While you are reading Havel, keep the following background in mind. In 1975, the major western European States, along with the United States, met in Helsinki, Finland for an extended series of talks with the Soviet Union and the rest of the European communist bloc. At this meeting, which led to the signing of the Helsinki Accords on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the participants agreed on three major principles, known as “baskets.” Basket I was about recognizing the inviolability of international borders and the sovereignty of each state’s government. This was of major interest to the Soviet Union because its bloc contained a number of states, including East Germany, whose sovereignty was questioned by the West. Basket II was about cooperation between states, regardless of their ideological dispositions. Again, this was valuable for the Soviet Union and its allies they were interested in expanded economic ties with the West. As a concession to the West, the Soviet bloc accepted Basket III, which emphasized the importance of human rights and the right of all peoples to self-determination. At the time, no one in the West expected that the communist states would suddenly be transformed into liberal democracies. They merely hoped for a gradual improvement in the human rights situation in the East. However, eastern European dissidents like Vaclav Havel saw an opportunity–a wedge, one might call it–to use this part of the accords to demand that their ernments live up to rights guarantees in their own constitutions. In 1977, Havel and other critics of the regime formulated a document, loosely known as “Charter 77,” which galvanized the Czechoslovak dissident community around the idea of communist reform. Havel wrote “The Power of the Powerless” in 1979, after he and others were convicted of subversive activities. On Charter 77, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_77
For some of Havel’s reflections on Charter 77, see Open Letters, pp. 323-327.