I haven’t had many heroes in my life, but Vaclav Havel was one of them. He was a great artist, musician and playwright who had a soaring intellect (he named Frank Zappa as a cultural advisor), remarkable courage and the determination to speak the truth – for which he was jailed, and then later became the first president of the new Czech Republic.
His insights in recent years are just as inspiring and relevant today as they were in 1977. Read his work in light of the Occupy movement:
After Charter 77 [see Wikipedia entry here], Western journalists kept telling us: you are just a small group of intellectuals fighting with one another, the workers are not behind you, you are not supported by millions of people and are just banging your heads against a brick wall. And I used to respond that in a totalitarian system we can never tell what is hidden under the surface because it can’t be verified.
We didn’t have opinion polls or free media but we knew something was brewing in the social subconscious. I sensed with greater and greater intensity that sooner or later something would explode, that things could not go on like this for ever, because you could see how everything was bursting at the seams. It was obvious that a random event could provoke great changes. And the whole thing would snowball and turn into an avalanche.
I also used to say that under a totalitarian regime sometimes a single voice – such as Solzhenitsyn’s – can have greater weight than those of millions of voters. And that we cannot predict when this snowball will turn into an avalanche. I didn’t know either and I, too, was surprised that it happened when it did. But of course, it was linked to the general crisis of the system – ecological and social – and also to its cowardly nature. After all, they had every instrument of power at their disposal and they could have instigated some sort of a confrontation to defeat us. But they had no energy left.
His essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” uses the analogy of a greengrocer who suddenly refuses to put an approved poster in his shop window, illustrating the revolutionary power of not only refusing the societal lie, but speaking the truth in what he called the “post-totalitarian” system:
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. . . .
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