The Death of Two Very Different Leaders: Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel

On Sunday, the world experienced the loss of two international leaders: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. The intrigue lies not in their shared deaths but in their polar opposite lives. Each man's death speaks of each man's individual character, integrity, humanity and leadership. 

Death leaves behind its own unique legacy depending on the path and choices made in life. Some legacies grow outdated and are left by the wayside to wither while others remain strong and vibrant; a lasting tribute. One leader instilled terror. One leader instilled independence and the right to human dignity.  

Kim was a ruthless dictator who followed in the steps of his  father, the revered North Korean communist founder, Kim Il Sung. Kim most likely learned his ruthless tactics from his father. Both leaders obsessed with nuclear power while their people suffered from malnutrition and harsh treatment. Kim's leadership involved absolute domination over his people; at times even his own older party members were banished to the countryside.

Evidence of basic humanity were absent from Kim's methods of leadership. He scontinued on the one his father left. Kim primed his third son; comrade Kim Jung Un — the "Great Successor" — in the mirror image of his paternal legacy. 

Imprints left by Kim include the accomplishment of his father's dream of nuclear power. Kim did this by exploding two crude nuclear devices; one in 2006 and one in 2009. To consider such human atrocities accomplishments says everything about the man. Kim's legacy to his people remains: malnutrition, starvation and ignorance.  

President Vaclav Havel is the polar opposite of Kim. Havel was the epitome of a human being.  He suffered greatly under communist rule and oppression by serving five years in communist prisons, enduring two decades under watchful eyes of the secret police and suppression of his plays and essays. He earned every right to be a cruel and hateful man. The world grew fortunate because that was not the path he chose to walk. Despite his inhumane treatment, Havel summoned his personal strength, character, and sense of human dignity and survived.  He made a conscience choice to not let his abuse or his abusers define him. Instead, Havel let his belief in non-violence and love for his country define him. Self empowerment defined him first as a person and then as an international leader. He was a survivor in the truest sense. Havel's  approach to violence and the world mirrors Nelson Mandela.

In the role of negotiator, Havel was the main player who brought about the peaceful transformation of power during the 1989 Prague demonstrations. The transformation became known as the Velvet Revolution due to its smoothness and non-violent nature. 

Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, and one of Havel's closest friends was interviewed recently on PBS. Albrightwas born in Czechoslovakia and related to Havel on a more friendly, rather than political, level. Her conversation was kept in the simple manner she said he preferred. She explained how Havel never sought the political life; it sought him. He accepted the presidency because he knew his countrymen needed him. Albright commented that Havel believed in the universal need for all people to be free and live in a democratic world.  

Havel believed in addressing his people's needs; the  result was the separation of his country into two: The Czech Republic and Slovakia. The need for solving world differences at the level of non violence was his primary goal and driving force. Power was not something he needed to be complete. He was complete in his natural state.The path this man chose lead himself, his countrymen, and all those he touched, to another passion: non-violence and the road to freedom and independence. 

The legacy Havel leaves the world is one of love, respect, and the fulfillment of hopes and dreams for independence in a non-violent manner. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Kathleen Quinn

I was born in New York City and moved to Denver, Colorado in 1990. My work history includes 27 years in federal employment and several in private industry. I have three amazing children and three amazing grandchildren. Diversity in people and perceptions create a never ending opportunity for looking at ourselves and our world.

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