Philosopher-poet-playwright and global citizen, Václav Havel was the freedom fighter who led the Czech people to independence from Soviet Russian occupation. He became their first president in 1989 after the peaceful “velvet revolution” swept this brave man into power with massive support and the slogan “Havel to the Castle!” (the ancient castle overlooking the beautiful city of Prague). Since Havel’s passing on December 18th, 2011, Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague has been thronged with his hundreds of thousands of supporters and their lighted candles.
Václav Havel was a giant in human affairs with his deep moral values, upholding the dignity of individuals, human rights and democracy. Like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Havel endured years in prison for his advocacy for freedom from oppression, in this case by Soviet communist occupation. His deep faith in humanity and our capacity for conscious evolution led him to an examination of today’s globalization based on narrow economic and technological competition.
I was honored to serve on President Václav Havel’s FORUM 2000 launched in 1995 and still operating today, supported by many groups lead by Japan’s Sasakawa Foundation. We met annually in the magnificent Spanish Hall in Prague Castle, with leading figures, from heads of state and Nobel laureates to courageous dissidents and a wide range of spiritual leaders. Our debates concerned the nature of globalization and its positive potential to create cultural understanding and reduce conflict through communication. We sought to globalize human rights and ecological restoration based on global ethical norms to rein in the adverse effect of casino finance which has become a flywheel of social and ecological destruction world wide.
I served President Havel’s FORUM 2000 with deep respect for his ability over the years to convene and host all of us who participate annually in these extraordinary debates. They always included concerts and musical interludes with top artists and musicians, and concluded with deeply moving ecumenical services in Prague’s mighty cathedral atop the same hill as Prague Castle. We participants would leave our debates in the Castle and walk together across the courtyard to the Cathedral. We listened to the words of the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders with rapt attention whether from Madeleine Albright (a frequent participant) to Henry Kissinger, Cornell West, George Soros, Henry Louis Gates, Hillary Clinton, physicist Fritjof Capra and other notables from around the world.
I will always remember FORUM 2000 and the deep interactions we shared of perspectives of all the brilliant global leaders that only Václav Havel could assemble. On one memorable group invitation to Havel’s dascha outside Prague, I introduced my friend Wayne Silby to Teddy Goldsmith, author, founder of The Ecologist, and spent the ride home with a Palestinian author and editor of Al Jazeera. On another occasion, I chatted with Wole Soyinka, Jeffrey Sachs, Bill Clinton and, in a taxi ride, had a deep conversation with former South African President F. W. de Klerk.
President Havel was a unique figure in 20th century events and broke new ground in human understanding through his plays, poetry and his memoir To the Castle and Back. The world has lost this beautiful, decent, humble man. His life was well-lived – an example to us all. His compassionate, brilliant legacy now belongs to all the human family. He can now rest in peace.