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The SIJ Transactions on Industrial, Financial & Business Management (IFBM), Vol. 2, No.

3, May 2014
ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 190

AbstractVaclav Havel during his career as a socially engaged figure held two distinctive roles seen by
various commentators as incompatible, i.e., that of the dissident and the politician. The aim of the paper is,
first, sheding light on the social context within which his identity of the social critic took shape. Second, the
paper offers a comparative perspective by revealing Havels priorities and rhetorics during his dissident period
(during which he took the role of a social critic), and after becoming a president of independent state. Via this
comprison author tries to draw the readers attention to the problems which identity of the social critic faces
after the euphoria caused by large scale socio-political transformations has faded. Although one can see a clash
of identies between the role of social critic and that of the politican, Havel himself identifies the latter phase as
extension of the former. For him, the aims (creating a stable civil society and making democracy work) remain,
while the role remains insignificant.
KeywordsCharter 77; Dissidentism; Eastern Europe; Political Role of Intellectuals; Social Criticism; Vaclav
AbbreviationsCivic Democratic Party; Czech Republic (ODS); Workers Defence Committee, a Polish Civil
Society Group (KOR).

N this paper, the use of concept Eastern Europe is based
on the definition phrased during the Soviet bloc existence
by the British social theorist Ioan Davies. According to
him, these are countries in Eastern Europe which are not
Slavic (or fully Slaic), and whose religious roots are to a
larger extent connected to the influences of Catholicism and
Protestantism than those of the Orthodox Church. These
countries are the former partof the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
They see their cultural heritage as connected more to the
West than to the East. He refers this concept to Austria,
Poland, Czechoslovakia (after the dissolution of the Soviet
bloc, it was split in Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary
and part of Yugoslavia [Davies, 1989].
A number of commentators stress the specific role of
intellectuals in Eastern Europe due to the socially political
processes taking place in this region. The prominent
sociologist Zygmunt Bauman notes that in the period before
formation of the national states, the intellectuals took role of
leaders and were the subjects of allegiance. Their activities in
the cultural, ideological and symbolic sphereposseseda
particular political significance. He notes that there is no any
other example from the modern age when people would have
demonstrated so deep belief in the power of word and the
cultural sybols in wider sense; nowhere else their use has
envisaged so far-reaching expectations and fears [Bauman,
1987], states he.
In his oeuvre of the dissident period, Havel reflected a lot
on thesituation in Eastern during the phase of late Leninism.
This is the unflattering reason why the practice of social
criticism on a regular basis is so necessary. In the 60s, XX
century, the power structures in the Soviet bloc countries had
depoliticized themselves. The analysts of that time explain:
that the Communist party did not claim to persuade anybody
for its truthfulness. Itwas only requiring loyalty, expcted
people to remain silent, to do their work and watch TV. And
they didinded remain silent [Davies et al., 1986]. Havel sees
these facets as substantial he is convinced that if there
requirements of the system are fulfilled, the cornerstones of it
are maintained. He seeks prerequisites for their demolishing.
One of the most visible examples of these efforts is the essay
Power of the Poweless: citizen against the state in East-
Central Europe (1978).
Society is maintained and does not crush due to
successful functioning of the network of lies. All the involved
parties acknowledge the existence of these lies while at the
same time none of these claim cease lying. Lies become a
necessary semantics of the social discourse [Davies, 1989].
Havel argues that the posttotalitarian system employs
ideology for maintaining this society of lies: Posttotalitarian
system touches the human being on every step, however it
does so with the gloves of ideology on. That is why life in
*Ph.D. Candidate, University of Latvia, Riga, LATVIA. E-Mail: grumolte.inese{at}gmail{dot}com
Inese Grumolte*
Vaclav Havel:
The Politician Practicizing Criticism
The SIJ Transactions on Industrial, Financial & Business Management (IFBM), Vol. 2, No. 3, May 2014
ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 191
this sytem is to such an extent interwoven with hypocrisy and
lies: the bureaucratic government is being labeled as popular
government; working people are enslaved in the name of the
working people. The total degradation of the individual is
being presented as his ultimate liberation; prohibiting the
information for men is being called securing access to it, the
use of power with manipulative aims is being called a public
control of power. And arbitrary use of power is being called
labeles as taking into consideration the legal code
(..).Individuals do not have to believe in all these
mystifications but they must behave as if they believed. They
must either to accept these in silence, or to maintain good
relationships with those who work with these lies. Due to this
reason they have to live in lies. The members of society are
not obliged to accept the lies; it is enough if they incoroprate
these lies in their lives. Via this very fact individuals affirm
the system, fulfil the system, they are the system [Havel,
1985] (emphasis in the original). Havel calls this period
posttotalitarianism. He explains this by comparison between
the essentially different ways in which the relationships
between the individual and the the power develops in
totalitarian systems, classic dictatorships where individual is
induced to act according the systems requirements by the
fear for his/her life, and how they are shaped in system in
which with the help of ideology individual is being tought to
behave as if he believed in systems officially stated aims.The
concept of posttotalitarianism is not employed exclusively by
Havel. This notion with different emphasis is being
developed by several prominent thinkers of the XX century,
such as Juan Linz and Friedrich Brzezinski. Also Hannah
Arendt in her opus magnum The Origins of Totalitarianism
mentions that since Kruschew came to power in Soviet
Union, itceased to be a totalitarian state; the phase of
posttotalitarianism begun.
