revanchism or Jewish property claims. The authorities tried to tar the dissidents as CIA stooges, and Mr Havel as the scion of a family of Nazi collaborators. But propaganda was no substitute for reform. Though the dissidents were feeble, they were kicking at a rotten door.