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Václav Havel is dead at seventy-five.

Appreciation in The New York Times.

In letters to his wife from prison, Mr. Havel, who died on Sunday, expressed his artistic vision. While confessing that he was not a “divadelnik,” a professional “for whom theater is the only imaginable vocation,” he also wrote of theater as “a kind of immediate and vivid enactment of the very mystery of human existence.”

As a playwright, he had a relatively small body of work, and in light of his political career it would be easy to think of his theatrical work as minor. But Mr. Havel occupied a special place in the world of theater. Although playwrights from Bertolt Brecht to Athol Fugard have instilled their work with a fervid political commitment, only Mr. Havel went from being a prisoner of a state to the leader of that state.


Václav Havel’s career and oeuvre can be divided into three periods: the playwright of the 1960s, influenced by the absurdist theater of Beckett and Ionesco; the dissident of the 1970s and 1980s; and then the president (1989–2003). To anyone who might be tempted to emphasize only one of these three facets or to set them in stark contrast to one another, he has just responded by writing a new play, The Departure, which could just as well have been called The Comedy of Power. For, with Havel, theater and politics are never far apart. After all, in November 1989 in Prague, the Civic Forum—the crucible of the new democracy—was created in a theater with the prophetic name of the Magic Lantern. The Velvet Revolution itself is his best play, a theatrical revolution in which the people were invited to play the roles themselves. Milan Kundera wrote at the time: “The way in which he led the struggle was fascinating not just from a political point of view, but from an aesthetic one as well. It was the last prestissimo movement of a sonata written by a very great master.”

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He was one of mine, too, even if I didn't agree with him on some issues latterly. It's an exceedingly trivial point given the arc of his life and work, but he was also the coolest, not something you can say of every statesman. (Obama is cool lite, but Havel was the genuine article.)

Pulling out all the stops for the funeral.

At the request of the late ex-president’s wife, Dagmar, Mr. Havel’s body has been lying in repose at the Prague Crossroads, a spiritual centre that he himself founded. On Wednesday his remains are to be transferred to the historic Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle. The casket will be drawn by horses on a howitzer gun-carriage –the very same gun-carriage that bore the remains of Czechoslovakia’s beloved first president Tomas Guarrigue Masaryk. The cortege, which is to set out from the Prague Castle garrison in Loretanská Street, will be followed by family members, close friends and politicians. 600 soldiers from the Czech Armed Forces as well as members of the Prague Castle Guard will be part of the procession and lining the route, among them bearers of historical banners of Czechoslovak legions.

More on the plays.

But then, on 1 January 1977, Charter 77 burst into the world with Havel as its leading spokesman and, of course, more restrictions followed. In 1979 he was given a four-year prison sentence. In prison he wrote letters to his wife, later published as Letters to Olga; the plays Largo Desolato and Temptation followed his release. His final major play before he found himself thrust into the leadership of his country was Redevelopment in 1987.

Not going to heaven, though:

The other also became the leader of his country and gained infamy as an oppressor and destroyer of human lives. The death of these two political leaders---Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-il---highlights the fact that men can live radically different existences but share the same eternal fate.
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