IN HIS two-and-a-half years as president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel was a refreshing presence on the world stage. He resigned last month rather than preside over his country's split into separate Czech and Slovak states. In an address at New York University last year, he made the following observations on politics, comments worth remembering during a presidential campaign that promises more than its share of nastiness:
"Despite all the political misery I am confronted with every day, it still is my profound conviction that the very essence of politics is not dirty; dirt is brought in only by wicked people. I admit that this is an area of human activity where the temptation to advance through unfair actions may be stronger than elsewhere and which thus makes higher demands on human integrity. But it is not true at all that a politician cannot do without lying or intriguing. That is sheer nonsense, often spread by those who want to discourage people from taking an interest in public affairs. Of course, in politics, just as anywhere else in life, it is impossible, and it would not be sensible, always to say everything bluntly. Yet that does not mean one has to lie. What is needed here are tact, instinct and good taste. That, in fact, has been one of the things that surprised me most in the realm of high politics, where good taste is more important than all the education in political science.
". . . It is not true that people of high principle are ill-suited for politics. The high principles have only to be accompanied by patience, consideration, a sense of measure and understanding for others. It is not true that only cold-hearted, cynical, arrogant, haughty or brawling persons can succeed in politics. Such people are naturally attracted by politics. In the end, however, politeness and good manners weigh more."