Memorial Tribute Honoring the Life and Work of Vaclav Havel

January 06, 2012
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

View videos from the event here, or on Vimeo. 

About the Event

“Who are the ‘dissidents’, actually? Nothing more and nothing less than people whom fate, chance, the logic of things and the logic of their work and their dispositions have led them to say aloud what others may think but have not dared state…. And they risk their necks when others do not dare to or simply cannot; they risk them, there’s no way round it, on their behalf.”
-Václav Havel, October 15, 1983

More so than any intellectual and political leader in the post-communist world, Vaclav Havel used his position, voice, and moral authority to advance present-day struggles for freedom.

He lived to see Charter 77, which celebrates its 35th anniversary on this day, transcend its time and place to inform and inspire dissidents following in his footsteps around the world. His death is deeply mourned by all who love democracy, but his work and legacy continue to breathe wherever people yearn to be free.

On January 6, NED hosted a memorial to hear reflections from many who knew and worked with Vaclav Havel to advance this ideal – as well as from dissidents past and present – who have benefitted from his solidarity. 

Memorial Program

Welcome and Introduction

  • Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy ::TEXT


  • Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago Divinity School :: text
  • William Luers, former US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia
  • Azar Nafisi, Author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Executive Director, Cultural Conversations, Johns Hopkins University SAIS
  • Li Xiaorong, Research Scholar, University of Maryland and Chinese democracy activist :: text
  • Written remarks by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, founder, Ibn Khaldoun Centre, Egypt :: text
  • Radwan Ziadeh, Director, Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and visiting scholar at George Washington University.
  • Oswaldo Paya (via video message), founder of the Varela Project, Cuba ::VIDEO
  • Rebiyah Kadeer, President, World Uyghur Congress :: text
  • Birtukan Midekssa, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, democracy activist, Ethiopia :: TEXT
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (via video message), General Secretary, National League for Democracy, Burma ::VIDEO
  • Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State; Chairman, National Democratic Institute :: text
  • Written remarks by President Barack Obama :: text

Live video link to memorial event at The Vaclav Havel Library, Prague, Czech Republic featured remarks by:

  • Martin Palous, President, Havel Library
  • Norm Eisen, US Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Attendees received a commemorative brochure which featured quotes from Havel, who was a writer well before he entered political life:

“I have never been a politician, a professional revolutionary or a professional ‘dissident’; nor do I have any ambition to become one. I am a writer; I write what I want to write and not what others want me to write, and if I get involved with something other than my literary work, I do so simply because I feel it is my natural, human and civil duty, a duty stemming ultimately from my position as a writer, that is to say, as somebody who is publicly known, who is obliged by this fame to be more vocal about some things than people are who are not well known: not because one is more important or intelligent than they are, but simply because – whether one likes it or not – one is in a different situation, one which requires a different kind of responsibility. Although I have, of course, clear-cut views on many things, I do not adhere to any concrete ideology, doctrine or even political party or sect; I am in the service of no one, let alone any power; if I serve anything, then it is my conscience. I’m neither a Communist nor an anti-Communist, and if I criticize my government, it is not because it is Communist but because it is bad.”
April 1983

The brochure also featured the text of Charter 77, the democracy manifesto that landed Havel in jail 36 years earlier. :: PDF

This event was sponsored by the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy,  The Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington, DC and the Vaclav Havel Library, Prague, Czech Republic.

“Havel’s moral leadership remains a beacon, Obama tells memorial tribute,” in DemocracyDigest. :: more

Voice of America Burmese News highlighted the Memorial Tribute. :: more

“In Praise of Václav Havel” from the July 2010 Journal of Democracy is available online for a limited time. :: more