This posttotalitarian situation envisaged at the same time
that a revolutionary ovethrow of the existing power or
initiating radical changes in the country or its social basis is
not a scenario under consideration. In Hungary in 1956, and
Czecholovakia in 1968, it was demonstrated with force that
result of efforts to use such methods of action will face a
fiasco. A contractual approach to independent social activity
was also obviously unrealistic. As the opportunity to choose
freely representatives, and thus to influence the politics was
forbidden, as well as a possibility to accomplish theprivate
aims and interests of individuals in a legally defended public
sphere, the members of society who refused to accept the
regimes dominance over the manifestations in the public
sphere, and efforts to participate in politics, either restricted
themselves with activites in the private sphere and family, or
developed alternative, uderground networks of association
and partcipation. The only possibility to enact an independent
participation in such circumstances was accepting the
systemic borders of communist government along with the
fact that the regime maintains control on the level of high
politics while at the same time trying to secure a certain
level of autonomy for individuals. Thus the supporters of idea
of independent individual activities of indviduals in Eastern
Europecherished a hope since 70s that the civil society might
potentially develop already in framework of the
posttotalitarian state and system [Weigle & Butterfield,
The civil society in Eastern Europe grew into a kind of
panacea for its intellectual leaders. This phenomenon was
percieved in a much wider sense than usual not being
restricted to the classic notion on network of social
associations, connections and activities which are
independent from the official power structures. Opposition in
Poland, Hungary and Czechoslobakia saw the rebirth of civil
society simultaneously as the goal and the mean for political
changes, eventualy also for changes in the country [Ash,
A strong cooperation ties existed between the dissidents
of EasternEurope for several decades. The activists of
Czechoslovakia held several appointments with the Polish
dissidents. Havel was happy for opportunity to establish
personal contacts with Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuroand other
members of KOR (Workers Defence Committeewas a Polish
civil society group), and he stressed this moment as important
in implementing their common efforts [Havel, 1990]. Non-
compliance tonorms, as well as atmoshphere of critique was
known for Havel since early childhood. His origin (Havel
was born in a well-off middle class family), the thinking
tradition characteristic to it, as well as the circles which his
family belonged to, provided for Havel since his early
childhood opportunity to become acquainted to the most
prominent philosophic thought of that time.The Philosopher
Emmanuel Radlwas their family friend, the volumes of works
of Toma Masaryk, the refiner of the Czechoslovak
democratic tradition,were in his family library. He was
educated and inspired according to his own words, Havelin
Jan Patokas private seminars and lectures [Pynsent, 1984].
It also should be noted that when undertaking a
hermeneutical analysis of Havels oeuvre, one has to take into
account that a number of statements were voiced in an
oblique manner due to the circumstances of that time, as well
as due to the necessity to escape censorship of his works as
much as possible. This applies in particular to his Letters to
Olga. The letters written during the years of imprisonment to
his wife Olga Plihavlova which were later wrapped up in
abook, had to comply with strict rules: it was allowed to
address only private matters, the text had to be written
without crossed-out passages, and it was forbidded to keep
copies of the letters written.
Havel praised human beings capacity for self-reflection. Fir
him, she is the only creature capable of stepping outside
herself in order to point at herslf [Havel, 1990A]. At the
same time he stressed for many times that he dissociates
himslef from the honour of philosopher orthinker as he does
not claim to be author of a unified system of thought. He
insists that in his works he may use concepts which he
hasinvented by himself, for instance, that of the
The SIJ Transactions on Industrial, Financial & Business Management (IFBM), Vol. 2, No. 3, May 2014
ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 192
posttotalitarian system or anti-political politics.
