Sunday 18 December was a very sad day for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Václav Havel, the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic, passed away after a long illness. Havel was an immensely popular figure, and his courage, dignity, humanity and wisdom were widely admired.
Havel’s death is also very significant for everyone who cares about freedom and democracy because he dedicated his life to promoting these universal concepts. This culminated in his leading role in the Velvet Revolution in 1989, which overthrew the loathed communists, in power in Czechoslovakia since 1948. Despite being regularly persecuted by a regime that put him in prison several times, Havel acted with complete integrity. He consistently refused to compromise or to do things simply to please the communist government and gain an easy life in return.
Such behaviour was based on a phrase he often used: “Live in Truth”. Although he was regularly jailed, Havel always acted as if he was a free man. He loathed the lies, empty phrases and doublespeak of the regime, and argued that those acting according to their conscience, despite being punished for doing so, were truly free. And he urged Czechs, Slovaks and everyone else to “Live in Truth” too.
Just a few weeks ago, Czechs and Slovaks commemorated the Velvet Revolution of 1989. They looked back at the Czechoslovak chapter of the life-changing period 22 years ago, when the battle for democracy in the former Eastern Bloc was finally won. They looked back at the days when a humble playwright helped to change Czechoslovakia for ever.
Although Havel is no longer with us, his legacy remains. His moral authority, decency and integrity will continue to be an inspiration to many, not just in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And as human rights and justice continue to be denied to millions of people across the globe, Havel’s call to respect freedom and fairness is still as relevant today as it was in November 1989.