Václav Havel quotes

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Václav Havel

Birthdate: 5. October 1936
Date of death: 18. December 2011
Other names: वैक्लेव हैवेल

Václav Havel was a Czech statesman, writer and former dissident, who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992 and then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. As a writer of Czech literature, he is known for his plays, essays, and memoirs.

His educational opportunities having been limited by his bourgeois background, Havel first rose to prominence as a playwright. In works such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum, Havel used an absurdist style to criticize communism. After participating in the Prague Spring and being blacklisted after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he became more politically active and helped found several dissident initiatives, including Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted. His political activities brought him under the surveillance of the secret police and he spent multiple stints in prison, the longest being nearly four years, between 1979 and 1983.

Havel's Civic Forum party played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. He assumed the presidency shortly thereafter, and was re-elected in a landslide the following year and after Slovak independence in 1993. Havel was instrumental in dismantling the Warsaw Pact and expanding NATO membership eastward. Many of his stances and policies, such as his opposition to Slovak independence, condemnation of the Czechoslovak treatment of Sudeten Germans after World War II, and granting of general amnesty to all those imprisoned under communism, were very controversial domestically. As such, at the end of his presidency, he enjoyed greater popularity abroad than at home. Havel continued his life as a public intellectual after his presidency, launching several initiatives including the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, the VIZE 97 Foundation, and the Forum 2000 annual conference.

Havel's political philosophy was one of anti-consumerism, humanitarianism, environmentalism, civil activism, and direct democracy. He supported the Czech Green Party from 2004 until his death. He received numerous accolades during his lifetime including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the Four Freedoms Award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, and the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award. The 2012–2013 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour. He is considered by some to be one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century. The international airport in Prague was renamed to Václav Havel Airport Prague in 2012.

Works

Quotes Václav Havel

„Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.“

—  Václav Havel, book The Power of the Powerless

Living in Truth (1986), The Power of the Powerless
Context: The law is only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better... Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.

„It's not hard to stand behind one's successes. But to accept responsibility for one's failures… that is devishly hard!“

—  Václav Havel

As quoted in "Václav Havel: Heir to a Spiritual Legacy" by Richard L. Stanger in Christian Century (11 April 1990) http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=767
Context: It's not hard to stand behind one's successes. But to accept responsibility for one's failures... that is devishly hard! But only thence does the road lead... to a radically new insight into the mysterious gravity of my existence as an uncertain enterprise and to its transcendental meaning.

„The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought.“

—  Václav Havel

New Year's Address to the Nation (1990)
Context: The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore one another, to care only about ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships.

„The most important thing is that man should be the measure of all structures, including economic structures, and not that man be made to measure for those structures.“

—  Václav Havel, book Disturbing the Peace

Source: Disturbing the Peace (1986), Ch. 1 : Growing Up "Outside", p. 13
Context: The most important thing is that man should be the measure of all structures, including economic structures, and not that man be made to measure for those structures. The most important thing is not to lose sight of personal relationships — i. e., the relationships between man and his co-workers, between subordinates and their superiors, between man and his work, between this work and its consequences.

„Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. In short, we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: There appear to be no integrating forces, no unified meaning, no true inner understanding of phenomena in our experience of the world. Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. In short, we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.

„What I am about to say may sound provocative, but I feel more and more strongly that even these ideas are not enough, that we must go farther and deeper.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: I am referring to respect for the unique human being and his or her liberties and inalienable rights and to the principle that all power derives from the people. I am, in short, referring to the fundamental ideas of modern democracy.
What I am about to say may sound provocative, but I feel more and more strongly that even these ideas are not enough, that we must go farther and deeper.

„Because it is founded on the search for universal laws, it cannot deal with singularity, that is, with uniqueness. The universe is a unique event and a unique story, and so far we are the unique point of that story. But unique events and stories are the domain of poetry, not science.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: Until recently, it might have seemed that we were an unhappy bit of mildew on a heavenly body whirling in space among many that have no mildew on them at all. this was something that classical science could explain. Yet, the moment it begins to appear that we are deeply connected to the entire universe, science reaches the outer limits of its powers. Because it is founded on the search for universal laws, it cannot deal with singularity, that is, with uniqueness. The universe is a unique event and a unique story, and so far we are the unique point of that story. But unique events and stories are the domain of poetry, not science. With the formulation of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, science has found itself on the border between formula and story, between science and myth. In that, however, science has paradoxically returned, in a roundabout way, to man, and offers him — in new clothing — his lost integrity. It does so by anchoring him once more in the cosmos.

