The Metaphysician-in-Chief

On February 22, 1990, Vaclav Havel spoke to a joint session of the United States Congress as the newly elected president of a free Czechoslovakia. Just a few months earlier, he had been detained (the last in a long line of arrests) by the StB, his country’s infamous secret police; he said he didn’t know whether he would be going to jail “for two days or two years.” But a mere three weeks later, as the satellites of the Soviet Union began to topple, overwhelming demonstrations throughout the country forced the Communist Party to agree to the first genuine elections since the Soviet-backed coup in 1948. Nearly two months to the day of his last arrest, Havel emerged as the only viable candidate for the presidency, and was rhapsodically elected on December 29, 1989, with a level of consensus unseen since Washington. As a playwright, a philosopher, an essayist, and

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