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World Reacts To Vaclav Havel's Death

  • RFE/RL

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel

"Hero." "Exceptional." "Incorruptible." Those are just some of the tributes pouring in, as the world mourns the passing of former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

The renowned playwright and dissident, who became his country's president after leading the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled Czechoslovak communism, died on December 18 at the age of 75.

His successor, current Czech President Vaclav Klaus, eulogized Havel in a televised statement at Prague Castle, calling him "a symbol of the modern Czech state. He played a key role in its establishment, through his fearless struggle against communist totalitarianism and as a leading figure of our Velvet Revolution and as the first president of our free country."

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a statement, said Havel's "peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon." Obama added that Havel had "inspired generations to reach for self-determination and dignity in all parts of the world."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a condolence message addressed to Klaus, said her country was mourning the loss of "a great European."

For his part, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle hailed Havel as "the soul of the Czech revolution" and a "great champion for democracy and freedom" who helped overcome Europe's Cold War division. He called Havel a "trailblazer for European reunification."

"He was a great statesman and an important civil rights campaigner. We will miss Vaclav Havel," Westerwelle added. "Especially we Germans owe a lot to him, because the German unification and the European reunification are two side of the same coin. We bow in gratitude to Vaclav Havel."

In neighboring Austria, President Heinz Fischer called Havel "a great European, writer, and humanist." Foreign Minister Michael Spindeleger described the late Czech president as an "exceptional figure, an incorruptible intellectual."
"Vaclav Havel was and will remain a hero."

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said simply, "Vaclav Havel was and will remain a hero."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called Havel "a source of great inspiration to all those who fight for freedom and democracy around the world." "The man has died," he added, "but the legacy of his poems, plays and above all his ideas and personal example will remain alive for many generations to come."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that Havel was "one of the greatest Europeans of our age." Bildt, writing on his blog, added that "one of modern Europe's most important, strongest, and bravest voices has passed away."

Former Polish head of state Lech Walesa, whose path to the presidency, like Havel's, was rooted in anticommunist dissent, said he believed Havel should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tributes to Havel have not been restricted to Europe. In authoritarian Turkmenistan, Amanmurat Bugaev, an Ashgabat-based playwright and civic activist told RFE/RL Turkmen Service that Havel "as a symbol of a fighter for democracy and freedom, has taken root in the minds of pro-democracy intellectuals and ordinary citizens in Turkmenistan. The news about the death of such a great personality, of course, is very sad news."

Czechs Pay Tribute

Former Havel adviser Jiri Pehe, now a political analyst and director of New York University in Prague, called the late Czech president "one of the most important figures in world history in the second half of the 20th century."

In an interview with RFE/RL (see full transcript here), Pehe said that Havel had key personal qualities that allowed him to become a leading light in the region's democratic transformation.

"First, I think he was a very charismatic figure," Pehe said. "Second, I think that as I came to know him, he had this very special quality which I have rarely seen in anyone else, and that was his incredible ability to synthesize various opinions and then come up with a program."

Czechs from all walks of life have been gathering at Prague Castle and lighting candles in the heart of the Czech capital, on Wenceslas Square, in a tribute their former leader.

Condolence books will be opened at Prague Castle starting on December 19 for people to sign. President Klaus has convened a meeting with senior Czech officials to discuss funeral arrangements.

Written by Jeremy Bransten, with contributions from Bruce Jacobs

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