Vaclav Havel: Intimidating Dissidents

Source: The Freedom Collection

Interviewed April 2010
Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a playwright and poet who played a leading role in bringing an end to communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Havel served as the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).
Havel was born into a wealthy, intellectual family. For political reasons he was not accepted into any post-secondary humanities program, but eventually he was able to study drama by correspondence and began publishing articles and plays. In 1968 he was a prominent participant in the “Prague Spring,” a brief period of liberalization that ended when the Warsaw Pact stationed troops in the country.
In 1976 and 1977 Havel helped lead the effort to produce the human rights manifesto known as Charter 77, which criticized the government of Czechoslovakia for failing to abide by its human rights obligations under the Czechoslovak Constitution, the Helsinki Accords, and United Nations covenants. In April 1979, Havel co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted. He was imprisoned three separate times for his activities.

In 1989, Havel played a leading role in the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution” which brought an end to the communist political system in Czechoslovakia. Havel was elected president of the country that year. He led Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic to multi-party democracy and presided over the country’s accession into NATO. Since leaving office, Havel has committed himself to the promotion of democracy in other parts of the world such as Cuba and Burma. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2003.

Well, there was, there was a very varied spectrum, spectrum of persecution and injustice. From the most extreme alternative that meant imprisonment. But that was not the only option. That was, that was somewhat the most extreme, extreme sanction. A person could have been imprisoned at any time. Nobody could ever be sure. At the same time, there was a varied spectrum of other ways.

Above all, people who were for example involved in Charter 77 had a hard time finding a job. They were constantly summoned to interrogations. Their children, their relatives were retaliated against. (Inaudible) the children were not accepted to school or, or and the like. Sometimes, this manifested itself in physical violence. A person was beaten up, bashed up and driven blindfolded outside the city limits into the forest. He did not know where he was in the cold or something similar.

Nobody ever knew when a house search would take place. When I was writing something, I had to always take several finished pages somewhere to hide so that I would not store them in my house when a house search was performed since they would be confiscated. So this is how dissidents or the opposition were persecuted. There were several different forms of persecution here and several manifestations of it. Nevertheless, at the same time, somehow, this strengthened these relationships and made solidarity with one another stronger.

I think, I think that a very important thing, which I always repeat when I speak with dissidents from those countries where a certain kind of dictatorship still exists, that a very important thing was the good feeling that we were doing something right, something that should be done, that we were not, we did not have that unpleasant feeling of certain uncleanness, grubbiness with the, resulting from the fact that we compromise or we do not say what we really think, that we bend, we conform to the pressure.

The basic, that sort of freeing feeling, is important and it is more important than the question of when and how this will transform into some noticeable, noticeable success. It could transform tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in ten years or it might never transform. That cannot be calculated, calculated with, even though it is better when it transforms tomorrow.

Well, partly, that patience does pay, that that is probably the basic lesson in our, in our case. Well, of course, I would have done many details probably better having had today’s experience, but, on the other hand, I think that it is good that, as a younger person, I was more courageous, bolder and more energetic than I am today.

When I think of some of my actions mainly after, during the revolution and at the very beginning of my presidency, when I think of some of my actions, I mildly blush. And, on the other hand, I tell myself that it is good that it was the way it was. That, perhaps, I would not be as, as courageous and everything would not have the same effect, had I had the amount of experience I have today.

The Vaclav Havel Center