Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Year Ago, Today

Václav Havel died a year ago today. After his death, thousands of people came to Václavské náměstí (Vaclav's square) to place candles and flowers beneath the statue of St. Vaclav on his horse. The Czech Republic mourned and the media declared that leaders like Havel were once in a lifetime, that the country would not soon see his like again.

Yesterday, in Pravo, Jiří Pehe had this to say about the President. "Jeho nejvýraznější kvalitou totiž byla schopnost, i během pobytu v politice, zpochybňovat „samozřejmost“ politického i civilizačního provozu a stavět proti němu odpovědnost." - His greatest quality was the ability, during his life in politics, to question what everyone else saw as obvious political and societal assumptions and to find a way to responsibly oppose them.

As a writer Havel understood subtext - how to read between the lines and see not only the face value of a story but what lay beneath it. As a dissident he saw just how easy it was to not force change, to not question assumptions, to say, "not now, it's not the time to act."

He acted anyway.

By acting on his beliefs, by writing about them, by helping to free an entire region from a very rigid set of assumptions, all while in the role of an everyman, Havel left a legacy behind him. It is this: there is no need to wait for a leader to take his place. We too, as everymen and women, can read between the lines and understand that just because something has been so for many years, it need not always be so. That there are ways to responsibly oppose assumptions. And that there never will be a better time than now.

In the United States today, there are certain assumptions that Americans hold to be true. Thanks to one of them, school rooms full of children were slaughtered last week by a man who should never have held a gun. The country grieves, and people come to place candles and flowers around the entrance of the school where the children died. But mourning is not enough. Now, I believe, is the time to remember the legacy of Vaclav Havel - to question our assumptions, and then to act.


Rouchswalwe said...

Six-year olds.

The example of Havel is a good one to galvanize ordinary people into taking action over time. Reading between the lines. Engaging in responsible effective opposition. You are so right, Julia. Mourning is not enough. Ordinary citizens must now act to counter the forces that seek to benefit financially from the portrayal of the future as a dangerous place where a person has to carry protection to defend against the big bad wolves out there. I believe the gun and ammunition manufacturers are hypocrites. They are the dangerous profit mongers.

Six-year olds. And brave teachers. The discussion here has reached a level I've not seen before. Flags still fly at half mast. And now the images of the small coffins as the funerals take place this week, the week before the christmas holiday. Action, I hope, begins in ernest now ...

Ellen said...

Very well said. I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

I just reposted this to my facebook. I live in Michigan, far from Connecticutt, but still in the USA. I fell the same way and hope that for once, we act, not just lament.

Roderick Robinson said...

You might say this is Obama's big chance (second term; no electoral worries) to leave behind a name that is ultimately as revered as that of Vaclav Havel. The US is trembling at this very moment; even the NRA is talking about dialogue; but one gets the feeling that post-Christmas it will all be too late. Can he do it? It was genuinely moving to see him make those announcement, pausing for long seconds to take control of his emotions; wiping tears away. But being emotional isn't enough. He has to take the House by the scruff of the neck. Havel would have understood.

Those death have to count. Must count.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Well said. We need some thoughtful leaders looking for some solutions. It's long overdue.

Anonymous said...

I am not proud that S. C. is one of the largest producers of handguns in the country. .