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

As Czechs Debate Their Political Future, Vaclav Havel Returns to Center Stage
A portrait of Vaclav Havel next to candles at Wenceslas square in Prague, Czech Republic, Dec. 21, 2011 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

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.

But for Vystrcil, his visit to show support for a fellow democracy threatened by a neighboring communist power was, as he put it, “to honor the spirits of late Czech President Vaclav Havel.”

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.