Sunday, December 18, 2011

Václav Havel

Among the things that really never make me cry: obituaries of famous people, even those I admire a lot, and sopranos, even great ones, singing rock songs. However during Havel's radio obituary this morning, I felt such a wave of grief, at around 1992 in Silvia Poggioli's potted biography (Czechs and Slovaks break up, Havel leaves office for the first time), and then again listening to this:

Look for Havel's face in the audience at around 2:38, so delighted!

I remember the 1992 news from Prague very well: I was enraged by the Great Divorce, taking it personally, as if the Czechs and Slovaks were my selfish parents refusing to get along. The new nations couldn't afford separate offices at the United Nations, but shared the old ones instead, cheerfully taking each other's phone calls, proving that they could get along well enough--that there were no Ancient Hatreds at issue here, as usual, just dividing up the frog pond so that some individual or other was able to feel more powerful. That picture of the ambassadors' shared phones made me cackle with spite. My Croatian friend turned serious for a second. "Look," he said, as a Croat has a right, and indeed an obligation, to do, "nobody is getting hurt, that's not so bad."

He was right, of course. And yet--I was right too, in a sense. It was that the beauty of the 1989 revolutions, with Havel as its personification, was entirely dissipated, that people hadn't in even the medium run learned anything from it at all, that we humans are just naturally too corrupt and too feeble-minded to profit from such an experience, that we have to be proud of ourselves if we simply manage to throw our tantrums without killing anybody. That if we reap what we have sown, it will be a far from perfect day.

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