Havel’s Star

Bright stars of the night… a strange idea was planted in my imagination a long time ago (in my childhood, I guess) that when a star is falling across the sky, it is a sign that someone is dying in a faraway place. It was a sad image and after some thought I decided to believe in a contrary concept—that when a person dies, their spirit goes up into the sky and… a star is born. So that’s why there are so many stars in the sky!

With a great sorrow I learned last Sunday that Václav Havel had died. My thoughts traveled immediately to beautiful Prague, to the starry sky above that city he loved. Although he died in his country house away from Prague, it is Prague that contains memories of Havel as a playwright, an intellectual, and as a leading dissident against the Communist system which consequently forced him to five years “residency” in prison.

Years later, after the Berlin wall fell—as the result of a hard won peaceful revolution by Eastern Europeans—Prague gained memories of Havel’s 14 years “residency” in a very different place, a presidential palace. He first became President of Czechoslovakia and later President of the Czech Republic.

Photos of Prague with communist flags and without

Prague wrapped in the red power of Communism & Prague, a durable beauty of yesterday and tomorrow.

I am writing this today because I have been greatly influenced by Václav Havel’s writings — not so much as the playwright, but as the political activist and thinker. Coming from the same corner of the world, dealing with the same political and social issues, I have a special respect and adoration for the political activists and writers like Havel and Adam Michnik (of Poland) — for their vision, their passion and their intellectual leadership.

Three books by Vaclav Havel

The only comfort one might have after Havel’s death is that his spirit is captured in his writings. So I spent an entire night re-reading pages and pages of Havel’s words.

Although I like Letters to Olga very much — it is a collection of Havel’s letters from prison to his first wife Olga Splichalova — I opted for some quotes from The Art of the Impossible, which is my favorite book by Havel. In this collection of speeches from the time of his presidency, Havel shares his views on today’s social and political issues.

Here I have the privilege to quote the words that resonate with me the most.

Vaclav HavelAbout Communism

Communism was not defeated by military force, but by life, by the human spirit….It was defeated by a revolt of color, authenticity, history in all its variety, and human individuality against imprisonment within a uniform ideology.

The totalitarian system of the communist type, as established in the former Soviet Union and subsequently imposed on all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, not only destroyed political pluralism and the prospects of real political opposition, but annihilated politics itself as a field of practical human activity.

About politics

Despite the political distress I face every day, I am still deeply convinced that politics is not an essentially disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so….But it is simply that a politician must lie or intrigue. That is an utter nonsense, put about by people who—for whatever reasons—want to discourage others from taking an interest in public affairs.

When I look around the world today I feel strongly that contemporary politics needs a new impulse, one that would add a badly needed spiritual dimension. Perhaps this impulse will come from some place other than the postcommunist countries. Yet it seems to me that come it must.

The modern era has reached a point of culmination, and if we are not to perish of our modernness we have to rehabilitate the human dimension of citizenship as well as of politics. This is what I consider to be the principal challenge of our time, a challenge for the third millennium.

About democracy

Democracy is an open system, and thus is capable of improvement. Among other things, freedom provides room for responsibility. If that room is not sufficiently used, the fault does not lie with democracy, but it does present democracy with a challenge. Dictatorship offers no room for responsibility, and thus it can generate no genuine authority.

About power

It is obvious that those who have the greatest power and influence also bear the greatest responsibility. Like it or not, the United States of America now bears the greatest responsibility for the direction our world will take. The United States, therefore, should reflect most deeply on this responsibility.

About death

With a little exaggeration we might say that death, or the awareness of death—this most extraordinary dimension of man’s stay on this earth, inspiring dread, fear, and awe—is at the same time a key to the fulfillment of human life in the best sense of the word….Death gives us a chance to overcome it—not by refusing to recognize its existence, but through our ability to look beyond it, or to defy it by purposeful action.

Knowing that Havel liked jazz, I chose Jan Garbarek’s composition titled We are the Stars to honor him. I am pretty sure that he would like it and I hope you will like it too. Click on the title above to hear the music and here are the words.

For we are the stars. For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for its journey through death.

Have a peaceful Holiday — Alicja

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Please don’t forget the special offer at the end of my previous post.

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Text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.
Photos of the book covers: first- Prague Time Life Books © 1980, second- Prazsky Hrad by Karel Plicka © 1962.

Explore posts in the same categories: Essays, Feelings, Opinions, Photo stories, Places, Thoughts, Writing

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8 Comments on “Havel’s Star”

  1. Pam Says:

    I’ve been thinking about you all week knowing how much you admired Vaclev Havel. Will phone this weekend.

    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Hello Pam,

      Thank you for being such a great supporter of my writing and for predicting that I would write about Vaclav Havel after his death! I am glad I did not disappoint you.

      Since we already talked on the phone a few days ago, I can only add in the last day of this year – Have a great 2012 – you and your dear ones! Alicja

  2. Bill Breisky Says:

    A fine piece of work, Alicja. I forwarded it to my brother, who lives in Slovakia, and this is how he replied: “Thanks for sending this. It is lovely. Among our own memories was being with Havel here in Bardejov in June 1991.”

    Merry Christmas!

    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Dear Bill,

      Today is my last best chance to respond to your comment this year!

      I am honored that you forwarded my post about Vaclav Havel to your brother in Slovakia. Please thank him for his complement. I truly envy him that he had a chance to meet Havel in person!

      Thanks again and have a very happy New Year!

  3. Priscilla Says:

    Did you happen to see Madelaine Albright’s comments on TV. She was a personal friend of his. Thank you for his quotations– I’ve admired him for years — Living proof that a poetical soul can be a political inspiration as well.


    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Dear Priscilla,

      Yes, I did see and heard Madeleine Albright’s comments on TV.

      I am very happy that you and I are both admirers of Havel’s writings. And yes, writers and generally artists can and should be involved in politics. Havel lived proof of that!

      Thank you for your comment and have a great year of 2012!

  4. Marina G Says:

    Alicja, this comment is very tardy. I am just now catching up with things after moving.

    I thought of you the moment I heard that Havel had died. I also believed that you would blog about him, and I’m so glad that were able to pay him this tribute.

    Thank you for sharing your love and awareness of this great human being, artist, and leader. Hearing you talk of Havel has always been enriching to me.

    I also loved the choral jazz piece. A wonderful choice.


    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Dear Marina,

      As you know, Vaclav Havel influenced my political and social points of view very strongly. I just wish more politicians and citizens of today’s world would know his writings….


      P.S. Sorry to be so late in my response too.

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