Václav Havel, esteemed HIP Trustee and dear friend,
has sadly passed away on Sunday, December 18, 2011.
Václav Havel: A Tribute by Dr. Zimbardo
Václav Havel was a philosopher and statesman, but in the first place a heroic leader in a world where most people either did nothing to protest injustices and inhumanity, or were profiting from the evil regimes. Starting out as a playwright and a poet – not a politician, Havel stood up, spoke out and challenged the ideology and the corruption of the Soviet occupation that were poisoning Czechoslovakia, his beloved country. And he suffered greatly for standing up: repeatedly imprisoned for 5 long years as a political dissident. Yet, Havel continued to lead by example, inspiring his fellow citizens to transform from a fatalistic, resigned population into a mass of activists united in peaceful opposition against the overwhelming Soviet Union’s military and police power, as well as the Czechoslovakian collaborators who ran the totalitarian Communist regime. Finally, in 1989, Havel’s thoughtful rhetoric prevailed, causing the ruling oppressive government to collapse. The newly free citizens elected Havel to be the first president of liberated Czechoslovakia and later again of the Czech Republic. The peaceful revolution, known as the Velvet Revolution, was unprecedented in history and became an inspiration for the liberation movements that followed, including the recent Arab Spring.
Even when termed out of his presidency post, Václav Havel stayed informed about world events, speaking out and acting on behalf of humanism, morality and democracy. I was honored to meet and get to know this modest man in 2005, when he presented me with the Havel Foundation’s* annual award for a lifetime’s work “devoted to enhancing the human condition.” Just this past October 5, we met again in Prague for his birthday celebration. I presented Václav with a special birthday card created by Mark Riva, which has now been transformed into the memorial artwork you see below. Recently before his passing, Havel became an honorary HIP Board Trustee, along with a great American hero who helped end the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg, by exposing the state secrets contained in the Pentagon Papers.
My dear friend Václav Havel is dead. Long live his inspiration and example to countless new heroes who will rise up to fill his shoes, acting with moral courage, and transforming compassion into courageous action, whenever confronted with challenges against overwhelming odds.
Founder and President
The Heroic Imagination Project
Dec. 18, 2011
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Reminiscence to Dr. Zimbardo from Daniela Retkova, former Head of the Press Department for Václav Havel
How hard it is even to write some words about his death. And yet his example rises strongly again and among people of all ages, young ones leading. His legacy is an encouragement to stand strongly for truth and love and fight against corrupted present and fight for future based on human rights, humanity, respect and kindness.
We gathered again by the St. Wenceslav’s statue and remembered… Huge Czech flag spread over our heads, hearts sinking with sorrow and sadness, we listened to Marta Kubisova‘s Modlitba pro Martu (A Prayer for Marta), her song of 1968 and then of the Velvet Revolution, and were ringing our keys again. Someone began singing our national anthem and I was overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness; people lighting candles, sharing memories. We walked down the square, stopped on the National Avenue, waited in a long line to light another candle at the November 17 Memorial and continued by the National Theatre over the bridge to Kampa where Leos Valka made a towering campfire and large poster with Vaclav Havel’s famous signature. People shared their memories, sang songs, and we all knew by that evening that we – our country- had changed.
This morning on my way to work, seeing a black flag over Prague castle and the big poster across the river, I knew that his guidance and inspiration would continue to lead us. Our consciousness woke up.
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Letter by Daniela Retkova’s son, Paul Linden-Retek
The Gift of a Humane Politics: Remembering Václav Havel
24 December 2011
Václav Havel was laid to rest this week. In the days since his death, Czechs and citizens from around the world have been slowly saying goodbye, paying their respects to a man who profoundly inspired them and whose moral presence the world so desperately needed. In the three days of state mourning, a space opened in which we have begun to comprehend the immensity of our loss, the depth of what happened to us with his passing. There is, within this space, the recognition of Havel’s great gift to us: not only the courage to hope and to see a future different and brighter than the present, but also the promise that politics itself can be caring and honest, humble and good, that politics can be humane. The gift of a humane politics is one that can now endure only in our hearts and in our efforts; it is a project begun but of course never finished by Havel. He gestured at it—this humanity can always only be gestured towards. It is, as all ideals, unachievable by our flawed and finite selves, the imperfection and vulnerability of which Havel understood so very well. But this, our inheritance from a great and kind man, is worthy of our reflection and, ultimately—as our task—worthy of our support.
Thousands followed behind Havel’s body—in dignity, with hushed voices and solemn steps—from where he had lain in the Old Town, across the Charles Bridge, climbing through the Lesser Quarter to the Prague Castle. As Havel’s casket was moved from the hearse to a horse-drawn military caisson—the same used for Czechoslovakia’s first President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk—the procession spread into the square beneath the palatial gates, awaiting the final leg of Havel’s journey before his state funeral.
