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Václav Havel: Legacies

On November 19, The John W. Kluge Center, The Embassy of the Czech Republic, and Florida International University remembered Václav Havel’s influence and legacy in a private conference at the Library of Congress. The event was immediately followed by the dedication of a bust of President Havel in the U.S. Capitol.

Havel twice was a scholar-in-residence at The John W. Kluge Center: in spring 2005, and again from December 2006 to March 2007. “Insights” presents a four-part series on Václav Havel’s life, legacy, and relationship to the Library. Dan Turello concludes the series.

Václav Havel's Legacy Today panel discussion presented by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, the Embassy of the Czech Republic, and the Václav Havel Center at Florida International University, November 19, 2014. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright join former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Kingdom Michael Žantovský in a discussion on the political importance of Václav Havel, November 19, 2014. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

The weather outside was arctic, and for a little while it seemed the Library’s heating system might have some trouble keeping pace with the brisk November chill, and yet the mood inside reflected a spirit of celebration.

Among the several hundred participants gathered in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the morning of November 19 were many old friends, thrilled to be reunited and eager to share memories and anecdotes about a man who deeply influenced the course of history, in his country and abroad.

Two of Václav Havel’s friends in attendance were Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, both of whom offered personal recollections of Havel’s leadership during the Velvet Revolution, which peacefully brought an end to over four decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia.

Albright pointed to the importance of Havel’s thinking on the role of the individual as it is described in his seminal essay, “The Power of the Powerless” in which he explores how ordinary citizens at every level of a society can take responsibility for their lives and futures.

McCain emphasized that Havel’s legacy of support for democracy and human rights is exactly the kind of vision that still inspires the work of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), whose boards he and Albright chair. As a former prisoner of war, McCain also spoke with admiration of Havel’s resilience and determination to keep hope alive during the several years he spent in prison.

Throughout the morning, participants highlighted Havel’s sense of truthfulness – his ability to speak candidly in the realm of politics just as he had through theatre and literature. It was not a naïve manner of  truth-telling, they pointed out. It was a consciousness fully aware of the personal costs and likelihood of setbacks – precisely the kind of leadership still necessary today.

“Václav Havel’s Legacy Today” speakers did plenty of reminiscing, yet the event wasn’t all about the past, by any stretch. In fact, the tone was forward looking, drawing on Havel’s legacy of courage and moral integrity as an example worthy of emulation.

Conference participants also had the chance to enjoy an extensive display of Havel’s publications, organized by the Library’s European Division.

The John W. Kluge Center wishes to extend its gratitude to the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington D.C. and to Florida International University for their joint efforts to stage this magnificent occasion.

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