Remembering Václav Havel
By Gillian M Long, on 21 December 2011
How does one respond to a life so obviously admirable in a way that avoids both sentiment and scepticism, asks Peter Zusi
The spectre haunting those who write in response to the death of Václav Havel is banality: what might one write about someone whose accomplishments are so obvious, so widely recognized, and so sincerely admirable? The papers have been full of platitudes. Most of them true.
In recent days commentators have, quite rightly, focused on praise; but there have been other times when criticism of Havel has seemed to come far too easily. For many, the shortcomings of his presidency are clear, the naïveté of various positions demonstrated. Indeed Havel has himself often been accused of banality and oversimplification. Early in his presidency Havel returned to an idea dating from his dissident days: the ‘third way’, which would involve a complete rejection of the Communist past, to be sure, yet something less, or more, than uncritical acceptance of trans-Atlantic capitalist society. Few ideas earned him more derision during his transition to the rigours of ‘regular’ politics.