Courage triumphed over his shyness
Published 19/12/2011 | 05:00
Vaclav Havel hated Communism with a passion, but it was the making of him. The Czech dissident playwright-turned-president was a product of Prague's wealthy and cultured haute bourgeoisie, and without the Communist takeover of 1948 and all that followed he would probably have lived a life of charming bohemian privilege. But Mr Havel and his ilk were the class enemy, and were never allowed to forget it.
His class origins barred him from further education under the Communists -- he managed to pay his way through secondary night school by working as a lab technician.
He was turned down by the drama school at Prague University, and only succeeded in entering his chosen profession through a side door, as a stage hand. After helping set up the small, intellectual dissident group Charter 77 in 1977, to hold the Czech government to the human rights pledges it had signed up to in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, he was repeatedly sent to prison.
But the result of these experiences was that when he became the people's choice for the revolution's president, he had a far more rounded understanding of his nation's realities and with the people's suffering.
However, while in his two terms as president Mr Havel was only fitfully convincing as a politician, he carried authority as a moral figure.
As leader, he brought his dramatist's flair to the state office by bringing in a psychedelic painter to redecorate his study, hired actress Barbara Stepanova as his assistant, gave Frank Zappa an honorary post in the Ministry of Culture and had new uniforms for the presidential guard designed by the costume designer on Milos Forman's film 'Amadeus'.
Having worked in the theatre all his life, he confessed to feeling extreme reluctance at the prospect of being president. "I hesitated until the last minute," he said in his memoirs. "I had only a few hours to make a decision that would change my life."
According to Mr Forman, Mr Havel's two dominant character traits were shyness and courage. Fortunately for his country, courage won out. (© Independent News Service)