Writers are a very passionate group of people. Their identities are shaped and formed through their written words. Their pens, combined with wit, conceive literary works that brighten the stage, screen, book or any other reading material, and influence a great audience. Inspiration is taken from different sources, and choices are varied. Sometimes, too, their tool is used to create literary bombs that are more explosive than physical weapons combined.
Vaclav Havel, “a playwright, human rights activist and former Czech President”, is one influential example of this group. To his countrymen and admirers, he is a notable hero as he was able to shake his nation – former Czechoslovakia [and present Czech Republic] – to rise up and take action against the evils of society. He belonged to a wealthy family, who was forced to give up their belongings during Communist rule. This didn’t stop him, however, in furthering his studies though he was deprived of his supposed privileges – even banned from pursuing formal university education. This turning point gave him the opportunity to discover the world of literature and enhance his artistry using his country’s situation as theme in most of his works.
Various adjectives may be used to describe him: radical, nonconformist, leftist. But more so, he can be regarded as a very passionate man in his field. As Matt Welch would describe him, “He’s a fiction writer whose engagement with the world led him to master the nonfiction political essay.” This, he would later prove useful as when chaos threatened to ruin his country. The collection of his writings displays his unmatched creativity at targeting his country’s enemies and defending the rights of his fellowmen.
History, Arts & Politics
Former Czechoslovakia has a rich history to be told, like similar countries that experienced invasion, war and political crisis. That is why politics and the Arts are deeply rooted in the lives and history of Czechs. During the transition periods from Communism to Social Reformation to Soviet Rule to Reformation, the Arts played a vital role in metaphorically criticizing the system when freedom of expression and direct address were restricted. Czech writers used their skill to relay their country’s grievances to a gathered crowd and even to a few small, silent groups.
Havel, having mastered the art of writing as a playwright, extended his talent to writing essays and delivering speeches to address the growing plight of his fellowmen during those times. Examples of his most famous works like “The Garden Party, Temptation, and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration were long banned in his homeland”. He spent years in and out of prison because of his open criticisms against dictatorship and fighting for what he believed in. Even for battling personal wars and physical health conditions that nearly killed him, he never failed at implementing his cause.
He would often emphasize through his writings and speeches the need to use common sense in governing, emphasizing his total dislike of the “totalitarian system” and “fake ideologies”. He wowed the silent and fearful crowd by his straightforwardness and determination in delivering the message across. The contemporary world became his refuge while deeply focusing on the growing need for change, and attacking the system and its allies. His open letter to “Gustav Husak, former Czechoslovakia dictator” – denouncing his way of governance and the effect against the Czech people- is one admirable feat. It stirred the uprising that eventually freed his country, thereby eradicating the injustice that Communism brought and successfully owning their long-deprived freedoms at last.
The “Velvet Revolution” started. When the rock group “The Plastic People of the Universe” were banned and arrested for doing underground performances, Havel co-founded “Charter 77”, a human rights organization defending those violated which was subsequently supported by the formation of other human rights organizations.
Musicians, writers and filmmakers created a light mood out of the dreary situation by organizing theater performances. It resulted to the “Prague Spring”, which opened opportunities for artists to inform and involve the world of their situation to which the world responded accordingly. This, in turn, led to the stoppage of further performances and exile of those gifted individuals. But due to their boldness and the strong support of the Czech people, a series of groundbreaking events happened that eventually weakened the government.
Havel’s written and verbal denunciations were always noticed and observed – reason that he had to pay for by serving prison terms and torture. It still remains a wonder, though, why he wasn’t executed when some of the other reformists were “purged” by the government. He is just lucky indeed to be alive and continue his mission.
His entry to politics was also bittersweet. He had critics, mostly from those exiled during the “Stalinist-style” governance who were his former counterparts. He immediately shared his platforms, which focused on interaction and involvement, upon assuming the presidential seat. He coined the term “nonpolitical politics” to highlight his philosophy of leadership with heart and soul, rather than plain implementation of rules. His rule led to gradual and drastic reforms combined. These actions, though, led to some of his former friends calling him a traitor and masked social ally; but, he remained steadfast in his beliefs. Reflections of these events in his life were written in his “Summer Meditations”. It was his passage to discuss his own conflicts with the world, while helping build a better society.
Much was said for and against him, but even for the many negative comments, his positive actions outshone. His independent attitude led to a very colorful and exciting life that he was proud of – and which, also colored his country and fellow men’s once hopeless lives.
Modern Czech Theatre and Present Czech Republic
The Czech Theatre as well as the Czech Republic will not be what it is now had it not been for the efforts of Havel and a few others. We can say that Czechs, who haven’t experienced the bitter past of their country but have heard about it, can say nothing but praise to the people who led them to democracy. Freedoms are not deprived anymore, thanks to the “dramatic political changes” that shaped their country. Now, Czechs can sit back and relax while listening to music or watching shows that depict a freer expression of the artists involved – without fear of prosecution or unjust torture.
The Arts have graced the stage throughout their history, but the sweetest result is the present situation where everyone can join and express their thoughts without fear. Many talented individuals have sprung up following Havel and his counterparts’ footsteps. The international scene is now one of their channels in showcasing their gifts. The remaining group of the past, that were once commanded to stop, is proud of the fruits of their labor. Nobody can’t help observe their situation and lifestyle today without involving politics and the arts, which formed their identity as a nation. Their nation and culture was built on firm foundation strengthened throughout the years that it was under colonial rule.
Havel may just be one trigger that sparked the gradual evolution of literature and politics. He could have chosen to stay mum and be a puppet to the system, but his desire to have a free Czechoslovakia and to be a free man prevailed, despite fear of being prosecuted and sentenced. For most, he may be legendary. To some, downright crazy. But overall, he is one big influence who helped give breathing space for his fellow Czechs while allowing some for himself. Today, he continues to inspire, through his life story and works, a number of people who look up to him in awe, wondering how he was able to put his act together and do something quite impossible and fearful at first thought, but possible if one is really determined at achieving it.
And as a passionate writer with compassion to his homeland, he was able to use his talent to give the greatest gift his country long deserved – freedom – which is made sweeter by the long journey it has undergone before actually owning it.
“Czech Republic Today”. The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places. 2000.
“Havel, Vaclav”. Academic American Encyclopedia. 15th ed. 1994.
Welch, Matt. “Velvet President: Why Vaclav Havel is Our George Orwell and More?” Mar 2003.Reason Online: Free Minds and Free Markets.12 January 2008. <http://reason.com/archives/2003/05/01/velvet-president>.