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Vaclav Havel: renaissance man

UNITED NATIONS -- One year ago the renowned author, playwright, and former President of Czech Republic Vaclav Havel died at age 75. In tribute to this extraordinary European Renaissance Man, I'm reissuing my column in the spirit of memory and the season.

Havel's career as literary figure, intellectual and a political dissident, confronted the tyranny of the former communist regime, and oversaw the country's peaceful transition to democracy and a free market economy.

Havel was a man of gravitas and unbending moral authority whose persona was formed by the harsh winds of the Cold War but who was able to turn his classic Bohemian wit to chronicle the ferocious stupidity of the former socialist regime. He paid the price both in harassment, arrest, and the “non-person category” he gained in opposition, especially after the thwarted dreams of the Prague Spring in 1968.

His role as a dissident spanned the darkest decades of the old communist regime. In 1977, he and fellow dissidents supported the “Charter 77” human rights manifesto, which emerged as a political template from Central Europe to China today. His works and plays moreover were banned, and he was regularly harassed by the security police.

In that epic autumn of 1989, pro-democracy demonstrations jolted the old Soviet order, itself brittle and moribund. A political earthquake rocked Central Europe, the epicenter being in Berlin, but the reverberations ranged from Prague to Bucharest.

Without question, Havel's greatest play became the Velvet Revolution, the political drama the directed and helped choreograph during the tumultuous November.

Massive people-power protests that rocked Prague the capital and other centers, finally broke the grip of the ruling communists.

When the Soviet-backed regime collapsed in November 1989, Vaclav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia in an almost giddy affirmation that the Czechs who suffered under the suffocating socialist regime were finally now magically and breathlessly free. A fairy tale with a happy ending!

A New York Post headline shouted; “Bouncing Czechs.”

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