Havel, a Czech writer and activist, was one of a number of dissidents who led their countries out of oppression in 1989. The relative lack of violence during political changeover led to this being called the “Velvet Revolution.”
Besides what was then known as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and four other Eastern European countries overthrew Communist dictators, elected their own governments and, over time, developed market economies and joined the European Union. Havel became Czechoslovakia’s first post-Communist president. He served as president from 1989 until 1993, when Slovakia split off. He then was president of the Czech Republic until 2003.
But backsliding is happening, the Associated Press wrote in a lengthy look at Havel’s legacy. It noted that leaders of Hungary’s ruling political party, Fidesz, are displaying authoritarian tendencies, that oligarchs choked off the free press in Latvia and that corruption curses Bulgaria and Romania.
Still, the Czech Republic remains vibrant, thanks in part to Havel’s uncompromising moral leadership. Poland is seen as an unqualified success story. Poland actively advises countries like Tunisia on how to move from autocratic to democratic government, and prods autocratic nations, including China, to give more human rights.
“Havel’s legacy has triumphed, but it is a legacy that will never be complete,” the Polish commentator Jacek Kucharczyk told the AP.