Monday, 19 December 2011

A Late Trio

It was that noted tweeter-about-town Londiniensis who pointed this out. That of the three famous deaths of recent days, Christopher Hitchens provoked much mourning and opining; Vaclav Havel died and nobody (on Twitter) really mentioned it, and Kim Jong Il provoked mostly jokes. Of course, Londiniensis put it more succinctly than that.

But it's an interesting world we live in, where a death that could threaten the world provokes mostly puns on the deceased's names. Given the starvation of so many of North Korea's people and the imprisonment of people fort their politics and their beliefs, I would say that the man, and the system that put him in place, are no joke at all. Hitchens was always challenging, but will be forgotten within a decade, I would guess - tell me in 10 years if I'm wrong. But Vaclav Havel was a blooming hero.

Maybe the Facebook / Twitter generation are already forgetting the horrors that the Eastern Bloc's leaders inflicted on their long-suffering people. Havel, an articulate critic of the regime in what was then Czechoslovakia, spent years in prison. As the regime crumbled in the late 80s, somehow Czechoslovakia managed to transition to a democratic state and then - amazingly - the Czechs and Slovaks managed to split their nations apart without the bloodshed other countries suffered from.

It's not down to me of course. But if the popular view is the right one, and if people end up where they deserve, Kim Jong Il is currently eternally enjoying his own form of hospitality. Vaclav Havel is in a place where he can write all the plays he likes, and the government won't get touchy. And Christopher Hitchens is probably in the bar.


  1. Eileen, I could not agree more. I'm guessing that many of the Facebook/Twitter crowd aren't old enough to remember just how world-shaking the fall of communism was.

  2. "without the bloodshed", I think.

    Not wishing to be pedantic - just a bit concerned that if the young 'uns don't know much about the "Velvet Revolution", they're likely to know even less about the "Velvet Divorce". Wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea!

    History will surely regard Havel as one of the handful of truly great and courageous figures, both intellectually and politically, of the later 20th century.

  3. Francis - good proofreading! I have corrected it, but shall leave the correction in italics to commemorate your astute reading.

  4. As an educated, inteligent and interested 24 year old (for context, not boasting). I can honestly say that untill a couple of days ago I'd never heard of Vaclav Havel, though I had heard of the Velvet Revolution. I suspect that it might be partly that the twitter crowd is much like me in that respect, but partly that its all a bit too serious. As for Kim Jong Il, thats even more serious, so the solution is simply to make light of it. Not that you'd know about that approach, Archdruid.

  5. Tom … that is scary (not least because I don't doubt your self-description.) I was in my 20s when travelling through Eastern Europe in '89 just as all this was happening, and directly witnessed some of the key events. It's fair to say that it completely transformed my world view. As for Vaclav Havel, he is one of my all-time heroes - one of that tiny number of people of whom one might find oneself asking, in a given situation, "What Would [Vaclav Havel] Do?"

  6. Eileen
    I was desperately sad that nobody retweeted or commented on my tweet re. Vaclav Havel. And only 1 person (out of 134 "friends") on FB commented on my post. This was compounded by a mean-spirited article in the Guardian about him.
    Thanks for putting the record straight.

  7. Being a Catholic Londiniensis may have an axe to grind against Hitchens, in any case I think placing him on the same platform as Kim Jung Il isn't really comparing apples with apples.

    IMO We shouldn't fall into the trap of assuming that English speaking social media is somehow definitive. I can tell you with reasonable certainty that the actual statistics show more (total) new content mentioning Havel and KJI than Hitchens over the last week (media monitoring is what my company does).

  8. Hi Steve

    Reading back I notice from other tweets that yes, Londiniensis does look like he may be a Catholic! You think you know someone... But the tweet wasn't grinding any axes about Hitchens as such. You may find this tweet, leading to this article by His Hermeneuticalness,instructive.


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