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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Vaclav Havel: End of an era
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News Online

Havel and wife lay wreath at the grave of former president TH Masaryk
Havel was in power for 12 years
In the 12 years since he helped bring about the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, the former Czech leader, Vaclav Havel, presided over a period of remarkable change.

Czechoslovakia split peacefully in half, while the Czech Republic joined Nato, and won an invitation to join the European Union.

And he has remained perennially popular on the international scene, with world leaders going out of their way to be seen with the man they praise as a courageous voice of democracy.

1977: Becomes a spokesman of Charter 77 dissident movement
1989: Elected president of Czechoslovakia after collapse of Communism
1992: Loses battle to keep Czechoslovakia intact and resigns presidency
1993: Elected president of the new Czech Republic
2003: Retires at the end of second term as president
As president of both, Mr Havel outlasted colleagues such as Lech Walesa and Boris Yeltsin, becoming the last dissident still in power in Eastern Europe.

But Mr Havel has left behind a mixed legacy.

Even the most generous observer would acknowledge that Mr Havel's record in office was uneven.

It is many years since Czechs viewed him with the same awe the outside world often does.


One of his biggest political defeats came early on, as he fought to prevent the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1992.

"Truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred"
Vaclav Havel
Click below to read more quotes

The division was achieved peacefully, but over his strenuous objections - though he recently said it had turned out for the best.

Another controversy he entered - this time successfully - was whether Czechoslovakia should directly confront its Communist past, with a thorough investigation of the totalitarian system that encouraged children to spy on parents and friends to inform on each other.

Mr Havel was against it, on the grounds that it would bring unnecessary social upheaval.

But many ordinary Czechs who had suffered under 41 years of Communism wanted some kind of justice, and Mr Havel's refusal to back their demands was unpopular.


His marriage to actress Dagmar Veskrnova in 1997 less than a year after the death of his wife Olga - beloved almost as a saint by the Czech people - also went down badly.

Vaclav Klaus
Havel was succeeded by his old rival Vaclav Klaus
Dagmar's style and past - she once played a topless vampire in a popular Czechoslovak film - provided fodder for tabloids and hit Mr Havel's approval ratings hard.

His image was also damaged by undignified fights with right-wing Czech prime minister Vaclav Klaus, now the president.

But despite his failures, Mr Havel will - and should - be remembered for his historic successes.

As president of the Czech Republic, he championed the idea that Europe's transformation must not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.


"We simply cannot imagine a Europe that continues to be divided, not by the Iron Curtain this time, but economically, into a part that is prosperous and increasingly united, and another part that is less stable, less prosperous, and disunited," he said in 1996.

He pressed Nato and the European Union to expand eastward to encompass much of the former Warsaw Pact countries, and ultimately this is what they did.

He was on the dais as Nato leaders welcomed the Czech Republic in their first round of expansion into the former East bloc - and repaid the courtesy with his vocal support for Nato's Kosovo campaign just weeks later.

In fact, Mr Havel has long made clear that he is no pacifist, warning that what he calls evil must sometimes be confronted with force.

In the week before his retirement he was one of eight European leaders to sign a letter expressing solidarity with the US in its attempts to force Iraq to disarm.

Whatever else his achievements, he has succeeded in giving his country at least some kind of international profile in a world where many people cannot distinguish Slovakia from Slovenia.

His annual Forum 2000 conferences have brought Nobel Prize winners and others of the world's great and good to Prague.

And it is not mere coincidence that the IMF held its 2000 conference in Prague or that Nato came to the Czech capital in November 2002 for its latest round of expansion.

Mr Havel himself has declined to evaluate his own legacy, saying that task falls to the public, politicians, journalists, political scientists and historians.

The BBC's Gavin Esler
"Political manoeuvring made him unpopular at home"

Havel: I want to be free
31 Jan 03 |  Europe
Czechs look to post-Havel life
14 Jan 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Czech Republic
20 Oct 02 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Czech Republic
20 Oct 02 |  Country profiles

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