My obituary to Vaclav Havel, a man of the past age whom our age needs more than ever

Dec 18, 2011 by

My obituary to Vaclav Havel, a man of the past age whom our age needs more than ever

Leading to the question: Is economic agument a winning one or does politics still have a voice?

When I see people such as Vaclav Havel go I’m filled with fear. What will become of us, left behind without people who lifted politics to the rank of statesmanship? Without people who knew the meaning and the feeling of freedom and bondage? Who throughout and with their life defended the values they believed in?


Vaclav Havel was a truly Renaissance man. He was an intellectual, who led arguments, theatre plays and finally, a nation. He analyzed, made decisions and acted. He was a man in whom thoughts, emotions and actions were all aligned: an integrity that we rarely see displayed in the public life nowadays. Despite fame, he remained socratically humble, modest and ever-curious about other people’s lives and opinions. As a Polish journalist Mariusz Szczygiel put it, Vaclav Havel considered himself a literary figure and never gave up a critical distance to his own person. Human and extraordinary at the same time, Vaclav Havel showed that politics can be exercised as service to the higher cause, not as a technocratic profession. What did that mean in practice?

A moral perspective tempered by life under a dictatorship

When commenting on controversial events of modern history, where others were cautions, he had courage to take the point of view of human rights and morality, and shun the discourse of interests. He strove against the trend of modern scholarship and politics to minutiously analyse, to weigh pros and cons, but to pass no judgment and thus escape a personal decision. In an interview with Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel spoke of a danger of our times in which information has itself become merely a ‘good’ in an economic sense, for sale and re-sale, and not a path towards taking a certain position. Few politicians nowadays have courage to reach personal conclusions, to stand behind words they say and to take the responsibility that comes with making a judgment. He, and others of his generation (for example Adam Michnik), went to prison for their values and statements.

It seems to me that great artists, activists and statesmen that lived through communist dictatorship have to this day preserved certain clarity of vision, an ability to succinctly summarize a given situation and put it in a wider perspective.  Vaclav Havel spoke calmly, with his head bent slightly down, about values and the need to follow and embody them. He went beyond the current debates, in which economic growth is taken as the highest value and its lack considered a disaster. He put current inventions in communication technologies into perspective, posing questions about substance and aims, not just forms and means of new technologies. He made us look beyond a string of ‘apps’ and consider the long-term application of technology, and the values it should serve. He encouraged us to think long-term, with a visionary impetus and an acute sense of co-responsibility with others.

People of my generation go, said Lech Walesa when he heard of Havel’s death. This generation has not just been marked by age, but by a common experience of dictatorship which made some of them into moral compasses of the current age, which even though on our part of the continent has seen the communism fall, is still in need of defenders of values. Is consumerism freedom? Is technology a value? These are questions that Havel posed. The gradual disappearance of such people from earth and such questions from press and public discourse fills me with fear.

A vacuum

It seems that the age is gone when humanist intellectuals could be heads of their nations as well. The last time I entertained this hope was at the pre-election speech of Obama in Berlin: he spoke words that reverberated though the audience. He spoke of the need to end wars, to take moral responsibility for the world. His speech was full of vigor and passion, which some might call studied eloquence others naiveté. No matter what we called it, Obama the statesman and his voice have gone missing. Where was his voice, so strong at that time, during the recent protests in Moscow? Where was the voice during the Occupy Wall Street protests? Despite a prematurely given Nobel Prize, the voice has so far failed to make a substantial difference in our world. Recently, it has even failed to make a sound.

Could only an era of 1989 transformation bring visionaries and real humanists to the highest positions in the country and to the foreground of public life? Is our world, governed by globalized capital and the financial markets, unable to create such individuals? Is economic agument a winning one or does politics still have a voice? Is technocratic mediocrity the fate of the politics of the future? The recent explosions of social movements show that the demand for values to re-enter public life is currently more acute than it has been for the last two decades. Will we make this leap without people who had experience and moral back to lead us in the last transformation? These are just a few questions that came to my mind as I look at the photo of a man who combined care, thought and charm…

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  1. Rio 2012 muss ein Gesicht, eine Strategie und ein Medium haben, um von alternativer zur globalen Bewegung zu werden. | Jolanta Jasina's Blog - [...] und ein Gesicht herauskommt. (Für „Gesichter“ der Vergangenheit siehe der Beispiel von Vaclav Havel: [...]

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