To my students, the Cold War is history. I lived through the events described in the CBS story of Havel’s life.
Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and leading member of the Czechoslovak opposition Civic Forum, is pictured addressing demonstrators in Prague, December 10, 1988. At the end of 1989, Havel was elected first president of Czechoslovakia when the state-communist system crumbled. (LUBOMIR KOTEK-JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)(AP)
PRAGUE (AP) — Vaclav Havel wove theater into revolution, leading the charge to peacefully bring down communism in a regime he ridiculed as “Absurdistan” and proving the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule.
Shy and bookish, with a wispy mustache and unkempt hair, the dissident playwright was an unlikely hero of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” after four decades of suffocating repression — and of the epic struggle that ended the wider Cold War.
His country’s first democratically elected president, he led it through its early years, overseeing its bumpy transition to democracy and its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Havel, a former chain-smoker who had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails, died Sunday morning at his weekend home in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Tancevova said. His wife Dagmar and a nun who had been caring for him the last few months of his life were by his side, she said. He was 75.
"Havel was a symbol of the events of 1989 — he did a tremendous job for this country," Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said.