I am aware that many of you may not know who this man is but let me tell you. You may have heard his name just around before Christmas, as sadly he passed away. In some way, this is a late tribute to the impact he has had on myself. He was a Czech writer and politician. He was the last prime minister of Czechoslovakia and the first of Czech Republic, helping bring them out of difficult times of communism and so on.
Whilst he was brought up in a family of intellectuals, he had rather humble beginnings. He trained in the military for a few years and after, embarked on his writing career. He wrote many plays and plenty of poetry, essays and fiction as well. His popularity as a playwright in the United States is still prominent, but whilst many of his plays were being performed on stage in his own country with great impact, his plays were at one point banned from the stage and he was even unable to leave Czechoslovakia to watch any of his own plays being performed. It is unsurprising to see how he was interested in his country’s society and politics.
In his political career, he remarked that he preferred a politics that grows from the heart and not from a thesis. Also, in his words, “One simple electrician with his heart in the right place can influence the history of his nation.”
For me, it’s not just his creativity and success as a playwright that inspires me to follow him and his works. As I’ve been reading through his political memoirs lately, it has shown me his conviction that politics should never deny its heart and as a fresh prime minister, he too had to put that to the challenge in his own integrity and political personality. It wasn’t some dreamy ideal, his career as a creative writer for the theatre hadn’t blurred his metaphors on reality. He understood that politics is and should be by definition social action, realistic progress, a genuine service to its citizens. He knew it needed to be pragmatic in order to achieve anything political and sustain it well, but he argued that it’s pragmaticsm should not translate to politicians and powers surrendering ideals and hopes, nor denying their heart. Otherwise, he describes it as “mere self-propelled, technocratic processes”.
His plays, of those that I have read, have their position within The Theatre of the Absurd genre. Plays that most often deal with our struggle for meaning and identity in the midst of such changing, difficult and broken objectives such as law, government and religion. From this, he never planned to go into politics and was quite surprised as to how it happened. But he realised “you can’t spend your whole life criticising something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it”. This stands as just another reason as to why I respect his life and works. He did not profess to be a politican, nor did he plan to be the prime minister and change the history of his nation, even to change some of the way European politics looks like to this day.
What Vaclav Havel taught me is that “everything is political, even a rock concert”. At first that repelled me from the idea but here I am, also professing not to be a politican with no passion to enter into a political career, yet nonetheless I’m realising more and more than everything I do, say and more powerfully, everything I write and want to write has so much to do with politics. He was someone who was convinced of being a man of truth and a man of his heart, but still knew that when the truth and heart was in the right place, he could make a difference for the better for his world. It wasn’t just the writing and the philosophy that made him such an inspiration, it was the fact he was willing to live it out.
Rest in Peace Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011).