Reply Mon 19 Dec, 2011 05:10 am
One of the great figures of the 20th Century died yesterday. A man who never wanted to be president, who was railroaded into becoming leader of Czechoslavakia by an avalanche of public opinion. He stands in stark constrast to the bunch of sorry specimens who are in power today.

Vaclav Havel's death is a reminder of something which parts of modern Europe – and perhaps Britain in particular – are in danger of taking for granted, at best, and, at worst, of forgetting altogether. We live in a time in which an increasingly introverted and fearful Europe is becoming synonymous with failure and impossibility, in which political leadership is treated with contempt and exasperation, and in which politics is all too often dismissed as corrupt, craven and irrelevant. Havel's personality and career, though, were the antithesis of all of these gloomy current prejudices.

At his best, President Havel was a genuinely national leader with a dynamic understanding of Europe, a politician whose vision and wit embraced not just the art of the possible but of the impossible too, and a civic leader whose sense of what is worthwhile in life transcended materialism – massively important though that was for eastern Europeans whose aspirations had been denied for so long – to embrace the imaginative and intellectual. In an era in which Europe is now so often spoken of with a sneer, he is a reminder of a very recent time when Europe embodied something noble and liberating which was eagerly shared – even here.
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