Havel’s anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women’s rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.
Although he did clash with his uber-Thatcherite presidential successor, Václav Klaus, over economic policy, Havel, the son of a wealthy entrepreneur whose companies were nationalised when the communists came to power, showed little concern for the plight of ordinary people who lost out in the change towards a market economy. And there were losers aplenty. While the years following the liberation of eastern Europe from communism by Havel and his fellow dissidents are routinely portrayed in the west as one big success story, the reality is rather different. A 2009 Lancet study concluded that as many as 1 million working-age men died due to the health problems brought on by mass privatisation. As economies across eastern Europe were restructured so inequalities and social divisions grew. A 2011 OECD report found that Havel’s Czech Republic had the joint-second largest rise in income inequality in OECD members since the mid-1980s.