„There is only one Art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth.“

—  Václav Havel

"Six Asides About Culture"
Living in Truth (1986)
Context: There is only one Art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth. … Thus, from the standpoint of the work and its worth it is irrelevant to which political ideas the artist as a citizen claims allegiance, which ideas he would like to serve with his work or whether he holds any such ideas at all.

„An amalgamation of cultures is taking place. I see it as proof that something is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when everything is possible.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: An amalgamation of cultures is taking place. I see it as proof that something is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when everything is possible. Yes, everything is possible, because our civilization does not have its own unified style, its own spirit, its own aesthetic.

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„A year ago, we all were united in the joy over having broken free of totalitarianism. Today we all are made somewhat nervous by the burden of freedom.“

—  Václav Havel

New Year's Address to the Nation (1991)
Context: A year ago, we all were united in the joy over having broken free of totalitarianism. Today we all are made somewhat nervous by the burden of freedom. Our society is still in a state of shock. This shock could have been expected, but none of us expected it to be so profound. The old system collapsed, and a new one so far has not been built. Our social life is marked by a subliminal uncertainty over what kind of system we are going to build, how to build it, and whether we are able to build it at all.

„I think there are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: I think there are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended. Today, many things indicate that we are going thorough a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying, and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble.

„Our country, if that is what we want, can now permanently radiate love, understanding, the power of the spirit and of ideas.“

—  Václav Havel

New Year's Address to the Nation (1990)
Context: Our country, if that is what we want, can now permanently radiate love, understanding, the power of the spirit and of ideas. It is precisely this glow that we can offer as our specific contribution to international politics.

„This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: A modern philosopher once said: "Only a God can save us now."
Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors, and thus honor their rights as well.

„Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became.“

—  Václav Havel

The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World (1994)
Context: Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became. Today, for instance, we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us.

„This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something truly new and unique … something truly historical, in the sense that history again demands to be heard.“

—  Václav Havel

Open letter to Dr. Gustáv Husák, Communist President (8 April 1975)
Context: Life cannot be destroyed for good, neither … can history be brought entirely to a halt. A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy lid of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undercutting it. It may be a long process, but one day it must happen: the lid will no longer hold and will start to crack. This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something truly new and unique … something truly historical, in the sense that history again demands to be heard.

„I frequently even took what was clearly a minority position and so reaped more opposition than recognition. Sometimes I may have been mistaken in this but I would like to assure you of one thing: I have always tried to abide by the dictates of the authority under which I took my oath of office — the dictates of the best of my awareness and conscience.“

—  Václav Havel

Farewell Address (2003)
Context: Today I would like to thank from my heart all those of you who have trusted me, sympathized with me or in any way supported me. Without your understanding and goodwill I would not have been able to stay in office for even a few moments. I appreciate your support all the more for the fact that I did not try at all costs to obtain it. I frequently even took what was clearly a minority position and so reaped more opposition than recognition. Sometimes I may have been mistaken in this but I would like to assure you of one thing: I have always tried to abide by the dictates of the authority under which I took my oath of office — the dictates of the best of my awareness and conscience.

„We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it.“

—  Václav Havel

New Year's Address to the Nation (1990)
Context: We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all — though naturally to differing extents — responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery. None of us is just its victim. We are all also its co-creators.

„Life cannot be destroyed for good, neither … can history be brought entirely to a halt.“

—  Václav Havel

Open letter to Dr. Gustáv Husák, Communist President (8 April 1975)
Context: Life cannot be destroyed for good, neither … can history be brought entirely to a halt. A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy lid of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undercutting it. It may be a long process, but one day it must happen: the lid will no longer hold and will start to crack. This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something truly new and unique … something truly historical, in the sense that history again demands to be heard.

„His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.“

—  Václav Havel

Living in Truth (1986), An Anatomy of Reticence
Context: The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin — and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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