Václav Havel

The Power of the Powerless
  • The Power of the Powerless

  • Václav Havel’s remarkable and rousing essay on the tyranny of apathy, with a new introduction by Timothy Snyder

    Cowed by life under Communist Party rule, a greengrocer hangs a placard in their shop window: Workers of the world, unite! Is it a sign of the grocer’s unerring ideology? Or a symbol of the lies we perform to protect ourselves?

    Written in 1978, Václav Havel’s meditation on political dissent – the rituals of its suppression, and the sparks that re-ignite it – would prove the guiding manifesto for uniting Solidarity movements across the Soviet Union. A portrait of activism in the face of falsehood and intimidation, The Power of the Powerless remains a rousing call against the allure of apathy.

    'Havel’s diagnosis of political pathologies has a special resonance in the age of Trump' Pankaj Mishra

Václav Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936. The son of a movie producer, Havel first distinguished himself as a poet and playwright in Prague’s burgeoning theatre world. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia saw Havel aiding the resistance for which he was later banned from theatre work. Living under Soviet occupation, and having to work as a brewer, Havel became increasingly politically active and was eventually imprisoned for three years following the publication of his 1979 essay, The Power of the Powerless. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Havel became President of Czechoslovakia and he was later elected the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel returned to the theatre after retiring from political life, writing two new plays before his death on 18 December 2011. (Author photograph copyright J. Jiroutek 2011)