One of the giants of our time has died in the Czech Republic, according to the AP:

Shy and bookish, with a wispy mustache and unkempt hair, the dissident playwright was an unlikely hero of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” after four decades of suffocating repression — and of the epic struggle that ended the wider Cold War.

His country’s first democratically elected president, he led it through its early years, overseeing its bumpy transition to democracy and its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Havel, a former chain-smoker who had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails, died Sunday morning at his weekend home in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Tancevova said. His wife Dagmar and a nun who had been caring for him the last few months of his life were by his side, she said. He was 75.

“Havel was a symbol of the events of 1989 — he did a tremendous job for this country,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said.

Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc, and was president when it joined NATO in 1999.

“Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,” Havel famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by.

Vaclav Havel is a hero of mine, a man whose life, like those of Pope John Paul II, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andre Sakharov, demonstrated the power of truth in the face of falsehood, of love in the face of hatred, and of freedom in the face of tyranny. He was a beacon of light amid the darkness of the Soviet empire long before the Revolution of 1989. Even after leaving office, he continued to speak out with a moral authority that could not be ignored on behalf of the world’s genuinely oppressed (denouncing, for instance, the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 when so many in the West were paralyzed into silence).

It has been noted that the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize never saw fit to honor one of the great men of peace and freedom of the last half century, even while bestowing one on Barack Obama for no apparent reason, giving one to Al Gore for making a dishonest movie, and giving one to one of the most notorious terrorists of our age, Yasser Arafat. The wonderful thing is that a life such as Havel’s doesn’t need the imprimatur of any committee. His role in the historic transformation of his nation and Europe, and his universal voice for freedom and the dignity of humanity, will be his legacy.