However, these may be categories of occasional character,
chosen with a certain aim for a concrete essay to be employed
in a particular context and atmosphere. He says he would
never see as his duty to turn back to these. They were created
as situational linguistic auxiliary tools, and not as binding
categories [Havel, 1990]. Havel is convinced that the more
slavisly and dogmatically the individual tries to identify
herself with clearly formulated ideological system or world-
wiev, the more clearly she dienies herself opportunity for
free thinking, denies herself freedom as such, perception of
what she knows [Havel, 1990A]. He applies this also to
possibility to reach absolute and complete knowledge which
explains everything. According to him, all this mark the
end for the sipirt, the life, the time and the Being [Havel,
1990A]. When trying to refute the efforts to draw parallels
between his and Vaclav Belohradskis the models of action
and thinking (there have been such, especially due to the fact
that both men were connected in a relationships of the pupil
and the mentor), Havel draws attention to the differences.
Namely, Belohradski was a philosopher offering an explicit
explanations for his ideas, while Havel describes himself as
essayist writing from time to time or a philosophically-
minded educated man [Havel, 1990]. He notes that
notwitstanding the fact that he reads books with a
philosophicl content, he should not be labeled as a
philosopher; although he use to voice his opinion on
literature, he is by no means to be called a literary critic.
Sometimes he is even interested in music. However, this
interest in various fields of life does not make him belonging
to any of them in terms of occupation, expertise, education,
upbringing, personal characteristics and skills [Havel, 1990].
Atthe same time, he also made it clear that a position of
politician for him is not interesting, nor suitable. He
characterizes himself and his relationships to politics as
follows: I engage in different matters being an expert in
neither of them. I have gained recognition as a political
activist, however I have never been a politician, I have never
wanted to be one; I do not possess the parameters necessary
for this. He continues by noting that all his life he has placed
himself in opposition to the governmental institutions, and
has took to the forefront his identity of rebel the protester
[Havel, 1990]. When discussing the rhetorics of the dissidents
of the time, the prominent scholar of transition processes of
East European region, Timothy Garton Ash, states that
instead of the well-known distinction right/left, they
preferred the even older distinction good/bad. According to
him, for those living under such regimes, the latter distinction
is truly appropriate. Unlike the traditional priorities of
socialism, their point of departure was not a state or a society,
but the individual: her subjectivity, duty to live in truth and
rights to live a decent life. The scholar sees this community
as being united under the slogan Change yourself first
[Ash, 1986]. This requirement of the ethical character reflects
at the same time a search for the ground on which it would be
possible to build a true politics in its non-debased form.
Ground for the indepnent civil society was build due to the
initiative from below in Poland, Hungary and
Czechoslovakia. The strategy of the social actors envisaged
acceptance of the party domination, while at the same time
claiming to create a space of autonomy seen as legitimate and
legal by the official state structures [Weigle & Butterfield,
1992]. In Havels agenda, the matters of ideology were
indeed left on the background. The label ideology was used
by him in a philosophical sense, and thus he was distancing
himself from the claasic use of the concept envisaging
concepts linkage to the political arena.
According to Havel, society is not able to exit from the
miserable state in which it finds itself, via all-embracing
transformation. He, in essence, does not touch upon the moral
justification or conviction of any ideological stance or
practices. Civic initiatvive Charter 77, a manifesto whose
most visible spokesmen were Havel, Jan Patoka, and Jiri
Hajek, did not contain appeals claiming to form basis for
oppositional political activity. Authors of the document only
insisted taht the power-that-be respects and takes into
consideration documents, rights and freedoms which were
binding to the that-time Czechoslovakia (Helsinki agreement
and United Nations Universal declaration of Human Rights,
among others) [Members of Charter 77, 1977]. Milan
Kundera outlines these initiatives briefly: Authors of the
charter presume that words really do mean what they mean.
They do not try to show that the ideology of power structures
is wicked, but their directness consistently reveal the
hypocrisy of the system [Kundera, 1989]. Commentator of
processes of the time, Gordon Skilling, features the idea of
charter as follows: Charter 77 is not an organization; it does
not have regulations and permanent structures of formal
activities. It involves everybody who agrees with its ideas and
supports it. It does not form basis for any oppositionary
political action. As many other political activities in East and
West, it strives to defend the general interest. Its aim is not
forming its program for political and social reforms or
changes but it seeks for a constructive dialogue with the
social and the state structures paying a particualar attention to
concrete cases in which human and civic rights are being
violated. Its aim was making these rights admitted and
warrantted, and acting as mediator in different
conflictsituations which may provoke injustice (emphasis
added) [18]. Patoka, who, according to Havel, embodies the
essence of charter to the greatest extent [Havel, 1990], states:
Charter 77 means that citiziens demonstrate their
contribution to implementing principles declared in public (..)
