GUY RAZ, HOST:
Now, unlike many of his comrades on the left, Czech leader Vaclav Havel also supported the Iraq invasion. He saw it through the prism of his own country's liberation from communism. In November 1989, as the communist regime collapsed, he stood on a balcony in Prague's Wenceslas Square where he addressed thousands of people gathered.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)
RAZ: Vaclav Havel died today at the age of 75. He stands among the giants of the late 20th century. Havel was a playwright and artist, but most importantly, a dissident in his native Czechoslovakia. He coauthored the seminal document known as Charter 77. It called for political reform, and his activities landed him in jail several times.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was a friend. And when I spoke with her earlier today, she explained where Havel fits into the history of the end of the Cold War.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think he fits into the center of it, because he was an active dissident and a believer in human rights throughout his entire life and fought for human rights even under the most desperate communism and was there in order to lead his country in the Velvet Revolution and in a remarkable time of integration into the West.
RAZ: He was, of course, a dissident and jailed, but primarily he was playwright. He was an artist who was political, but he wasn't a politician. And it makes you wonder whether he was almost reluctant to take on the role of president after 1989.
ALBRIGHT: He was reluctant. And he was not somebody who took himself terribly seriously, but he saw the world through the eyes of an artist and a moral human being.
RAZ: What happened in 1989? I mean, was he sort of the only figure that the whole country could coalesce around? I mean, was he kind of forced into this role?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, he had played a very important role in the dissident movement and had been, in many ways, somebody that the people looked up to, the Charter 77 people. And he was there at the time when the crowds assembled in Wenceslas Square, and he was on the - in this balcony along with former President Dubcek. And clearly, even though there had been this other figure there, he never kind of had that same stature that Vaclav Havel did, which was a newness and morality and a spirit of what the future could be about.
RAZ: You knew him. Of course, your roots are Czech, Madam Secretary, as well. What was Vaclav Havel like as a person?
ALBRIGHT: He was wonderful. He was somebody that you could have any kind of a discussion with, and he loved jazz. And when I was still secretary, I was a U.N. ambassador in 1994 when I went to Prague the first time with President Clinton. And when President Clinton got off the plane and President Havel was at the bottom of the steps and we had official meetings. And then we all went to this great jazz club where President Havel gave President Clinton the saxophone and they all stood there playing. And the truth is that President Havel didn't have a lot of rhythm, but he certainly loved the music.
RAZ: How do you think he will be remembered by the Czech people?
ALBRIGHT: I hope that he will be remembered as somebody that really raised again the opportunities and possibilities for the Czech people who - I mean, I grew up in a - with different kind of stories in terms of the Czechoslovakia that my parents knew between the wars. And Vaclav Havel did too. And so - and a lot of the young people in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic didn't know all that.
And Havel, for them, personified what was possible for a small country. He is one of the most important figures of the 20th century in terms of his understanding of humanity, human rights, democracy, principle, morality. And to the extent that people want to identify with that, they will see him as a great hero.
RAZ: That's former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on her friend Vaclav Havel. The one-time Czech president died today. He was 75. Secretary Albright, thank you so much.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.