Havel — Power to the Powerless
By the end of the 1990s the Czech people were beginning to show as much weariness at their playwright president as he was so evidently feeling at the demands of his office. Opinion polls had moved against him, 1 with some showing a small majority believing he should step down because of the chronic ill health he had suffered since undergoing lung cancer surgery in 1996. Criticism of Havel was less and less taboo in the newspaper columns and among mainstream politicians, hinting that the moral stature which had always outweighed his formal powers was on the wane. In a media game of guilt by association his judgement had also been called into question over the behaviour of his new actress wife, Dagmar, whose own deep unpopularity appeared to be dragging the president down as well. 2
More generally, Havel, as head of state since the fall of communism, could hardly remain unaffected by the hardening public mood of pessimism in the country. Ten years of reform had brought many benefits but expectations had been higher still. With unemployment on the rise and a general feeling that the economic transformation process had been a failure, the establishment as a whole was bound to be tarnished. ' Havel fatigue' had set in and it seemed only a question of time before the great man gave in to the pressure and recognised that his usefulness to the Czech political scene had expired.
The two questions which everyone asked were those which had dogged Havel since his move from the theatre hall and smoky-bar life of the dissident intellectual to the splendour of high politics in Prague Castle. With the end of communism did he still have anything useful to say? Was Havel the independent intellectual cut out for politics at all?