Havel and the Nobel Peace prize
Jul-26-04 - By Rosendo Fraga

Václav Havel the former anti-communist dissident, who served as president of the Czech Republic as an international figure embodying the non-violent fight for freedom and democracy, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He represents at the same time the symbol and actions of the so-called 'Velvet Revolution', which in his country in 1989 made the ideals and values of non-violence a reality with which he carried out the fight against totalitarianism.

This identification with the values of freedom and human rights have characterized his life as a political leader, head of state and also through his literary works in the field of arts, which constituted his first field of expression.

Under the communist rule that gripped the Czech Republic, Havel was one of the most active members in the defense of freedom and human rights. His explicit commitment to these values deprived him of his freedom for a long time and banned him from his civil rights as well.

For two decades, he was controlled by the secret police of the regime, incarcerated and sentenced to home arrest.

Although he endured prison for five years, he refused to leave his country and preferred to continue participating in dissident activities even at the risk of being jailed again.

He began to get involved in political life in the second half of the '50s, when as a fledging writer he delivered a speech at the Czechoslovakia Congress of Writers. In the following decade, his activity increased showing wise public criticism against the oppression plaguing his country. During the so-called 'Prague Spring' in 1968, he acted with determination and suffered subsequent repression during the 'normalization' period imposed by the communist regime.

In January 1977, he played an outstanding role in drafting the so-called 'Charter 77', the document that gave a name and definition to the nature of the Czech citizens' dissidence.

This movement was based on a pluralism open to dialogue between the country's different sectors of society and the communist government.

Havel became the spiritual leader of the fight to make Czechoslovakia part of the community of democratic nations in Europe once again.

In April 1979, he co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the 'Unjustly Persecuted', which cost him another period in prison.

In the second half of 1980, during the Soviet 'Perestroika' when the USSR opened up to dialogue with the democratic world, the Czech society became increasingly dissatisfied with the communist rule. While only some hundreds of citizens had signed the manifesto of 'Charter 77', the call for greater freedom under the name of 'Diverse Sentences' of which Havel was co-author, was signed by dozens of thousands of people.

The great raising of awareness among citizens was a constant in the texts written in those years, whether they were theater plays in his category as play writer, essays and articles. These atmosphere was expressed in the students' demonstrations of November 17, 1989, when commemorating the half century since the closing of Czech universities by the Nazis.

The peaceful demonstration was brutally repressed and dispersed by the security forces. The reaction of the civil society was important with massive protests under the 'Civic Forum' led, among other, by Havel, who gave it organic structure.

In the last weeks of 1989, he was proposed as presidential candidate for the Civic Forum and in 29 December that same year he was elected president of Czechoslovakia.

The most relevant values in Havel's life and works have been his identification with people, human rights and the well-being of citizens. In the democratic Czechoslovakia of which he was the first president after the fall of communism, he never abandoned those values but put them in practice until he stepped down in February 2, 2003.

From this new position, he made great efforts regarding many corners of the world to achieve the freedom of the prisoners of consciousness, supporting international organizations that defended human rights and keeping in contact with dissidents who fought against authoritarian regimes as were the cases of Milosevic in Serbia, Lukashenko in Byelorussia, Castro in Cuba, also supporting the organizations of exiled individuals from countries such as North Korea, China, Burma and Vietnam.

In over ten years as president, he never wasted the chance of calling against the persecution of human rights activists and proposing several of them for Nobel Peace Prize nominees.

One of the constant features in Havel's preaching was the emphasis made on the defense of the rights of minority ethnic groups. An example of that was his action to do justice for the annihilation of the Romanian-Czech minority during World War II. In 1998 he submitted a bill called 'The Holocaust Phenomenon' seeking to raise debate against the prejudice derived from ethnic intolerance.

Another central issue has been the global responsibility for the world and its future. This concern was materialized in Havel's initiative along with the Elie Wiesel organization and the Yohei Sasakawa Foundation in Japan to organize the conferences, which under the name of 'Forum 2000', have been held in Prague annually since 1977.

These conferences have joined distinguished personalities with the Nobel Prize, politicians who have tried to implement peaceful solutions to bellicose conflicts, renowned intellectuals and scholars along with writers, artists and economists to determine the diagnosis of the planet's most serious problems and enter the new millennium with the purpose of bringing solutions to bear. After the 11 September 2001 attacks, these conferences have added an annual meeting to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Havel is also remembered for his efforts to promote dialogue among institutional delegates, international organizations and groups and associations that resist globalization. On occasion of the Annual World Bank and IMF Assembly held in Prague in 2000, Havel managed to create a discussions table among the authorities of these international institutions and the leaders of the most important organizations of the anti-globalization movement.

For all these reasons, Václav Havel is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize for which he is nominated from several parts of the world.

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