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Why Vaclav Havel mattered
03:07 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Hague: Havel "played a pivotal role in the development of freedom in Europe"

Obama: Havel's life "proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon"

Sarkozy: "France loses a friend, Europe loses one of its sages."

CNN  — 

International leaders expressed their condolences Sunday after the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, one of the leading anti-Communist dissidents of the 1970s and 1980s.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso: “He was a true European and has been a champion of democracy and liberty throughout his life. I recall with great emotion the contacts we have had while he held the office, first as President of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic and also as a European personality and man of culture. Vaclav Havel’s name will remain forever attached to the reunification of Europe and the expansion of its values to Central and Eastern Europe.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague: “I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Vaclav Havel. As the Czech Republic’s first democratically elected president, he played a pivotal role in the development of freedom in Europe. He will be remembered as a leader who helped create a modern democracy in the Czech Republic. His achievements are historic and will live after him. He will be sorely missed.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “A man of culture and a writer of great talent, Vaclav Havel was the incarnation of tireless commitment to democracy and freedom. His ascension to the presidency after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 capped a life entirely dedicated to the fight against totalitarianism and for the defense of values that inspired his action – tolerance, the promotion of human rights and the struggle against oppression. With the death of Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic loses one of its great patriots, France loses a friend, Europe loses one of its sages.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe: “With him, we lose a great European conscience and France loses a friend. The French have not forgotten the meeting between the dissident and his companions with President Mitterand in Prague on December 9, 1988. They have not forgotten the courage and the force of conviction of the herald of human rights. They remain very attached to the legacy of the poet-president, a man of letters who became a statesman, an author of the most beautiful pages in the history of democracy.”

U.S. President Barack Obama: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing today of Vaclav Havel, a playwright and prisoner of conscience who became president of Czechoslovakia and of the Czech Republic. Having encountered many setbacks, Havel lived with a spirit of hope, which he defined as ‘the ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.’ His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

Former U.S. President George W. Bush: “His strong voice for human liberty changed the course of his country and crossed continents. In the days of Communist rule over Czechoslovakia, he was viewed as an enemy of the state for ridiculing the pretensions of an oppressive government. The most subversive act of the playwright from Prague was telling the truth about tyranny. And when that truth finally triumphed, the people elected this dignified, charming, humble, determined man to lead their country. Unintimidated by threats, unchanged by political power, Vaclav Havel suffered much in the cause of freedom and became one of its greatest heroes.”