20 years ago, the dominoes fell in Eastern Europe. Not long after the Wall fell in Berlin, a non-violent revolution got underway in Czechoslovakia. The Velvet Revolution took just a matter of six weeks (November 17 – December 29, 1989) to unfold. It was fast and bloodless, and it put on the world stage Václav Havel — the playwright, turned anti-Soviet dissident, and soon democratic president of Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic).
In 2006, Havel arrived in New York City, to spend 8 weeks at Columbia University. To mark the occasion, the university built a web site called Havel at Columbia that reconsidered Havel and the Velvet Revolution. Along with some intriguing historical footage, the site features video interviews with George H.W. Bush, David Remnick (the New Yorker editor and author of Lenin’s Tomb), Milos Forman (the great movie director of Czech heritage), Edward Albee (the playwright best known for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), George Soros, and Lou Reed. Collectively, these conversations give you a very good feel for the man, the artist, and his historical contributions. You will also then find a conversation between Presidents Bill Clinton and Václav Havel, and a reading of Havel’s play, The Garden Party, directed by Israel Horvitz featuring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Klein. Podcasts of many of these wonderful events can be found on iTunes.
Note: The media-packed website, Havel at Columbia, was created by the Columbia Center for New Media for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) and the Columbia University Arts Initiative (CUArts). Great work here, and I want to thank John F. for helping us put this post together.