My high school and college years saw the world changing. The Cold War came to an end, the Warsaw Pact fell apart, and the Soviet Union collapsed. As Central and Eastern Europe transformed, two revolutions really made an impact on me. One was the Romanian Revolution of 1989. I remember it for how violent it was and the execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife after a swift and controversial trial. The other was the Czechoslovakian “Velvet Revolution,” which I remember for being the opposite of the Romanian Revolution. It was marked by peaceful protest rather than rioting and Communist government stepped down instead of being violently overthrown. The very public face of the Velvet Revolution was Vaclav Havel. I won’t pretend to know much of Havel prior to the Velvet Revolution but I remember studying about some of what he did during a Central and European History course I took in college. As a result, I developed a lot of respect for him. Today I was saddened to wake up and see in the world news that he had passed away.
I particularly like this passage from the BBC Obituary for Havel. Perhaps some of our politicians here in the United States could learn from his example.
Vaclav Havel was still feted around the world as a much-admired, if rather nervous, ambassador for his country and never a natural professional politician.
Havel was uncomfortable with the pomp and ceremony which surrounded him. He longed to return to full-time writing which was, perhaps, why his people so loved and respected him.