The Czech people are expressing their appreciation for Havel, who died Sunday. He lies in a Prague church in advance of his burial this Friday. AFP reports that President Obama is among the world leaders expressing their sympathies to the Czech people and Havel's family. Business Week adds that the European Union held a moment of silence today to remember Mr. Havel.
The Christian Science Monitor takes a look back at Mr. Havel's life.
During the Soviet era, he spent years under arrest for dissident writing that detailed in plain language why eastern and central Europeans did not want or deserve a totalitarian system rigged in Moscow or a daily life based on a steady imposition of lies, fear, conformity, and punishment. The typical Czech “greengrocer” – Havel's famous description of the symbolic Czech Everyman – did not believe Soviet propaganda, but felt helplessly enmeshed in it.
Havel articulated a credo of conscience that he called “living in truth.” It was a call to take life at its most profound and searching level, come what may. “Hope,” he said, “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.”
His concurrent view that “consciousness precedes being” was a direct challenge to the opposite Marxist dictum that material values are the be-all and end-all of human life. He steadily decried the lack of transcendent ideals in modern times, but did so with an incisiveness that defies easy categorization. “Consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim,” he said in a speech to the US Congress in 1990. “For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness, and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will ever change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed – the ecological, social demographic, or general breakdown of civilization – will be unavoidable.”For another reflection on the man, consider Radio Prague's report filed shortly after the news of his death.
In short, significant pockets of the world mourns Vaclav Havel and could care less about Kim Jong Il. A statesman/humanitarian always trumps a thug.