Two days, two deaths. But, what a contrast.
Vaclav Havel, a brave and reluctant leader who found himself propelled into the presidency of his newly-liberated country, oversaw its split into two separate nations (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), managed the uneasy transition from Communism to European democracy, and gave up power as soon as it was decent to do so. He leaves behind a legacy not only of political courage, but of great writing and rhetoric. Here was a man who gave his life for his people.
Then, today, Kim Jong Il left North Korea choking on its tears – but not on much else. The Great Leader has starved his people while feeding his own ego. The danger for North Koreans lies in spotting the lack of greatness in their all-too-human ex-leader and catching a glimpse of what the rest of the world sees. (Try reading Barbara Demick’s powerful book Nothing to Envy for some reality.)
I am reminded of that great line by Jeremy Thorpe about Harold MacMillan following the Night of the Long Knives way back in 1963:
Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life.
Havel might be remembered for this:
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.