Vaclav Havel, a close friend of the Dalai Lama and a longtime supporter of the Tibetan people, died earlier today at his home in the northern Czech Republic after a prolonged illness. He was 75.
Born in 1936, Vaclav Havel rose to prominence as a dissident playwright in the 1970s through his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77 demanding democratic changes.
In 1989, the year of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, Havel led the extraordinary display of people power which toppled the ruling communist regime. The world watched with astonishment as, within weeks, the dissident playwright became president.
As president, he presided over Czechoslovakia’s transition to democracy and a free-market economy and oversaw its peaceful 1993 split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
He was elected first president of the Czech Republic in January 1993, serving until 2003 when he resigned as his health deteriorated.
Havel became the first world leader to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his nation and receive him as a visiting Head of Nation soon after he became President in 1990. Since then, the Dalai Lama has visited Czech Republic nine times and met Havel on numerous occasions.
The Dalai Lama traveled to Prague earlier this month to meet an ailing Havel. Arriving straight from the airport, the Dalai Lama spent over an hour, interacting with his close friend. Following the meeting, the Tibetan spiritual leader called Havel “a source of inspiration” for his firm stance on the principles of democracy and human rights.
Havel was awarded the Light of Truth Award in 2004 by the Dalai Lama for his outstanding contribution to public understanding of Tibet and its current plight.
Reacting to the news of his death, Miroslava Nemcova, speaker of the Czech lower house, said her country had “lost its moral authority.” Similar tributes have been pouring in from all over the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Havel as a “great European” in a letter of condolence to Czech President Vaclav Klaus. “His fight for freedom and democracy was as unforgettable as his great humanity,” wrote Mrs Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “deeply saddened” and that Europe owed Havel a “profound debt”.
“Havel devoted his life to the cause of human freedom. For years, Communism tried to crush him, and to extinguish his voice. But Havel could not be silenced.”
Within hours of the announcement of his death people began lighting candles and laying flowers at the statue of St Wenceslas on Wenceslas Square, where Havel addressed huge crowds of demonstrators in November 1989.
Calling Vaclav Havel “an unassuming and a courageous leader”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a condolence letter to the former president’s wife Mrs Dagmar Havlova, wrote that in his death, the world has lost a great statesman whose steadfast and unflinching determination played a key role in bringing freedom and democracy to the then Czechoslovakia.
His Holiness said that he personally had the “greatest admiration and respect” for Havel.
His Holiness concluded by offering his heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Dagmar Havlova and other members of their family and stated, “perhaps the best tribute to President Václav Havel is to work as best we can towards building a more peaceful, open and just world.”
The Central Tibetan Administration expressed great sadness over the passing away of President Václav Havel, calling him a “dear and steadfast friend” of the Tibetan people.
“It is with great sadness the Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration has learned of the passing away of President Václav Havel on 18 December 2011. Please accept the deepest condolence of the Kashag and the Tibetan people in this time of sadness. The Tibetan people have lost a dear and steadfast friend,” the Kashag said in a condolence letter.
“We had the privilege and the honour of inviting him as the chief guest during the Fourth International Tibet Support Groups’ Conference in Prague in 2003. The speech he made then was inspiring,” Kashag said.