December 18, 2011, saw the passing of Václav Havel, an exemplar of moral engagement. Havel was a playwright and poet who became the leader of the opposition to Communist rule in Czechoslovakia starting in the 1960s.
He helped launch the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution” in Prague on November 17, 1989—which began with student protests, expanded to include labor unions, and led to his election as President of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989.
For his role in the Velvet Revolution, Havel has been recognized as a leader comparable to Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi.
What resemblances do you see between the Velvet Revolution and the Occupy Movement that is spreading around the world today?
Havel was a model of moral agency, both inhibitive moral agency (he was a gentle man who resisted any call to violence) and proactive agency (criticizing Communist domination and seeking democracy, even though he was harassed and imprisoned for his views).
He used his plays, poems, and essays to spread his anti-Communist message. Even while plays such as The Audience gained critical acclaim around the world, they were banned in Czechoslovakia.
Havel’s most well known essay was “The Power of the Powerless,” a title carried forward into the award-winning documentary “The Power of the Powerless,” narrated by Jeremy Irons. (See trailer)
Tom Stoppard’s play Rock n’ Roll, is dedicated to Havel, and part of it was inspired by Havel’s writings. (See trailer).
Like Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other great crusaders against tyranny and terrorism, Havel’s name should echo in history as an example of what a single individual can achieve on behalf of peace and justice.
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology