The House of Representatives has unanimously voted to honor Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, with a bust in the U.S. Capitol’s Freedom Foyer.
H. Res. 506, a bipartisan resolution authored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), authorizes this tribute to the playwright turned freedom fighter who led the Velvet Revolution, which began on November 17, 1989. On that day nearly 25 years ago, a student demonstration in Prague triggered the chain of events that peacefully brought down the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
Only three months later, Havel stood before the United States Congress as the leader of his people. “History is accelerating,” he said. “I believe that once again it will be the human mind that will notice this acceleration, give it a name and transform those words into deeds.”
As fast as events were moving, Havel’s path from playwright to political leader was anything but swift – something Chairman Royce noted today on the House floor:
“As a playwright, Václav Havel revealed the absurdity of communist ideology and discredited the oppressive communist Czechoslovak regime. Following the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring, a movement for greater political liberalization, Havel was banned from the theater in an attempt to silence him.
“But the communists greatly underestimated his passion for freedom. Instead of succumbing to their intimidation, Václav Havel increased his political activity. Havel played a central role in drafting the now famous Charter 77 Manifesto, and was a founding member of the dissident organization based upon those principles. In 1979, he founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted.
“These and other opposition efforts earned him multiple stays in prison as a so-called ‘guest’ of the communist authorities. But Havel and the cause of freedom prevailed.”
Unsurprisingly, Havel heeded that call to action he made before Congress. As president, he befriended the Dalai Lama, backed Aung San Suu Kyi for the Nobel Peace Prize, welcomed Pope John Paul II, and invited Radio Free Europe to broadcast from Prague, a city where its broadcasts were once banned. The last public statement he made was in support of political prisoners in Belarus.
It is fitting, then, that a bust of “freedom’s playwright” will reside in Freedom Foyer alongside Winston Churchill, whose bust was dedicated last fall, and Lajos Kossuth, known as the Father of Hungarian Democracy.