The morning had begun gray and dim but now the clouds momentarily receded before a brilliant winter sun. Over the heads of countless mourners, the distant city skyline shimmered and beckoned mysteriously, its sparkle betraying sadness. The tones of Chopin’s Marche funèbre drew closer and, just as Havel’s casket reached us, the sky once again darkened and an icy rain began to fall. Grief and gratitude overflowed their artificial banks of decorum; spontaneously, we began to applaud; even those who might have thought applause has no place at a funeral, even they clapped. The applause swelled; people jingled keys in remembrance, a wonderfully apt reversal of a symbol of the Velvet Revolution: Goodbye, it’s time to go home was the old saying reserved for the Communists in 1989. It was an authentic, human moment, Havelian in its theatricality, rebellion and ironic play. Goodbye, it’s time to go home.
by Paul Linden-Retek, J.D./Ph.D. candidate at Yale Law School and Yale University’s Department of Political Science
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A message from Heroic Imagination Project advisor, Michael Vlastone:
Today the world lost Vaclav Havel – Czech dissident, playwright, and politician – one of the greatest contemporary intellectuals who did not only think, write and talk, but made an enormous difference through his courage and his actions. Havel’s leadership of the peaceful “velvet” revolution against the decades of Soviet ideology, tyranny and occupation is a reminder that the greatest heroes the world needs today are those who speak out and actively oppose the corrupted, the ignorant or the violent status quo. Compared to the random misfortunes, globally, far more people die or suffer directly or indirectly at the hands of abusers in political and/or economic power – the anti-heroes who’s greed, ego, stupidity or fear caused them to go over to “the dark side” of humanity.
Everyday heroes, who’s compassion is converted into courageous action aimed at helping those in need or in peril often saves the day for countless individuals. We do need more everyday heroes.
However, it is the thought & communication leaders like Vaclav Havel who make a scalable positive difference on a systemic level. They inspire and liberate millions, they embrace complexity and they take the time to loudly ask and cause us to contemplate the difficult questions most people would rather avoid. Their outrage and refusal to accept injustice and systemic inequality causes heroic leaders to take a relentless stand for ousting the abusers of power and also for transforming the corrupted and dysfunctional systems that allowed political tyrants or economic swindlers to emerge and prosper at the great cost to the millions of ordinary people.
Vaclav Havel was a great “macro-hero” who made our world a better place using the talent of his language. I am certain that in the coming years everyone associated with the Heroic Imagination Project will contribute to finding a way to focus a large part of HIP’s research and education initiatives on inspiring and enabling the often controversial, heroically-lead lives, like that of Vaclav Havel.
He remains an example for all of us.
Michael A. Vlastone
Director of the iShine Foundation
and Founder of the Integrity Capitalism Network
December 18, 2011
San Francisco, CA
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Here are some news links:
Please read: Why the World Needs Heroes by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, dedicated to Václav Havel:
View HIP’s Václav Havel photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150343015959229.301083.322165964228&type=3
Also view: The Power of the Powerless is a documentary exploring Czechoslovakia’s legacy of communist rule and the struggle against it. At the heart of the film is the story of blacklisted playwright Václav Havel and his fellow dissidents who, for two decades, spoke out against totalitarianism. The film culminates with the student-led movement in Prague, which sparked 1989’s Velvet Revolution and drew a half-million people into the streets, catapulting Václav Havel into the presidency. http://www.thepowerofthepowerless.org/index.htm
Quotes by Václav Havel
The real test of a man is not when he plays the role he wants for himself but when he plays the role destiny has for him. –Václav Havel
Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance. –Václav Havel
Hope is a feeling that life and work have meaning. You either have it or you don’t, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you. –Václav Havel
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good. –Václav Havel
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. –Václav Havel
Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. –Václav Havel
I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions. –Václav Havel
If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He’s not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he’s really needed. –Václav Havel
Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity. –Václav Havel
Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy. –Václav Havel
Lying can never save us from another lie. –Václav Havel
Modern man must descend the spiral of his own absurdity to the lowest point; only then can he look beyond it. It is obviously impossible to get around it, jump over it, or simply avoid it. –Václav Havel
None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events. –Václav Havel
Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren’t in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life. –Václav Havel
The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning – in other words, of absurdity – the more energetically meaning is sought. –Václav Havel
The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both. –Václav Havel
The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility. –Václav Havel
The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less. –Václav Havel
There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight. –Václav Havel
There’s always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side. –Václav Havel
When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete. –Václav Havel
Without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens there can be no free and independent nations. Without internal peace, that is, peace among citizens and between the citizens and the state, there can be no guarantee of external peace. –Václav Havel
Professor Zimbardo deserves heartfelt thanks for disclosing and illuminating the dark, hidden corners of the human soul. –Václav Havel
Books by and about Václav Havel
–To the Castle and Back by Václav Havel
–Acts of Courage: Václav Havel’s Life in the Theater by Carol Rocamora
–After the Velvet Revolution: Václav Havel and The New Leaders of Czechoslovakia Speak Out by Tim Whipple
–Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala by Václav Havel
–Largo Desolato by Václav Havel (Author), Tom Stoppard (Translator)
–Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990 by Václav Havel
–The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice by Paul Wilson and Václav Havel
–The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-eastern Europe by Václav Havel
–Václav Havel: Civic Responsibility in the Postmodern Age by James F. Pontuso
–Václav Havel: The Authorized Biography by Eda Kriseová
–Václav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics: An Introduction, Appreciation & Critique by James W. Sire
–Living in Truth: 22 Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel by Václav Havel