On Friday’s train ride to Prague, I was listening to the last chapter of “What Happened?” and relished the irony when I heard Hillary referencing Vaclav Havel, the writer and dissident who helped lead the Czechs during the nonviolent 1989 “velvet revolution” that overthrew 41 years of one-party Communist rule, and brought democracy to this country. Havel was her inspiration when preparing her 2017 commencement speech to Wellesley graduates, as she searched for a message to bring all those smart and despairing young women. Quoting in her book from his essay “the Power of the Powerless, Hillary cites Havel’s description of the people in Soviet dominated Eastern Europe as living under “a thick crust of lies”. Havel advocated that, no matter, they must continue to hammer out the truth, the weapon against distorted reality. He insisted how we must stand up and say “the emperor is naked.”
As we know, Havel was elected president of the post Soviet democratic Czechslovakia, then Czech Republic. Today, as we grapple with an administration that spews forth alternative facts, and challenges the media, we must keep on hammering out the truth.
Arriving in Prague, I visited Wenceslas Square, where Havel addressed demonstrations and celebrations. I wandered the Xmas markets populating the old square bursting with shoppers and gawkers drinking mulled wine and grog, eating kielbasa and roasted spicy nuts; and even potato pancakes as big as the full moon. Holiday singers entertained on stage, warmed by woolen scarves and outdoor heaters. Walking near the national theater, I encountered a large knit statue of Marilyn Monroe and her seven-year itch billowing skirt. Such is the multi -faceted charm of Prague. I shall miss this place.
I wandered across the Charles bridge, taking in the aura of the Prague Castle and its spires sparkling under the lights. It’s a palace fit for Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. We don’t live in fairy tales, but the story of the re-emergence of freedom here after decades of oppression is real. Sure the gargoyles may try to creep in under the cover of night, but I believe the spirit of Havel will keep them in check.
Hillary ends What Happened, with the message “Keep going.” And per Havel, keep on destroying the lies, by hammering with the truth.