Vaclav Havel, RIP

Today is a very sad day. Vaclav Havel has passed away. Havel was a great writer and playwright and became the leader of Czechoslovakia’s anticommunist dissident movement in the 1970s and 80s. He spent several years in communist prisons. After the fall of communism in the Velvet Revolution – to which he made a crucial contribution – Havel became the first president of the newly democratic Czechoslovakia. His book The Power of the Powerless is one of the greatest-ever works on life under communism and the dynamics of political oppression more generally. I discussed it in slightly greater detail in this post on the books that influenced me the most. One of Havel’s less-known achievements was presiding over the peaceful and efficient “Velvet Divorce” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was one of the least painful and most successful secessions in recent world history, with both countries benefiting from in the long run. Even though Havel wasn’t happy about the “divorce,” his leadership helped minimize its potential negative effects.

The New York Times has a detailed obituary here. A variety of tributes are pouring in from all over the world. No one could be more deserving of them than Havel.

UPDATE: In this 2009 post, I discussed Havel’s powerful critique of the UN Human Rights Council.