Recent quotes:

Havel tidies, waits for the end

Late in his life, he remarked that he was moving about his country house, all alone, a battered old man, tidying up, making sure that his table was orderly, all the books piled just so, “fresh flowers in the vases.” Why, he wondered, was he doing this? Or rather, for whom was he doing it? It’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? … I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgement, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden.

Havel needs a beer

By the 1980s, before Gorbachev and glasnost, Havel sensed his growing authority. When the American Embassy in Prague gave parties, visiting writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Albee, and Philip Roth sought him out. When Havel ran out of beer at a gathering in his Prague apartment, the cop assigned to surveil him volunteered to go to a nearby pub to refill his jug. This was when he knew that power was flowing his way.

Havel on hope and meaning

Havel discovered—in the words for which he is best remembered—that hope “is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Czechoslovakia in the 70s

In January 1969, Jan Palach, a philosophy undergraduate, burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion. Unlike most of his fellow dissidents, Havel did not react to Palach’s death with tears, desperation, or hopeless rage. Instead, like the politician he was to become, he gave a television interview in which he declared, with strange—and up to this point uncharacteristic—bravado, “There is just one road open to us: to wage our political battle until the end … I understand the death of Jan Palach as a warning against the moral suicide of all of us.” Moral suicide—taking a job with the regime, informing on your erstwhile dissident friends—became a standard if depressing mode of collaboration in the 1970s. The parallel polis collapsed, leaving the few remaining dissidents to face the full pressure of the regime alone. Of that long decade, Zantovsky writes, “few … can imagine the twilight mood, the torpor, which resembled a state of semi-anaesthesia.”