Czech leader's courage hailed as he receives Liberty Medal

July 05, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Vaclav Havel, the playwright and longtime champion of tolerance and democracy who became the leader of a bloodless revolution and president of the Czech Republic, was awarded the 1994 Philadelphia Liberty Medal yesterday in front of Independence Hall.

For more than an hour, dignitaries praised Mr. Havel, known for being the political dissident who refused to be silenced, the writer whose works were banned and whose passport was revoked, the activist who spent nearly five years in prison, where he nearly died of a lung infection.

Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell described him as "a man of courage, of vision and integrity." Ronald J. Naples, president of We the People 2000, which administers the Liberty Medal, honored him as "a beacon of light in a world darkened by oppression."

In 1989, Mr. Havel, 57, led his country's peaceful transition from Communism to democracy.

In his speech, Mr. Havel touched on many of the themes that had brought him to the Fourth of July honor -- tolerance for different peoples and cultures, the peaceful coexistence of nations, the primacy of science in the objective world and the confusion and disorder of daily life.

The Philadelphia Liberty medal was established in 1988 as a lasting tribute to the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. It honors an individual or organization that has "demonstrated leadership and vision in the pursuit of liberty or conscience or freedom from oppression, ignorance or deprivation."

Previous medal winners were Lech Walesa, Jimmy Carter, Oscar Arias, Doctors Without Borders, Thurgood Marshall and, last year, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

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