Death is so final. We tell ourselves stories about journeys, about re-uniting with people after death. With parents, girlfriends, wives brothers aunts etc; without any evidence that that is the case. At this time of the year many people die in part because of the cold weather; people who could have expected to live a bit longer.
Havel died in his sleep. Just under a week ago. He was a rare human being. We may not see his like again at least not in the near future.
It is hard to remember that the Soviet empire met its demise so recently. It seemed like the Feudal system. It seemed like it would go indefinitely or at least for a long time. The system was too much for most people to oppose. The various organs of state security as the secret police were called stifled all or nearly all dissent. After World II in which Czechoslovakia was occupied & terrorised by Nazi Germany, the country fell into the hands of a lesser tyranny. It continued longer. But life did go on. It was not completely intolerable & after the collapse of communism in Eastern & Central Europe, to some extent it can be said that society broke down. Havel emptied the prisons which was not a good move because the prison population was not entirely made up of political prisoners. Obviously there were many violent & anti-social inmates therein. It seems that he thought that the collapse of communism was some kind of epiphany after which the New Jerusalem would emerge. All the countries of the Soviet bloc have had to endure the scourge of organised crime since 1989.
At the beginning of the World War II, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by Neville Chamberlain the prime minister of Britain. But the Czechs don’t seem to hold that against us.
These days both the Czech Republic & Slovakia are normal Western societies. Indeed both countries are members of the EU & Slovakia is in the eurozone & the Czech Republic is seriously considering going in, even now. Some countries have fared better than others. Bulgaria, Albania & Romania seem to have descended into poverty, inequality & chaos. But Poland & the Czech Republic in particular have done well.
Havel’s plays reflected his life & what was going on in Czechoslovakia. He was made to work in brewery. He wrote about a play about that. He wrote about a family whose only solace seemed to be the amount of Western goods they had acquired. In one play the main character said nothing during the entire play. He was a member of the STB, the secret police & the moment he entered a room, everyone fell silent afraid that they would say the wrong thing & be carted off & locked up. The secret police were always on his case. He was not always universally popular. As anywhere, protestors against the system, those attempting to overthrow it were not necessarily supported. Most people as even in World War II under the Nazis just attempted to get on with their lives & were only concerned about themselves & their families, which is understandable. Vaclav Havel represented too much of a moral case, at least for a time. What people wanted or at least most people was a higher economic standard of living rather than a higher moral calling.
But the pendulum has come full circle. Havel’s great moral authority had come to be recognised even before he died. He is no longer with us but his ideas & his literature are.