english / česky 

Václav Havel was a philosopher and statesman but in the first place an everyday hero in a world filled with many people either doing nothing to protest injustices and inhumanity or doing evil deeds. Although a playwright and a poet, not a politician, Havel stood up, spoke out, and challenged the systems of Communism and Corruption that were ruining his beloved country. 

And he suffered for doing so; repeatedly imprisoned for 5 long years as a political dissident. Yet he led by example, transforming his fellow citizens from a fatalistic resigned people into a mass of activists in opposition against what everyone knew was wrong. In 1989, finally, his rhetoric prevailed as the ruling oppressive government quit and free citizens elected Havel repeatedly as the president of Czechoslovakia and later again of the Czech Republic. The peaceful revolution, known as the Velvet Revolution, was unprecedented in world history and an inspiration to liberation movements which followed, including the recent Arab Spring of popular protests against dictators and tyranny.

Even when termed out of presidency, Václav Havel stayed informed about world events, speaking out and acting on behalf of humanism, morality and democracy. I was honored to meet and get to know this modest man in 2005 when he gave me the Havel Foundation annual award for my lifetime’s work in bettering humanity. Just this past Oct 5, we met again in Prague for his birthday celebration. I presented him with a special birthday card created by Mark Riva, which has now been transformed into the memorial artwork you see above. Earlier, Vaclav Havel agreed to be an honorary HIP Board Trustee, along with the American hero who helped stop the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg.

Havel is dead. Long live others who will rise up to fill his shoes, acting with moral courage, and transforming compassion into heroic action, whenever confronted with challenging situations.

Phil Zimbardo
San Francisco
Dec. 18, 2011