Vaclav Havel

I always find myself drawn to the topic of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and to “Vaclav Havel”, one of the predominant leaders of the Velvet Revolution and the first president of post-revolution Czechoslovakia.

My fascination with the Czech Revolution lies not only in the fact that it is one of the first Eastern European revolutions that paved the way for further revolutionary waves in Eastern and Central Europe, but also in what happened after the Czechoslovakia revolution and in the turmoil, depression, difficulties and challenges during the transitional period which lasted for many long years. The elite that were toppled returned by “the ballot box” , then the revolutionary forces reorganized and reassembled to topple the elite once again and to reap the benefits of the revolution, thus achieving progress and stability after more than 10 years of push and pull in the Czech Republic or Slovakia.

And although Vaclav Havel was a politician by nature of his status as an opposition figure before the Velvet Revolution and as the first president for the Republic after the revolution, he was also a thinker, author and philosopher before he became a political activist. He wrote a number of articles and plays that promote the ideas of coexistence, peace, non-violence and non-extremism. And it is to his credit that, in spite of the difficulties he faced as president of the republic in a turbulent transitory period, he was able to integrate the principles of freedom, democracy, pluralism, respect for human rights and rejection of exclusion.

This article contains quotes by the late President Vaclav Havel from his book “The Democratic Transition in Eastern and Central Europe” which was translated to Arabic in 2011, and also phrases from an article for Vaclav Havel that was recently published in “Le monde diplomatique” – Ahram

And among Havel’s words are “We have defeated our clearly visualized and defined enemy, but our drive fueled by anger and our need to find a live guilty criminal led us to search for the enemy in our words, which led every individual among us to feel like the other had abandoned and betrayed him”

This statement applies exactly to our situation after the revolution. Before the 25 January revolution of 2011 there was a clear enemy defined as the oppressive authoritarian regime. After the 11 February, there appeared many enemies. Mubarak fell and the vision became blurred … Was the enemy the military institution as an extension of Mubarak, or the elite, or was it the religious right? Some considered their friends as enemies, others considered their partners as enemies … those who did not find an enemy created one… and this pertains to the slogan “Your enemy is none other than the sons of the same profession with whom you will compete”.

“ The old system collapsed, and a new one so far has not been built. Our social life is marked by a subliminal uncertainty over what kind of system we are going to build, how to build it, and whether we are able to build it at all.”

This statement was made by Havel 20 years ago about the transitional period in Czechoslovakia and the protests and demonstrations against the transitional changes after the revolution in 1989. This also applies to our situation in Egypt after the revolution. All of us, from the far right to the far left, united before the revolution on the principle that the Mubarak regime must fall….and all of us agreed on the necessity of Mubarak’s ouster during the revolution; however, we unfortunately did not agree on the required structure of the system after the revolution, or on the structure of the state, or on the articles of the constitution, or on the roadmap. The military used this void to steer us to the 19 March referendum, followed by all of the other mistakes leading up to 30 June.

But in spite of all of the advice given to youth movements about the necessity of setting up political parties and participating in politics exclusively through parties, and these are the suggestions or criticisms made by both Egyptian and foreign analysts…..Havel too was a disbeliever in traditional politics, and a supporter of the presence of individuals or groups that exercise political pressure without necessarily getting involved in the struggle for power.

For example he would say things such as “One day in power is better than 100 days in prison”, and “In the current time, presidency is the only way with which I can serve my country but in the future there will be a better way”. “All political actors will now be under the microscope that I myself built before I became president”

Havel preferred to have the freedom of criticism and to comment on events rather than to be a politician, and preferred to play the role of mediator rather than to be a party in the conflict. This exposed him to a lot of criticism, but he was a lawyer and activist before he became leader and president. He was imprisoned multiple times, and he also said “Despite all the political misery I am confronted with every day, it still is my profound conviction that the very essence of politics is not dirty; dirt is brought in only by wicked people.”

He also professed that thirst for power was a sign of bias, and he said that “Wherever power is exercised, it is in need of supervision and control, and this control can be best achieved through a democratic system characterized by nonviolence, participation in power and its arrangements, setting the boundaries, and the ability to check government institutions. For democracy cannot be achieved without supervision and constant reminders”.

Perhaps Havel’s identity as a lawyer, activist, writer and author made him more suited to be among those cleansed from the struggle for power, although fate chose that he would be president after a great and peaceful revolution. However, he maintained a strong belief that thirst for power was a filthy trait that people should remedy.

Perhaps his periods of imprisonment before the revolution were his motivation to adhere to strong ethics and morals in politics when he became president of the republic, and he remained convinced that thought, freedom and dignity were the elements that defeated tyranny.

We are all in dire need to agree on what we want after the revolution – and this day will inevitably come. We must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and we must agree on a new system that will encompass all of us as partners in the nation. There must also be ethics in practicing politics, and lying and defamation must not be among political tactics.

After 25 January, he who thirsted for power is he who made promises and revealed no desire for it, and so there was the 30 June… and here we are in the desire to create a new pharaoh using the most immoral tactics…and this will lead to what it will lead to ….inevitably

But in the inevitable “awakening” which will come after months or years, we must learn from our own mistakes and from the experiences of others”


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