Curtain Rises on Vaclav Havel
Czech playwright says he has no political designs, but the people may make him president. PROFILE
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In Havel's view, moral courage is the necessary ingredient to bring about a more democratic society. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev helps speed the process, but the push must come from below - from, as Havel puts it, people ``living in truth.''Skip to next paragraph
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To get across his point, he tells the story of a manager of a fruit and vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan ``workers of the world, unite.'' Nobody believes in the slogan. But if the manager refused to display it he would be demoted, he would lose the chance of spending his holidays in Black Sea resorts, and his children would not be able to go to university. Out of fear, he continues to wave the slogan. For positive change to come, Havel reasons that the owner must take down the false sign.
This passage, from the essay ``The Power of the Powerless,'' has become the rallying cry of Czechoslovakia's nonviolent ``revolution.'' Over the past few evenings, actors and writers have taken to reading it aloud in theaters across the country. Crowds react in near rapture.
``It's a marvelous passage, which describes just what has happened here,'' says Milos Calda, a philosophy professor. ``People have finally stood up and said: `We lived a lie.'''
Throughout the demonstrations, Czechs chanted, shouted, honked their horns, shook their keys. But they never lost sight of Havel's warning against violence and lies. These, Havel told them, are the methods of his oppressors.
The best path forward, he says, is dialogue with Czechoslovakia's crumbling Communist Party. After 20 years of refusing, that dialogue has begun, with Havel playing the leading role. He has been meeting with the new prime minister, Marian Calfa, to discuss the formation of the new government.
Appearing before 15,000 cheering youngsters at a recent rock concert, he looked tired and uncomfortable. On stage, he fidgeted in his seat. Although no one doubts his moral integrity, some observers here fear that Havel may not turn out to be a good, practical politician.
``In Poland, the Solidarity leaders like [Bronislaw] Geremek are like acupuncturists; they know exactly what points to prick,'' says British analyst Timothy Garton-Ash. ``Havel and his friends in the Czechoslovak Civic Forum may not have the same political skills.''
Havel long repeated that he desires no position for himself. But circumstances and his own conscience have catapulted him into the political arena.
``Havel insists he is not a politician, that he is first of all a playwright,'' says Civic Forum activist Petr Friedenberger. ``Yet he is the only person capable of taking this country out of the mess. Our people trust him. So even if he himself doesn't like it, he has no choice except to take a job.''
As a result of this popular pressure, Havel has agreed that if asked he would accept the presidency for a short time. The president enjoys little control over day-to-day governing. Instead, the post is designed for moral leadership.
``It's an amazing idea, `Havel the nonperson' as president,'' says Karel Dyba, an official at the Economic Forecasting Institute. ``But it may be the only solution. He is the only individual who enjoys sufficient public confidence.''