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A portrait of Vaclav Havel next to candles at Wenceslas square in Prague, Czech Republic. A portrait of Vaclav Havel next to candles at Wenceslas square in Prague, Czech Republic, Dec. 21, 2011 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

As Czechs Debate Their Political Future, Vaclav Havel Returns to Center Stage

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020

PRAGUE—A recently released biopic about the life of Vaclav Havel, the famed anti-communist dissident who became the Czech Republic’s first president, wasn’t well-received by local critics. The overwhelming consensus was that “Havel” simplifies history and focuses too much on its subject’s personal foibles, chiefly his notorious womanizing. Such criticisms aside, the film couldn’t have arrived in cinemas at a more fitting time. A revival of Havel’s legacy is underway among the Czech political class, as a signpost for what the country’s political ideals should be and why they have gone astray.

When the president of the Senate, Milos Vystrcil, who belongs to the opposition Civic Democratic Party, led a controversial delegation to Taiwan in late August and early September, he says he was channeling that legacy. He met with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei and addressed parliament, where he declared, “I am Taiwanese,” in a nod to U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech against communism in West Berlin in 1963. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, described the trip as “an act of international treachery” and threatened hefty repercussions. His visit was also opposed by his own government in Prague, which has pushed for closer ties with Beijing. ...

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