Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Remembering Havel

"If there is to be any chance at all of success, there is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility and tolerance, and this is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly" - Václav Havel 

Seven years ago on December 18, 2018 Václav Havel passed away. He would have been 82 this year. Over the course of his life he worked in a brewery, became a play write, a dissident, a political prisoner, president of his country, and then a citizen, but through his example he was much more than all of that put together and is greatly missed.

Havel believed that moral actions, no matter how small or futile they may appear at the time can have profound consequences for both freedom and a just society. It is because the world is not a puzzle to be solved but incredibly much more complex that decisions of right and wrong made by each person have such great importance.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and President Václav Havel in Prague (2002)
At the same time, he did not link hope with success but rather the certainty that what one is doing is both good and coherent. In 1990 in the book, Disturbing the Peace, Havel explained how he viewed hope.
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
The fruits of his legacy can be seen in the work of Forum 2000, an annual gathering of politicians, philosophers, artists, scientists, and the public to reflect on important issues challenging civilization. The topic on the twentieth gathering of Forum 2000 was "The Courage to take Responsibility." In such times this is wise counsel both for citizens and political leaders. 

Short trousers for Havel.
At the same time he also understood the value of humor. Václav Havel in an address to the Central European University on June 24, 1999 at a difficult moment on the international scene made the case for laughter.
"The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world."
Following his death in 2011, every year on the anniversary of his passing admirers of Václav Havel the world over wear short trousers in his memory. Organizers explained its historic significance along with its particular Czech sensibility.
The “Short Trousers for Václav Havel” initiative started in 2012 to honor the memory of Václav Havel with a gesture that was unique, memorable and easily achieved by supporters of this exceptional person in modern Czech and European history.  Short Trousers is a reference to Havel stepping into political life in 1989 and his inauguration to the presidency in visibly short trousers. He explained vainly that rather than a tailor’s mistake it was his habit to pull his pants up at every dramatic situation. To this, one might say global mythology of his short trousers, he added with a smile: "I must say that I am glad of it, more or less. From my point of view it’s a pretty gentle way of mocking myself."  An effort to honor such a respectable person by a gesture that points to this humorous episode might appear, at first sight, as a contradictory act. But the opposite is true. We believe that rolled up trousers on the anniversary of the death of Václav Havel is a gesture which is Czech, slightly satirical and which can be easily joined by anyone who wants to honor the memory of the last Czechoslovak and the first Czech president Havel in a cheerful way.
This method of spontaneous remembrance contrasts dramatically with how dictators forcibly demand that they be remembered on penalty of imprisonment for dissenting as has been the case following the 2016 death of Fidel Castro

Czechs remember and honor Vaclav Havel by wearing short trousers

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