Havel to Speak At Graduation

Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic and a dissident whose writings helped bring about the downfall of a Communist regime, will deliver the principal address at Harvard's 344th Commencement on June 8, University officials confirmed yesterday.

"Through his words and deeds Vaclav Havel has been a compelling presence in international affairs, and especially in the emergence and development of democratic society," President Neil L. Rudenstine said in a statement. "His eloquence and courage have helped guide his country through an extremely difficult passage in its history."

"We are honored to welcome so distinguished a statesman and a man of letters to join us on Commencement Day," Rudenstine added.

Havel, who became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, played a leading role in causing the collapse of Czechoslovakia's Communist regime.

In the 1960s, Havel began writing essays and plays--a form of political activism in Central and Eastern Europe--according to Assistant Pro- fessor of Slavic Languages and LiteraturesAlfred Thomas.

Havel became even more outspoken in the 1970s.He was an original signer and chief spokespersonfor the Charter-77 movement, which described Czechcitizen's criticisms of the autocratic government.


Since dissidents were silenced by the Communistgovernment, Havel's work could not be published inCzechoslovakia and his plays were banned from thecountry, yet still influenced the revolutionariesfrom afar.

The Czechoslovakian revolution emphasizedethics, nonviolence and moral solidarity, largelyas a result of Havel essays like "Power of thePowerless" and "Letter to Dr. Gustav Husak,"

After the Czechoslovakians broke free from theCommunists, Havel, as the leader of therevolutionary movement, was appointed president ofCzechoslovakia. That post, more figurehead thanpolitical, enabled Havel to represent the republicbefore foreign governments.

When Czechoslovakia split into the CzechRepublic and Slovakia, Havel became president ofthe Czech Republic.

Students, faculty and administrators said theywere thrilled about the selection.

"I am delighted that president Havel hasaccepted the invitation of the Harvard AlumniAssociation." said Barry l., Williams '66,president of the Harvard Alumni Association. "Itwill be a memorable day for graduating students,alumni and their families who will have the honorof welcoming such an outstanding statesman andplaywright."

Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian PhilologyMichael S. Flier, who teaches the linguistics ofthe Czech language, agreed.

"It's a wonderful honor to have such adistinguished statesman hare at Harvard," Fliersaid. "His activities as a dissident, as a writerand now as a political figure are admirable. He'sso noble in the way he goes about his duties."

James N. Miller '95, the first marshall of hisclass, also agreed.

"I think it's a great choice," Miller said."He's not only a leader but a thoughtful leader.He shows you that if you want to go into politics,you don't have to go there right away. I thinkhe's a very good example to have speaking for ourclass.