Vaclav Havel retires as Czech president
January 31, 2003 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Vaclav Havel is retiring as president of the Czech Republic this weekend. The former dissident and playwright-cum-politician is profiled in the Guardian, the Globe & Mail and Radio Prague's site; or you can browse the great man's website.
posted by plep (12 comments total)
And let's not forget ... he's a friend of the U.S., too.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2003

BBC: Remembering the Velvet Revolution.
Radio Prague's history of the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution.

(pardonyou? :- It's interesting that Mandela and Havel, possibly the two people in the world truly worthy of the title 'statesman', have very different opinions on this issue, and very different experiences too).
posted by plep at 9:22 AM on January 31, 2003

The Havel hagiographies are not at all surprising but talking to Czechs (I live in Brno), most of them are pleased to see the back of him.

Favourite Havel moment: in January 1990, he greeted Chancellor Kohl with the words: 'Why don't we work together to dissolve all political parties? Why don't we set up just one big party, the Party of Europe?'
posted by skellum at 10:00 AM on January 31, 2003

(pardonyou? :- It's interesting that Mandela and Havel, possibly the two people in the world truly worthy of the title 'statesman', have very different opinions on this issue, and very different experiences too).

Agreed. I've always deeply admired Mandela for his ability to endure what he went through, and to emerge as an eloquent leader and -- as you say -- statesman. That's why I was somewhat surprised to hear him say "...with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly..." Although many obviously agree with that assessment, it's not particularly "statesman-like."
posted by pardonyou? at 10:30 AM on January 31, 2003

I'm kind of disappointed that he signed the letter. It just doesn't fit into the picture I had. Anyway, Czech government says President Havel's position on Iraq has no bearing on official policy.
posted by arf at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2003

I've long been an admirer of Havel's, in his work both as a playwright and dissident. His political career is also a fascinating study in idealism-meets-bureaucratic reality.

Here's a speech "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World" which I think both succinctly characterizes the current age and makes a case for the spiritual, as opposed to the religious, in politics.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:13 PM on January 31, 2003

I have nothing useful to add, except -
This is a nifty post, plep - thanks for putting it together!
posted by anastasiav at 9:34 PM on January 31, 2003

Agreed. Thanks, plep.

One of my favorite essays by Vaclav Havel is from 1979, where he describes one night when he lost his temper after he and a friend were refused admission to a restaurant, and he started Kicking the Door.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:13 PM on January 31, 2003

skellum, i don't know what czechs you are talking about but the (impressively shallow) article you link to is written by a soviet (and then russian) journalist; all my czech friends are quite sad to see Havel go.

also, comparing between Havel and Mandela is quite disturbing. The first is the expression of non-violent resistance, the second is the expression of ANC, terror, and rivers of blood. While the end might justify the means in both cases, the two aren't nearly close in their stature, i hope.
posted by bokononito at 10:31 PM on January 31, 2003

Bokonito, thanks for your (impressively uninformed) take on the links. Zaitchek is, I believe, an American national working in Prague and Zizek is Slovenian. But what the hell does it matter where they come from when they're presenting objective facts?

The Czechs I talk to include doctors, teachers, business people, programmers, students and alcoholics on the street, ie folk who live in the Czech Republic, rather than people who perhaps have fond, sentimental images of the mother land from their new homes abroad.
posted by skellum at 3:09 AM on February 1, 2003

From South Africans (of many different ethnic groups) I know, Mandela is the country's 'favourite grandfather' as much for his role in promoting reconciliation (and thereby averting full-blown civil war) between different ethnic groups after he became president; for genuine commitement to democracy; and for making peace with his enemies, including the National Party which had played no small role in stirring up an extremely bloody ethnic conflict between Inkatha and the ANC in KwaZulu, during the last days of apartheid. In fact, for his ability to genuinely forgive his enemies.

Besides, the armed struggle he promoted, while it was certainly violent, was also proportionate; it was never targeted at civilians but more in terms of acts of sabotage and against a background of state terrorism. The apartheid government itself used extremely violent tactics against the opposition, against which non-violent tactics were had proved ineffective. Non-violence proved to be effective in eastern Europe, but was ineffective in South Africa (and it was tried before Mandela came along). Mandela is not a pacifist Gandhi, but maybe more comparable to Winston Churchill. Both types of politician can be great leaders, and while they are very different, both Mandela and Havel have great stature.
posted by plep at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2003

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