Most people who know me know my parents defected from Czechoslovakia, and that its Velvet Revolution changed my life. I went from being "from nowhere" to "from somewhere." It gave me the opportunity to live for a time where my family came from, at a unique moment in history. Professionally, it opened so many doors for me. Personally, I learned who I am.
And it left me with a hero -- Vaclav Havel. As a small country, everyone feels personally connected to Havel, and many people, actually so. And as such, I join many others in great sadness at his passing.
Sitting here in New York in the days after his death -- as Americans have moved on and Czechs perform memorial after another -- has felt odd. I've felt detached and unsettled, without an outlet to express it. I've been a bit out of sorts.
Leave it to social media to change it.
We're in a time where, in city squares in Russia, Egypt, and many other countries, citizens are coming out to put themselves at risk, to protest peacefully for their basic rights, and to have a voice.
My Russian friend Anna posted this on Facebook. (Click on Google Translator to get the gist).
Russian individuals have posted a direct petition to the Czech people, in Czech. They express their dismay in their own leader, Medvedev, at his refusal to express official condolences to the Czech Republic -- their neighbor and former satellite -- on the death of their former president and national hero.
This was the same day Medvedev did express condolences to North Korea on the death of Kim Jong Il, cementing that relationship moving forward.
And these brave souls state that this is unacceptable.
It's a poignant statement of respect of neighbor. Of respect for and acknowledgment of Havel's force of character, integrity, and leadership. Apologies for aggressions of the past (i.e., Russian tanks in 1968). And an expression of desire for something different, starting now.
I remain saddened by Havel's passing. But this gives me a glimmer of hope. May his passing embolden them to stand firm for the freedom and voice they deserve.
Will the message build? I don't know. But I hope it does.