Charter is a political action in a narrow sense, it does not
claim to compete for power or to intefere into any of
functions of political power, at the same time Charter 77 is
not an association or organization, but it is based on a
personal morality. (..) The aim of Charter 77 is a spontaneous
and unrestricted solidarity among all those who acknowledge
how important is a moral way of thinking for renewal of
society and its moral functioning [Patoka, 1981].
During his dissident period Havel often reflected on the
notion of parallel culture. This phenomenon embraces various
social and cultural institutions (printing houses, exhibition
The SIJ Transactions on Industrial, Financial & Business Management (IFBM), Vol. 2, No. 3, May 2014
ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 193
halls, theaters, concert halls and research institutes) which are
outside states direct sphere of influence. However, this
parallel culture is not endowed with superior or better
ideology. Persons fiding themselves in this medium of the
parallel culture, are not united by any joint program but only
insistance on their rights to be what they are [Havel,
1989A]. Havels oeuvre and thetorics contain also a notion of
the true aims of life. System denies people from fulfilling and
putting them into practice. Mainly because of that individuals
should undertake its ruining down. At the same time, Havel
insists that individuals themselves should reach this
conviction. It is impossible to implant it from outside, and it
should not be done by intellectuals who are remote from the
veryday life while seemingly well-informed. Moreover, he
demonstrates that majority of society members already accept
such authentic being as a natural form of being in private
sphere, while at the same time they let the will of the system
to prevail in the public sphere. In Czechoslovakia of that
time, as elsewhere in Soviet bloc, processes in the public
sphere diverged to a large extent from the processes in the
private sphere: People lived two sequestered lives; a dual
moral code existed. Lies voiced in public were seen as a
matter-of-course [Whitty, 2007]. Structures of the
institutionalized power retain complience via seemingly
insignificant, but nevertheless obligatory functions which
society members are expected to fulfil. Weakness of the
regime and the power of persons subjugated by regime, the
powerless lies in the fact that this loyalty is only formal. As
soon as individuals dare to voice in the public sphere the I
which materializes in the private, regimes legitimacy will be
irreversibly damaged. Potential for change does not have to
be created by the dissidents remote from the everyday life
by revealing or importing special mechanisms; that is already
immanent in society structure. However,still in a latent form.
Anybody is able to contribute to the process of crubling the
grounds of system either by taking the role of the hero or
simply a confrere. On his turn, Havel sees as his mission
protecting the people against the pressure targeted at them at
the present system, he does not claim to construct a better
one. When reflecting on future, he is more interested in moral
and political values which it will be based upon than the
speculations on who or what will secure their materializing
[Havel, 1989].
[The following sections are explored in detail in Grumolte I.,
(2014), Agent of change and what next? Vaclav Havel
between Social criticism and politics, Proceedings/Bangkok
International Conference on Social Sciences, electronic
publication, available in electronic data carrier].
[Havel (during his presidency term) continues his political
activities, first and foremost, as a symbol of those moral
values which characterized a typical dissident [Machonin,
Nature of the role of intellectual-social critic as it had
taken shape in Czechoslovakia in the second part of the XX
century, was by all means influenced by certain socially-
cultural circumstances which changed rapidly along with the
collapse of the Berlin Wall [Oushakine, 2009]. Thus, the
necessity to re-define the perception of the role of
intellectuals-social critics became an inevitable necessity
[Wachtel, 2006] as it was necessary to accomodate to the new
In Czechoslovakia, as in many other ceuntries of the
former Soviet bloc, the previous opponents of the power
structures, those who had questioned their practices, almost
immediately after the dissolution of the bloc found
themselves in power positions, i.e., on the opposite side of
entrenchement. Experience of Havel is a prototypical case of
such model. Long before Havel undertook pursuing the
career in field of practical politics, he reflected on the
prospects of dissident to do so. He was rather sceptic
regarding this option. Among other things, he made it clear
that the dissident runs a risk of becoming an object of
ridicule. At that time, Havel clearly contrasted the both roles
by arguing that practical politics often requires making
tactical manoevres, and in doing so the dissident would cease
serving the truth [Havel, 1989] which is one of his/her
primary duties. In his interviews to Karel Hvidala, in the
seventies of the XX century, published in a book under the
indicative title Disturbing the Peace, Havel set forth his that-
time perception on the distinctive character of roles of the
social critic and that of the politician: Im a writer, and Ive
always understood my mission to be to speak the truth about
the world I live in, to bear witness to its terrors and its
miseries in other words, to warn rather than hand out
prescriptions for change. Suggesting something better and
putting it into practice is politicians job, and Ive never been
a politician and never wanted to be (..). It is true that Ive
always been interested in politics, but only as an observer and
a critic, not as someone who actually does it (..) [Havel,
1990]. Notwithstanding this, Havel became a statesman. One
can read a sense of guilt voiced in his speech in Copenhagen,
1991, in which he declared that more and more he treats
himself with suspicion. As a reason for this feeling he
mentions the fact that the dissident leader has become the
establishment leader [Pynsent, 1994].
While in the office of president of an independent state, his
rhetorics remained on the line undertaken during the years
when he was dissident. His invitation to live within truth, to
establish the grounds for moral politics and invoking
responsibility did not lose their topicality. The notions of
living in truth and living the truth remained his motto.
Havel states: if few simple conditions are met, he can still go
on with living in truth also as a president. He sees as binding
for himself the following:
to emphasize and explain repeatedly the moral
dimensions of all social life. To stir the dormant
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ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 194
goodwill in people. Making people understand that it
makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to
place common interests above their own;
to obstain from giving people practical advice about
how to deal with the evil around them, however to
respond to peoples wish to hear that decency and
courage make sense, that those posseesing it are not
alone, forgotten, written off;
to put into practice his psychological influence (as
one can see, he refers to authority accumulated in the
years before presidency), in order to sustain a moral
climate in the world of high politics;
In decison making, to implement his conception on
the moral state [Havel, 1993].
He deliberately excluded from his agenda the prosaic
side concerns of social and political life which let the critics
to judge his activities in the field of politics as quite
unsuccsessful. Havel, on his turn, went on with clinging to
the ideas and appeals of universalistic nature. He saw as is
duty seeking the ways how to turn the world better [Havel,
1993]. Thus, for instance, in 1992, in World Economics
Forum in Davos, Havel delivered his well-known speech The
End of the Modern Era, in which he touched upon the general
necessity for individuals to change their attitude towards the
world: We have to release from the sphere of private whim
such forces as a natural, unique and unrepeatable experience
of the world, an elementary sense of justice, the ability to see
things as others do, a sense of transcendental responsibility,
archetypal wisdom, good taste, courage, compassion and faith
in the importance of particular measures that do not aspire to
be a universal key to salvation. We must try harder to
understand than to explain. The way forward is not in the
mere construction of universal systemic solutions, to be
applied to reality from the outside; it is also in seeking to get
to the heart of reality through personal experience. Such an
approach promotes an atmosphere of tolerant solidarity and
unity in diversity based on mutual respect, genuine pluralism
and parallelism. In a word, human uniqueness, human action
and the human spirit must be rehabilitated [Havel, 1992].
Havel himself recurrently stated that he lacks the
amibitions of politician, he did not care much for losing
votes. The field of practical politics did not prevent Havel
from revealing unflattering conclusions to the members
society on their convictions and practices. This had been a
typical feature of intellectual the social critic of East-Central
Europe. Notwithstanding the inclination of large portion of
society to detach itself from the political history which had
been in many respects and for many embarassing, Havel
points at it in terms of debasement of the moral environment.
The specific lessons of history have made people To believe
in nothing, to ignore each other and to take care only for
themselves [Havel, 1997]. Or, similarly, he states: Society
has freed itself, true, but in some ways it behaves worse than
when it was in chains [Havel, 1993]. Harsh messages along
the same lines were adressed by Havel to society in the
seventies and eighties as well (see, for instance, the seminal
essay Power of the Powerless).
When reflecting on what qualities should a politician develop
in his/her personality, the moral nature of the statesman,
his/her embededness in a certain society and necessity to
maintain a permanent reflexive tie with it was brought by
Havel to the forefront. Above all, he stressed his personal
responsibility and identity: A politician must become a
person again, someone who trusts not only a scientific
representation and analysis of the world, but also the world
itself. He must believe not only in sociological statistics, but
also in real people. He must trust not only an objective
interpretation of reality, but also his own soul; not only an
adopted ideology, but also his own thoughts; not only the
summary reports he receives each morning, but also his own
feeling. Soul, individual spirituality, first-hand personal
insight into things; the courage to be himself and go the way
his conscience points, humility in the face of the mysterious
order of Being, confidence in its natural direction and, above
all, trust in his own subjectivity as his principal link with the
subjectivity of the world these are the qualities that
politicians of the future should cultivate. (..) The point is that
we should fundamentally change how we behave. And who
but politicians should lead the way? Their changed attitude
toward the world, themselves and their responsibility can
give rise to truly effective systemic and institutional changes
[Havel, 1992].
Havel consistently voiced concerns on the state of the
world in general. To reflect on problems related to it, he
initiated in 1996 series of conferences Forum 2000 with an
aim decalred by him to Reflect on the world we inhabit and
which we have inherited, and on its future prospects [Havel
et al., 1997]. Havel tried to establish a certain model of
attitudes among politicians.
The initial period of Havels career as a politician
coincided with the phase when new principles of societal
organization were to be framed. Thus, the efforts to
rehabilitate politics were also put at the top of Havels
agenda. First, he tried to drill in the objects of politics the
sense that the new practice of exercising the political power
will be substantially different from the one which population
had learned during the years of communism. Applying the
same authority and means which were at his disposition
before, on the opposite side of entrenchment, Havel tried to
demonstrate that it is worth trusting those in power positions.
In a way, he was striving to originate a reconciliatory effect,
and his aim was to make the younger generation treat the
political life seriously. According to Havel, from sixties till
the end of the eighties in XX century, it had degenerated into
nothing but the career bureaucrats struggle for privileges
having little to do with the real life. Havel demonstrated
incentives to make the politics acceptable for everybody
[Havel, 1992A]. He was also laying hope in vindicating the
image of politician by showing that Politics and the
politicians are not the objects of ridicule, but that they can be
the objects of esteem [Havel, 1992A].
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Above all Havel invited the members of society to look
at the political process as a common work to be undertaken
by moral politicians, on the one hand, and wide segments of
society as a body of active political agents, on the other.
However, for Havel, the political and social action is
something more he sees it, in essence, as an ethical act. In
the initial phase of his dissident career, in 1975, when writing
his well-known open letter to the Secretary General of the
Czechoslovak Communist party of the day, Gustav Husak,
Havel made an appeal to his responsibility before the society,
as he was a person holding the power positions. Husak held
the institutional power, and Havel as a dissident invited him
to use it for decent purposes. He condemned the regime and
its representatives for practicizing the policy of lies, and not
acting morally in many other respects. Such practices possess
a chain reaction, and thus they abased the whole body of
society. After several decades, when he had reached the ranks
of institutionalized political power himself, similar
commentaries were adressed again toward politicians and
himself, among others: Politicians are indeed a mirror of
their society, and a kind of embodiment of its potential. At
the same time paradoxicallythe opposite is also true:
society is a mirror of its politicians. It is largely up to the
politicians which social forces they choose to liberate and
which they choose to supress, whether they rely on the good
in each citizen or on the bad [Havel, 1993].
Whether society will be able to defend itself against
socially political experiments with catastrophic outcomes,
similar to those experienced in the XX century, depends on to
what extent the renewal of moral values will be promoted in
society: Today, in the era of television, it would be much
easier for the madman like Hitler or Stalin to spoil the
nations spirit [Havel, 1995].
Havel invites his audience to cherish and rehabilitate the
universal values which he sees at the same time as localized,
i.e., belonging to the Western cultural arch from which
Czechoslovakia was several decades ago detached by force.
While Havel appeals to the notions of universal nature, it is
worth mentioning that these are to be translated through the
lens of values agreed upon in the West. When sheding light
on the possible directions of development and the first tasks
the state should deal with after the change of government,
Havel highlights the necessity to arrange the matters of
societal identity or to return to Europe. Namely, he is
convinced that nations which were once by force alienated
from their own traditions, roots and ideals, should return to
these again: It means their return to a road they once
travelled, or longed to travel, or were potentially destined to
travel, as inhabitants of the same European spiritual and
intellectual space. This is how the popular slogan of return
to Europe should be understood [Havel, 1993]. This is a
link between the universal, on the one hand, and the local, on
the other. The local element becomes apparent when Havel
explains how the independent Czechoslovakia will gain the
form and meaning only by cultivating and developing the
already-existing and peculiar Czechoslovak identity. He
points out that each country has its own geographical, social,
intellectual, cultural and political climate, thus its inhabitants
bear responsibility for cultivating it [Ash, 1988]. He refers to
the Czechoslovak identity, the experience formed in the
course of history, by pointing out at the same time that it
does not contradict the ability to learn from any other place in
the world [Havel, 1993].
While in the presidential office, Havel used to linger on self-
reflection regarding his aptitude for the role of president. In
his memoirs, he makes it clear that he is well aware of the
substantially different character of the role he had held
previously, and the current one: When the idea first came
that I should let my name stand for president of
Czechoslovakia, it seemed like an absurd joke. All my life I
had opposed the powers that be [Havel, 1993]. Havel had
also noted that politics is a particular field of action which
differs from others with several features characteristic only
to it [Havel, 1998]. He expanded on this in his essay The
Intellectual and Politics, 1998, and in his well-known work
Summer Meditations as well. In these pieces of writing,
Havel dedicated a great deal of attention to the clash of his
dissident identity with the demands put forward by the
medium of practical politics. For instance, he turns attention
to the fact that the career of the politician is not compatible
with impatience; that in politics no issue can be regarded as
fully solved, that Politics is long, endless process. At first
influenced by the wild rhythm of our revolution I wanted to
have everything done at once, and would be infuriated when
it proved impossible. (..) I have recognized that political time
is different from everyday time [Havel, 1993].
What concerns his willingness to run for the presidental
office repeatedly, Havel explains that when he took the role
of the states leader for the first time, he saw himself in this
role as an intellectual merely replacing democratic
politicians (one has to bear in mind that there was lack of
such figures in Czechoslovakia immdeiately after collapse of
the old regime). Havel even used to see this role more as a
burden than a satisfaction. For him at this stage, the role of
the politician was only one step in the common project
undertaken (i.e., tearing down the communist rule
irreversibly). It was not his ambition to stay in politics for
good: Only now has the time come for a really serious
decision. Should I return to work as a writer? Or should I
remain in practical politics and let my name stand once more
for the presidential office? (..) [Havel, 1993]. The answer to
this dilemma derives from the ethos which had led him as a
dissident: This dilemma is essentially just a new and
particularly acute form of the same one I have faced
throughout my adult life. Should I put my personal interests
first? That is, should I put the tranquil, less public, and
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ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 196
certainly less exhausting life of an independent intellectual
first? Or should I listen to the voice of higher
responsibility, which is constantly whispering in my ear that
the work is far from done and that it is my duty to continue?
[Havel, 1993]. He saw the role of the politician in the given
situation as a contribution to bringing closer the dissident
ideals. Thus, according to Havel, it was worth undertaking it:
Time will show where I am best able to serve my own ideas,
and where that opportunity will arise. The fact is (..) its a
secondary matter for me. The essential part is the values I
espouse. I have already served them (with varying degrees of
success) in many places: long ago as a member of the
Writers Union, briefly on the radio after the Soviet
occupation in 1968, later as a spokesman for Charter 77, then
in prison, and ultimately as president [Havel, 1993]. He also
notes: It simply seemed to me that, since I had been saying
A for so long, I could not refuse to say B; it would have been
irresponsible of me to criticize the Communist regime all my
life and then, when it finally collapsed (with some help from
me), refuse to take part in the creation of something better
[Havel, 1993]. Elsewhere he emphasizes the following:
Clearly, a dissident intellectual who philosophizes in his
study about the fate and future of the world has different
opportunities, a different position, a different kind of
freedom, than a politican who moves among the complicated
social realities of a particular time and place, constantly
coming up against the intractable and contradictory interests
that inhabit that time and space. But a person who is sure of
the values he believes in and struggles for, and who knows he
simply cannot betray them, is usually able to recognize the
degree of compromise permissible in the practical
appplication of his ideals, and to know when a risk becomes
more than he can take upon himself [Havel, 1993]. Before
the third presidential term, he reflects: That if circumstances
combine to make my candidacy possible, and if I feel it
makes sense that is, if I feel I could work for my civil
program best as president then I am prepared to assume
that burden for a third time [Havel, 1993]. In short, the role
of intellectuals the social critics was outdated after the
revolutionary events of the late eighties, and Havel was aware
of it. However, tasks undertaken by them, according to
Havel, were not fully accomplishedyet. If the role of
politician might contribute to fulfilling these tasks, idea of
taking it should not be declined.
A number of Havels critics have proclaimed his political
career as a failure. He is being condemned for efforts to
maintain his employment as a popular tribune outside the
party politics [Glenn, 1999], and for the lack of both
perception and interest in practical political matters [Ekiert,
2003]. As Havel used to defend the idea on dimishing the role
of political parties, he was even accused for efforts to co all
powers in his hands in order to rule as a monarch [The
Financial Times, 1998]. Critics may be inclined to see mainly
failures in Havels performance as a politician due to the fact
that his politicians agenda did not lay claim on providing
immediate answers to the urgent needs which the country
faced after the dissolution of the communist system. Namely,
the processes of democratization in the region took place
against the background of burning economic and social crises
which forced the newly-elected democratic elites to be the
administers of the social and economic catastrophe instead of
being defenders of freedom and well-being [Pontuso, 2002].
Apparently, Havel tried to avoid turning into the former.
Havels former dissident colleague, Bohumil Doleal, is
convinced that the series of failures of dissidents in politics
begun with the victory of Civic Forum in elections of 1990.
Belohradski, thinker who had a great impact on Havels
considerations regarding the non-political politics, also points
finger to the Civic Forum and discusses its unsuitability for
the practice of democratic politics. Civic Forum was
established in its beginnings as a movement with an aim of
spurring the processes which would eventually result in the
change of regime, and as such it was inappropriate for taking
the responsibilities of governing. The supporters of non-
political politics were intellectuals, artists who although
questioned the rules of the political game, did not have a
claim to govern according to the new ones if such were
established. The notion of non-political politics and the Civic
Forum by all means contributed to embedding the new
regime, however its representatives were not suited for
working in this environment, otherwise the required boundary
between the regime, on one hand, and activities related to
governing, on the other, would fade away [Tucker et al.,
1991]. Nevertheless, it has been argued in the camp of
Havels defenders that he did not manage to make a brilliant
career as a politician also due to various other reasons. The
restrictions imposed on the president by the constitution, the
prevailing role of ODS (Civic Democratic Party) in the
Parliament [Havel, 1992], and unwillingness of the prime
minister Klaus to involve him in policy making, as well as
lack of permanent allies in the parliament these are only
few of the reasons what contributed to reducing Havels role
in practical politics to almost ceremonious duties [Ekiert,
(2003]. All in all, James Pontuso in his book Vaclav Havel:
Civic Responsibility in the Potmodern Age rehabiliates
Havel. Authors analysis of Havels dissident period
commentaries, as well as his speeches while in presidential
office and political dispositions of that time, reveal that
despite the transformation of roles, Havel maintained
intellectual consistency [Pontuso, 2004]. It is clear that non-
political politics did not cease to exist in Czechoslovakia also
in the transition phase. Partly this can be explained by the
conservative and delaying character of the previous,
Communist regime the existence of political parties was
forbidden before 1989, and, naturally, there had to be enough
time for them to evolve later. However, this situation also
favoured the rejection of party politics among the former
dissidents. Instead, they were inclined to invoke a civic
community led by individual responsibility [Ekiert, 2003].
Those dissidents who tried to engage into practical politics,
were forced to face the obvious truth engagement into this
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ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 197
field using the slogans of non-political politics is complicated
[Grumolte, 2014]. As Ralph Dahrendorph puts it, the former
intellectual dissidents felt disoriented in the new world
constellation formed after the dissolution of the Soviet block.
They lacked the skills of maneouvre while the new situation
required refusing to take a straight course as one had to be
aware not to knock down somebody from the road
[Dahrendorf, 2005].

This work has been supported by the European Social Fund
within the project Support for Doctoral Studies at University
of Latvia.
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The SIJ Transactions on Industrial, Financial & Business Management (IFBM), Vol. 2, No. 3, May 2014
ISSN: 2321-242X 2014 | Published by The Standard International Journals (The SIJ) 198
IneseGrumolte. Ph.D candidate in Political
science (with emphasis on Political theory) at
University of Latvia. She holds Masters
(2011; with distinction) and baccalaureate
(2008; with distinction) degree in political
science from the University of Latvia. She
has worked on her research projects at
Frankfurt Social Research Institute (2012)
and Free University of Berlin (2013). She is
now affiliated at University of Latvia where she holds a position of
professors assistant and scientific project manager. Member of
several international research programs.Author of more than 15
scientific publications and a number of popular-scientific
publications. She has participated in more than 15 international
scientific conferences. Her research interests include Social Theory
of the twentieth Century, the problems of the political role and
responsibility of intellectuals, and the development of democracy in
East-Central Europe. Her recent publications are Grumolte. I.
Agent of change and what next? Vaclav Havel between Social
criticism and politics. Bangkok International Conference on Social
Sciences 2014. Proceedings;Rakstniekaintelektualoma socilaj
proces: teortiskieunmetodoloiskieaspekti (The role of writer
the intellectual in the social process: theoretical and methodological
aspects). In: Autors. Teksts.Laikmets.Rezekne: Academic Press of
Rezekne University Press