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NEW YORK — It was early June 1989. Vaclav Havel had been released from jail only days before, yet he was full of what now seems an almost prophetic certainty. Thousands of his countrymen had written letters petitioning for his release, at a time when declaring solidarity with Czechoslovakia’s most famous dissident was a clear and dangerous act of civil disobedience.

“We Czechs are finally finding our courage,” he said, as if sensing the people’s new readiness to confront the guardians of their communist police state. “Sooner or later, they will make a mistake, perhaps by beating up some people. Then 40,000 people will fill Wenceslas Square!”

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