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Monday, September 16, 2013

Vaclav Havel Refused 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Nomination, Says Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president whose potent critique of communist rule helped foment revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall, never won the Nobel Peace Prize, a source of disappointment to his legion of ardent supporters who felt he deserved the prize given his outsize contribution to recent history.

On late Sunday, Mr. Havel’s legacy was further burnished when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at a conference in Prague that Mr. Havel had refused the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize nomination and proposed her, instead, according to Czech media reports and several people attending the conference. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader who was jailed by the military for the better part of two decades, praised Mr. Havel for the support he had given the Burmese opposition during the period when the military junta brutally ruled the country.

She said Mr. Havel had given her the “flame of hope” during Myanmar’s darkest hours and that his writings had provided solace during long years of detention. Mr. Havel died in late 2011 at the age of 75.

The Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, which oversees the Nobel Peace Prize, declined to comment Monday, saying that deliberations over nominations for the prize were confidential for 50 years after any nomination was made. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 - while under house arrest for her peaceful struggle against the military dictatorship.

“When I received his books, I read them avidly to find out how I too could survive the years of struggle as he survived,” she said at the Forum 2000, an international conference Mr. Havel helped found. “I understood the ultimate freedom was to live in truth,” she said, alluding to Mr. Havel’s mantra. “When I was under house arrest I knew that here was a man speaking for me. He made me feel free.”

A charismatic man with a flair for self-deprecation, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of communist prisons, endured decades of police surveillance, and had his many plays and essays suppressed. He led the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and served 14 years as president. All the while, he became a potent symbol in the West for the struggle against authoritarianism in communist Eastern and Central Europe.

Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, and Lech Walesa of Poland, who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in bringing down the Soviet Empire, Mr. Havel never won the prize - a source of regret for his legion of supporters, some of whom have lobbied for him to be awarded the prize posthumously.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was in many ways a fellow traveler to Mr. Havel. A prisoner of conscience and advocate of Gandhian passive resistance, she helped found Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy in 1988. She refused the military junta’s offer of freedom in return for emigrating and was put under house arrest in 1989. Now 68, she recently indicated she would like to be president of Myanmar.

For years the organizers of Forum 2000 had left an empty chair for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Those in attendance at her speech on Sunday included Norman L. Eisen, the United States ambassador to the Czech Republic; Tomas Sedlacek, Mr. Havel’s former economic adviser, and Karel Schwarzenberg, the former foreign minister, who ran Mr. Havel’s office during part of the time he was president.

Mr. Sedlacek, the former Havel adviser, said Mr. Havel had never mentioned that he had turned down the nomination.

“Nobody in the country ever knew this,” he said. “It is heartening that a woman of such high moral stature, who is herself a Nobel Peace Prize winner, recognized Havel’s role in this way.”