By Jane R. Elgass
The reading, given by theater and drama Prof. Glenda Dickerson as the final presentation in the symposium, was appreciated by Havel, who noted that he didnt realize how suggestive the letters would appear 20 years later.
In his acceptance address to a crowded Hill Auditorium audience, Havel cited the discovery of alleged ancient manuscripts that purported to attest the ancient roots of our nations culture, the wealth of its history and the greatness of its myth-making creativity.
Philosophy Prof. Thomas Marsaryk, who later became the first Czechoslovak president (191835), declared the manuscripts were fake, resulting in a Battle for the Manuscripts.
Masaryk, who was already engaged in politics at that time, would not yield, Havel noted, and did not succumb to the temptation to appear complaisant to the crowds. Undeterred by the risk of losing prestige, reputation and popularity, he stood by his conviction. He found it unacceptable, as a matter of principle, that awareness of national identity or the struggle for his peoples legitimate rightsfirst within the formation of the Austro-Hungarian state and later with the aim of restoring Czech statehoodshould be based on a lie or fraud. To him, Havel added, the only valid and viable cornerstone for his nations new existence was truth.
But what is truth? Havel asked, noting that thanks to the information revolution, pieces of information crisscross the globe every second at a frantic speed, spanning our planet with an all-embracing coat of communication.
While there are advantages to this, Havel said that it is of paramount importance to understand the fine difference between information and truth.
To put it briefly and simply, Havel stated, I believe that truth is also information but, at the same time, it is something greater. Truthlike any other informationis information which has been clearly proved, or affirmed, or verified within a certain system of coordinates or paradigms, or which is simply convincing. But it is more than thatit is information avouched by a human being with his or her whole existence, with his or her reputation and name, with his or her honor.
|Members of the American Sokol Organization of Detroit attended the ceremony in ethnic dress. Pictured (from left) are Maryann Fiordelis, Carolyn Sabados, Jarmila Kalivoda and Joan Spiroff. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services|
Masaryks hope may have appeared foolish as well. But was it really? Is it foolish to let ourselves be guided by conscience, to insist on the truth even when it is out of favor and, thus, to affirm that truth is genuine truth, in the deepest sense? What is foolish, exactly?
In opening the ceremony, President Lee C. Bollinger noted that the U-M has long had international connections and cited particularly Czech studies, which has a rich cornucopia of courses and research.
He used the occasion to announce the Václav Havel Fellows Program as a way of memorializing Havel. In any generation, Bollinger said, a few individuals take hold of our imaginations. Havel embodies hope for the human spirit and our collective lives. As a public intellectual, he has been able to obliterate barriers of discipline and expertise.
The Fellows Program will provide assistance for students of exceptional promise in three categories:
Music at the ceremony was performed by the James Dapogny Quartet, led by Dapogny, who is professor of music (music theory). Other members of the group were Paul Keller, bass, adjunct professor of music (jazz), Paul Finkbeiner (trumpet) and Pete Siers (drums). The group was pressed into extra duty when Havels flight from New York was delayed. The final piece the group performed was a jazz rendition of the national anthem of the Czech Republic, Kde domov muj (Where Is My Home?), recognizing Havels interest in jazz.
A renowned playwright and president of the Czech Republic, you hold and provide enormous moral and spiritual influence. Through your carefully articulated philosophy, expressed in plays, letters, speeches and essays, you have transformed your nation and informed the world. Your critically acclaimed plays, rich in allegory and metaphor, have been performed throughout Europe and North America.
Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact members in 1968, your highly principled opposition to authoritarianism, including leadership of the human rights organization Charter 77, inspired people throughout Eastern Europe. When the communist regime began to crumble in 1989, you emerged as the obvious leader of the new Czechoslovakia.
Your election came to symbolize the democratic revolutions that swept the region. When it became clear that Slovakia and the Czech Republic would split, you resigned the presidency rather than preside over the dissolution. Since your 1993 election as president of the Czech Republic and reelection in 1998, you have promoted harmony and democratic processes in Eastern Europe.
The high regard in which you are held by the world community is reflected in the numerous awards you have received, including three Obie Awards for playwriting, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Four Freedoms Award from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, UNESCOs International Simón Bolívar Prize, the Indira Gandhi Prize and the J. William Fulbright Prize.
In recognition of your achievements as a writer, philosopher and statesman, and your principled political and moral leadership, the University of Michigan is proud to present to you the honorary degree Doctor of Laws.