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Vaclav Havel - Civil Activist, Dissident, Artistic Soul

vaclav havelVaclav Havel was a rare person; a famous dissident turned country leader who was active in politics and, through his writing, still able to search for real truth and honour in civil society.

All his books, plays and essays attest that he was dedicated to the struggle to be free. When someone like this dies, he never truly passes away because his legacy of writing and ethics remains.

He represents the persecuted intelligentsia in the former Czechoslovakia during the Soviet era. He represents the fight for intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. Havel made himself universally popular by speaking out for human rights, even against all the odds, even against all the threats, even against all the might of a totalitarian regime battering his peace of mind and security.

In short, he was a decent, humane person who wanted a decent, humane existence for himself and his country. Few mourn the Soviet era, millions mourn Havel.

One of my favourite essays was written by Havel when he was granted an honorary degree by the University of Toulouse in 1984. He had no passport and was not allowed to travel abroad - part of the crackdown on the intelligentsia in Soviet satellites like Czechoslovakia. English playwright of Czech origin Tom Stoppard accepted the honour on his behalf instead.

vaclav havelIn his essay, titled 'Politics and Conscience', Havel writes about the alienation of modern society from the natural world. In the natural world, he argues, categories like justice, honour, treason, friendship, infidelity, courage or empathy are tangible and relate to actual persons. He talks about the environment and how it is being destroyed by bad ecological practices in industry, and how science, in constructing its objective, rational model of the world, "crashes through the bounds of the natural world."

Modern rationalism leaves behind the natural world, systematically denies and degrades it, wrote Havel, referring to the collectivisation of farms within the former Soviet Union. But with the hedges and woods destroyed, wild birds died out, and insects multiplied. Chemicals poisoned the soil, the earth and the waters.

"The fault is not one of science as such but of the arrogance of man in the age of science. Man simply is not God, and playing God has cruel consequences," wrote Havel.

This arrogance makes power into an anonymous and depersonalised force "reduced to a mere technology of rule and manipulation." Rulers and leaders were once personalities in their own right, but they are replaced by the manager, the bureaucrat, the appartchik, he wrote.

"A modern politician is transparent: behind his judicious mask and affected diction there is not a trace of a human being rooted in the order of the natural world by his loves, passions, interests, personal opinions, hatred, courage, or cruelty." wrote Havel.

His words ring as true and relevant as those of all great writers, even decades after they were written. In Cyprus we face a deep crisis and loss of faith in our political world. Following municipal elections yesterday, analysts are agonising why one in three people abstained from voting.

The answer is simple. We are suffering this loss of faith in our political system because we do not see the leaders who are willing to maintain ethics over personal ambition and greed. We do not see the idealists, the humane civil activists, the intellectuals or the innovators. We see the bureaucrats, the managers, the lazy civil servants, the politicians who pay lip service to ethics and in reality couldn't care less about them. We see the manipulators and hear the lip service, but remain unconvinced and apathetic.

Havel's death does not in any way dim his example, which stands before us as a beacon of what our leaders could become, if we would only demand it of them once and for all.

In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon: "He lived in truth - his credo - as few of his place and times dared to do. His humanity, humility and decency were an example for us all. In the face of great challenges today that shall test a newer generation, let his profile in courage be our inspiration."

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