The world lost a true mensch this week, former Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel.



Vaclav Havel showed us a world in which one man could be a poet, playwright, protester, political prisoner, peacemaker, and president.  A man who embraced the paradox of dissent and dialogue.  A man who humbly vanquished 50 years of oppression, and then impishly rode his bike through the corridors of power.



Havel consistently put himself on the line, writing absurdist (and funny!) allegorical plays that kept him in constant hot water with the Soviet puppet regime.  As a peaceful protester, he found himself repeatedly in prison, but was never broken.  Seemingly bemused at becoming president, he eschewed jingoism and platitudes, showing compassion for enemies, and orchestrating a velvet divorce between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.



All the while never losing his avant garde sensibilities.  This is a guy who hired Frank Zappa to be his consultant on culture and trade.



(You know, it wouldn't kill our politicians to look at Havel as a role-model, rather than one-upping each other over who's more Reaganesque or Kennedyesque or whatever).



I saw Havel once in a small restaurant in the 'burbs of Prague about 10 years ago, quietly dining with a friend. He was short, stocky and mustachioed (coinkidentally, not unlike his working class Polish counterpart, Lech Walesa), with no security detail in tow.  A giant, nonetheless.





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