Tag: Vaclav Havel

Václav Havel: The Political Dissident Who Founded the Czech Republic


Our historical forgotten American articles are generally impressive figures, but there are very few one might accurately call “cool.” This is an exception in two ways. Václav Havel, the founder of the modern-day Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) is undoubtedly cool by any definition of the word. A political dissident under the Soviet-backed regime, he served hard time in Communist prisons rather than bend the knee to their authority. His moral courage acted as a beacon of hope for the entire resistance movement behind the Iron Curtain. As you’ve gathered by now, the second exception is that Havel is not American, but his fight against communism earned himself an honorable mention in our “Forgotten Americans” section.

Havel was born in Prague in 1936 to a wealthy and prominent family in then Czechoslovakia, a nation newly independent from the Austro-Hungarian Empire made up of the future Czechia and Slovakia. His paternal line comprised real estate developers, while his mother was the daughter of a famous diplomat and journalist. As one might imagine, this did not make his life easy after the Czechoslovakian Communist coup d’etat of 1948.

Indeed, the new Communist regime dictated his life path largely on the basis of his class background. He took gymnasium classes while working as an apprentice chemical lab assistant. Due to political and social reasons, none of the postsecondary humanities programs would accept him as a student. He was accepted into a prestigious economics program but dropped out after two years. He entered into compulsory military service in 1957 and left in 1959.

ACF: Prague Spring Edition


Friends, this edition of the podcast is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring — on the night of August 20-21, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact armies invaded Czechoslovakia and put an end to the hopes for reform of the Communist regime. It would take more than a generation for freedom, destroyed by invasion, to come back to Prague. On January 16, 1969, Jan Palach, a 20-year-old student, burned himself in Wenceslas Square in protest against the resurgent tyranny. Agnieszka Holland, the Oscar-nominated director of the Holocaust movie In Darkness (2011), also made Burning Bush (2013), a three-episode mini-series on Jan Palach’s self-immolation and its aftermath, one of the best works of art we have about late totalitarian government. Flagg Taylor and I talk about this movie and about the Prague Spring itself, the Charter 77 movement, and Jan Palach’s legacy up to the return of freedom to Czechoslovakia.

ACF Middlebrow #12: Comedy & Communism


The new Middlebrow podcast deals with comedy and communism, spurred by the recent movie The Death of Stalin, which Flagg Taylor (@FlaggTaylor) and I both wanted to succeed. Unfortunately, it is a failure. More on this on the podcast, as well as some talk about Milan Kundera, Ilf and Petrov, Solzhenitsyn and Leo Strauss, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Benda, an English-translation book of whose essays Flagg has just edited, The Long Night of The Watchman. Flagg is also the co-editor, with our friend Carl Scott, of Totalitarianism on Screen, about the great movie The Lives of Others (won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 2006), which dealt with the secret police in Communist East Germany, and which we discussed on the podcast last year. So now we match our conversation on tragedy and communism with one on comedy. Listen, share, and give us a rating/review!

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Below is the second post in my series for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation blog, Dissident. There are two related posts by my friends Alena Hromadkova and Barbara Day that are very much worth your attention. And here is my write-up of an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Charter 77 at the […]

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Successful and Unsuccessful Movements


imageVaclav Havel wrote that successful political movements don’t start political. Instead, they begin focused on unique ideas about living. As the group gain members and sorts out its ideas, they develop a more comprehensive lifestyle which ultimately leads to a political conflict. But what happens when the group becomes untethered from its social origins and fixated solely on a political purpose?

Mark Hemingway at The Weekly Standard describes such a devolution taking place before our eyes in the Democrat Party:

Anyway, as the tension over the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] mounted, Obama couldn’t hide his frustration with Warren and so he called her out by name. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” Obama told Yahoo News reporter Matt Bai. As insults go, this is a subtle but classic Obama formulation; it’s undoubtedly true that Warren is a politician and motivated by political concerns. But by drawing this contrast between the two of them, the implication is that Obama is motivated by something more pure than the mere political concerns of Warren and “everybody else.”