Václav Havel: Living in Truth
October 5, 1936 - December 18 2011
Havel was one of my heros though I know far less about his life and works than I ought. Life is short, my reading list long.
I paid more attention to him and his writings when I was living in Europe, between 1986 and 1995, though usually only what I came across in one of the many newspapers that I read back in those largely pre-internet days. He was in the news a great deal as Communism fell in Eastern Europe, so there was a lot on him as he moved from dissident prisoner to president of Czechoslovakia within a matter of months. I now have more access, due to the internet, but far less time, so I've read less of him in more recent years.
He died only a couple of weeks ago, as everyone knows, and I was moved to look for something appropriate to mark his passing, so when I found these words of his from a 2008 interview conducted by a fellow ex-dissident, Adam Michnik, in which Michnik asked Havel what advice he would give to a young person today on how to live, I had what I needed:
The basic imperative:To live in truth. A high calling, not easy to harken to since one might also have to die for truth, but Havel lived this imperative despite the risk, and so should we.
"To live in truth"
[This] has its tradition in Czech philosophy but basically has biblical roots -- it does not mean just the possession or communication of information. Because information, like a virus, circulates in the air so one person may absorb more and another one less. Truth, however, is a different matter because we guarantee it with our own self. Truth is based on responsibility. And that is an imperative that is valid in every age. Obviously, it takes slightly different forms today. Luckily, you don’t have to hang portraits of a Havel, or a Klaus or a Kaczyński in the shop windows anymore and of course we no longer live under totalitarian pressure -- but that doesn't mean we've won. We still need what I refer to as an "existential revolution" even though it might look different in different places.
But basically, what matters is that you have to stand up for what you believe is the truth. (Adam Michnik, "After the Velvet, an Existential Revolution?" Gazeta Wyborcza, November 20, 2008)
Requiescat In Pace, Havel. You've earned it if anyone has.