Vaclav Havel: Rebuilding After Communism

Source:  The Freedom Collection /
Interviewed April 2010
Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a playwright and poet who played a leading role in bringing an end to communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Havel served as the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).
Havel was born into a wealthy, intellectual family. For political reasons he was not accepted into any post-secondary humanities program, but eventually he was able to study drama by correspondence and began publishing articles and plays. In 1968 he was a prominent participant in the “Prague Spring,” a brief period of liberalization that ended when the Warsaw Pact stationed troops in the country.
In 1976 and 1977 Havel helped lead the effort to produce the human rights manifesto known as Charter 77, which criticized the government of Czechoslovakia for failing to abide by its human rights obligations under the Czechoslovak Constitution, the Helsinki Accords, and United Nations covenants. In April 1979, Havel co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted. He was imprisoned three separate times for his activities.
In 1989, Havel played a leading role in the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution” which brought an end to the communist political system in Czechoslovakia. Havel was elected president of the country that year. He led Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic to multi-party democracy and presided over the country’s accession into NATO. Since leaving office, Havel has committed himself to the promotion of democracy in other parts of the world such as Cuba and Burma. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2003.

Well, I am not sure whether we can be an example or a model of the most correct way of lustration or ultimately dealing with our past. Maybe, it has been better here in some aspects than in other countries, but it is not very good. It is a very complex, complex task. We had no experience with this in the past.
Communism was here for the first time, post-Communism is here for the first time, we are facing this problem for the first time, and, it is very difficult to see all those tons and entire trains of documents that the state police left behind. It is hard to see all these papers in the historical context, in the atmosphere of the time period, take into consideration the language of that time.
These are difficult things. Only by ripping out a piece of paper, on its own, when it is not seen in a context and connections that can lead only, only to chaos. Well. Certainly, I am not against making these documents public. What I am not very satisfied with is the way of their declassification, the way they are handled.
I think that apart from the public support and that, that sort of persistence in naming the things, that because of some economic interests something we think is not silenced, it is necessary to continue all this and help. But, that’s not enough.
In some way, we should be able to evaluate our own experiences from the past twenty years and also pass on these experiences. So that countries that are still fighting for their freedom, so that they would not repeat the same mistakes we made here. For example, I talked to the Cuban dissidents about the fact that they should count on the fact that it would come, if the conditions start to change, it would come, rich Cubans will return from the US, from Florida, and they will want their fields and estates back, they will want restitution.
And, suddenly, quite a large problem will emerge, since people who live in Cuba, who have lived their entire life in a situation where everything was completely nationalized, will be wondering. And, quite possibly, a huge problem will arise. And, I was telling them to consider this and prepare for this, for this problem. This is only an example of how to pass on the experiences since this is only our experience that I am applying to Cuban conditions.