Václav Havel: A Pioneer of Cities of Asylum
In 1994 the President of the newly formed Czech Republic, Václav Havel, formed the International Parliament of Writers (IPW) with Salman Rushdie, Jacques Derrida, and Wole Soyinka, among others. Havel, a playwright who had faced persecution under Czechoslovakia’s Soviet-controlled government, was one of the founders of Charter 77, a Czech civic initiative to demand human rights and freedom of expression.
In 1994, inspired by the assassination of writers in Algeria, IPW was formed with the goal of providing a network of refuge cities for writers in danger. This later led to the establishment of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and the Cities of Asylum in the United States, which include City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.
Václav Havel served as the second president of IWP and later served as the chair of the International Council of the Human Rights Foundation.
Havel died last week, and we wish to remember this “global champion of democratic virtues.” Below Havel delivers a message to the 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum on the continuing importance of fighting for human rights.