“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.” —Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations, 1993
Vaclav Havel rose from a persecuted life as a dissident playwright hounded by secret police to a symbol of freedom as the leader of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution and then the Czech Republic’s first President. He died Sunday, after a long illness, at the age of 75.
During the Prague Spring reform movement, which ended with the 1968 Soviet invasion, Havel became chairman of the free-speech Circle of Independent Writers. The next year, his writing was banned and he moved from Prague to a rural town, where he got a job in a brewery but continued writing. His plays became famous in the West and, later, behind the Iron Curtain, and he became a symbol of the world’s political conscience as the co-founder and spokesman of the human rights movement Charter 77.
In this short clip, Lou Reed and Havel talk about music’s relationship to the politics of social change and the very prominent role artists played in Czechoslovakia’s own Velvet Revolution, including the inspiration provided by Reed’s Velvet Underground.
This 2008 interview with Sir David Frost, Havel’s last extended conversation with a Western journalist, offers insight into what he considers the enduring issues of his life.