Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Remembering Vaclav Havel

Image Credit: Martin Kozák

Image Credit: Martin Kozák

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic and the leader of the country’s struggle against totalitarianism culminating in the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

To honor his memory, a neon heart has been displayed on the European Parliament building in Brussels, and his admirers are urging people to roll up their trouser legs for a day.

These highlight Havel’s personality and his commitment to human rights, but his greatest legacy for future generations may be his writings. An excerpt from one of his most influential essays “The power of the powerless” is a fitting way to commemorate his accomplishments:

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class.

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