They Called Him a Dissident: Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

By Janis Adams 12-19-2011
Václav Havel  Prague 2009. Via Via
Václav Havel during his speech at the Freedom and its adversaries conference held in Prague 2009. Via

Dissident has been defined as “one who challenges the established doctrine, a person who openly defies what has been set as standard or defined policy.”

Many would say that a dissident is the one who is the loudly clanging gong in a world already clamoring with dissonance, another voice we would simply like to be rid of or ignore.

For Vaclav Havel, it most certainly was not this way.

Yes, his words marked the world by challenging its mores. Moving people. Altering lives. Changing the world's map. All this was done with the engaging smoothness of a velvet approach. And this, among a host of many other attributes, will be why he will be so deeply missed and the loss of his life so greatly mourned.

The nation of Czechoslovakia has instated three days of national mourning for the man with the engaging smile. This time of imposed sadness – while a fitting tribute – does not seem nearly enough for a man who made it his purpose to reform hearts.

As a fellow writer, I find myself in awe of those who can create a revolution, as did Vaclav Havel, with their words instead of with firearms, violence and acts marked by hate. His early writings were plays that garnered him great acclaim. But, he did not leave his influence with his found fame on this stage.

Instead on he wrote, plays that were banned because of the uprising of discontent they engendered in the hearts of those who came to see them. So powerful, they were disavowed in his own country. They called for change, a revolution and revolution was just what this man's life would come to be about.

Though admittedly I hunger after his well-crafted words, what I desire more so and will miss in greater ways is the manner in which he led and wrought deep and lasting change.

While Vaclav Havel eschewed the political arena per say, he found himself unanimously voted in as the first president of the Czech Republic.

This man of noble character, once again, found his voice in acts of non-violence that brought about peace and change in a season marked heavily and greatly by political unrest. Instead of taking up arms, he took up his pen and found his voice in speaking so others would listen. All of which will make him all the more and greater still — missed.

Though strongly criticized by some and castigated by others, Vaclav Havel did not deign to respond with incivility or acts that would discredit his truly just nature. Instead, it was this that fueled him to spur on further change. Change that would end communism in Czechoslovakia.

His spirited gaze showed his true disposition, though a peace-bringer he was not one who fought silently. His words ring out now, and will continue to do so for centuries. But, it is even more so his actions that will hold true. A real and true dissident is one who draws out change without harm to those whom he deigns bring a revolution.

Vaclav Havel lived his life with total and complete conviction, a life filled with conviction that can only be evidenced most profoundly by actions. His actions, all so poignant in a world driven by open displays of violence, were peace-filled and ultimately wrought peace.

For this I mourn the loss of his life all the more.

Forsaking fame, he sought change.

Using his name, not for power or place, he brought attention to a nation's plight of oppression.

This is what a man of greatness does. This is what a man of excellence is known for – making his life not about him but about others. 

And so, we mourn.


Janis Adams is an author and the award-winning columnist who pens Saving Grace. Her first book, A Complete Guide for Single Moms: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Healthy, Happy Children on You Own has met with critical success. She is at work on her next book, Bethlehem Steel: The Once All Powerful Behemoth. Follow Janis on her blog or on Twitter @JanisWrites.

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