Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the Czechoslovakian "velvet revolution" and was one of the fathers of the east European pro-democracy movement that led to the fall of the Berlin wall, has died aged 75.
He stood for non-violent change and for national unity. He was a man of integrity and served his country out of a sense of patriotism, not ego. He was already a successful playwright.
His commitment to non-violent resistance helped ensure the velvet revolution was bloodless. It also help ensured that the "velvet divorce" three years later, when the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was equally peaceful.
Havel opposed the split and stepped down from his position as president in 1992, rather than oversee the process. However, he stood for the presidency of the Czech Republic early the following year and won. It was a non-executive position but Havel brought to it both moral authority and prestige on the world stage. He stayed in the position, despite bouts of ill health including lung cancer, until 2003.
His role in the east European revolutions of 1989 was second only to Lech Walesa's in Poland. As the twin inspirations of the pro-democracy movement, they were strikingly contrasting figures: Walesa a flamboyant, brash, working-class union agitator; Havel a soft-spoken intellectual from a well-to-do family, who was a reluctant politician.
Havel was a strong supporter of the freedom agenda promoted by the G.W. Bush administration.
Statement by President George W. Bush: "Laura and I are saddened by the loss of our friend, Vaclav Havel. His strong voice for human liberty changed the course of his country and crossed continents. In the days of Communist rule over Czechoslovakia, he was viewed as an enemy of the state for ridiculing the pretensions of an oppressive government. The most subversive act of the playwright from Prague was telling the truth about tyranny. And when that truth finally triumphed, the people elected this dignified, charming, humble, determined man to lead their country. Unintimidated by threats, unchanged by political power, Vaclav Havel suffered much in the cause of freedom and became one of its greatest heroes. We send our heartfelt condolences to his dear wife, Dagmar, and the people of the Czech Republic as they celebrate the life of a great man."
His motto was: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."
Amen. Rest in peace.