It was December 1989 and I was a school girl in what was then Czechoslovakia. I had flu and so instead of going to school or accompanying my parents for the protests, I stayed at home and watched TV. This is where my first memory of Vaclav Havel comes from: he was trying to pass through a big crowd of his supporters, smiling, with his fingers forming the letter ‘V’ for victory. I hadn’t heard of this man before, of his extended stays in prison, dissident activism or playwriting. At that time, I didn’t even know that it was Havel who in his 1975 letter to the then Secretary General of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia Gustav Husak wrote the best analysis of how and why the communist regime in Czechoslovakia sustained itself: “why do people behave as they do; why do they do everything that put together creates an impression of a totally unified society, totally supportive of their
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In Europe, the finest and most valiant crusader against dictatorship both in word and deed, Vaclav Havel, passed away. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il, a long-lasting dictator and ruler of the world’s only hereditary communistic system, died of a stroke at the symbolic age of 69 (following an age pattern from other illustrious dictators like Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, joining what one commentator has coined the ’69 club’).
The announcement of his death was made by a weeping female news reader dressed in black. In Pyongyang, public mass crying broke out, perhaps to balance the lack of condolences from the outside world: the former American presidential candidate, John McCain, suggested that Kim Jong-il had gone to a ‘warm corner of hell’.
Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, is the likely successor. His grooming started recently, although his apprenticeship and rise to power was far from
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Vaclav Havel was an icon: the reference victorious dissident, the Sevres standard of decency in politics. Attempts to besmirch that icon – understandable, almost legitimate: isn’t that what investigative journalists are supposed to do – were many, and all ultimately failed. To the aggravation of his detractors, and the at times ill-concealed irritation of even his friends, he largely in fact was what he was seen to be. The genuine and radiant halo which surrounded his public persona made even his failures melt away. He opposed the splitting of Czechoslovakia, but was utterly powerless to prevent two lesser men, the Czech PM Vaclav Klaus (who was to become his bane and his successor) and the Slovak PM Vladimir Meciar (who, as the authoritarian leader of the newly independent Slovakia, was to become his antithesis in politics), to bring it about. He resigned in protest, only to become
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