This is a little late, but I'm not sure how much media coverage it has received in the US and Canada. Vaclav Havel, one of the heroes of the Velvet Revolution that peacefully ended the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia, died last Sunday. Were it not for his fearless defense of human dignity, Prague may have remained a relatively obscure eastern block capital to western travelers. Ironically, he passed away within 24 hours of Kim Jong-Il, a disgusting human being who represents the worst of everything Havel (and Lech Walesa in Poland) fought against. A fond farewell, Vaclav... and may you burn in hell, Mr. Kim.
This is more than a big deal for just Czech Republic. There were representatives from over 40 countries for Havel's funeral service including French President Sarkozy, German President Christian Wulff, British Prime Minister David Cameron, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, the present & two previous Polish Presidents, former US secretary of State Albright (who is from Czech Rep), Us Secreatry of State Hillary Clinton, Former US President Bill Clinton. Service sermon was by Archbishop Duka. And there was a condolence letter from Pope Benedict XVI which was read out before the mass. There was a huge funeral procession to Prague Castle with the casket of over 10,000 people earlier this week. The casket was in a 6 horse drawn gun carriage that was previously used only for first President T. G. Masaryk. Over 35,000 people stood in line to pay their last respects to Havel. Czech Republic has been in 3 days of mourning & Slovakia in 1 day of mourning.
My husband is from Czech Rep and has been in constant contact with family there this week. It's been a very emotional time for the people there. Sunday churchbells rang at 6pm across the whole country. People lit candles and held aloft a giant national flag during an impromptu tribute to late former President Václav Havel on Wenceslas Square. The crowd filled the whole leghth of the street. A black banner was unfurled on the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas while Marta Kubišová's "Modlitba pro Martu" (A Prayer for Marta) was played after a minute's silence. The crowd's sponanteous rendition of the Czech national anthem was followed by the sound of jangling keys in tribute to Havel's role in the Velvet Revolution. The flag was then carried in procession down the square, along Národní and across the Vltava River to Kampa, where a bonfire was lit in his memory Most events were cancelled during the 3 day mourning period. Even the gambling halls were closed.
CNN.com has been reporting on Vaclav Havel quite a bit. RIP
Tom, There has been a considerable amount of news coverage here about Vaclav Havel. The reports this morning provided lots of coverage of the funeral. Our Governor General represented Canada, and in a telephone interview on CBC, he praised the accomplishments of Havel. He said that Havel promoted many of the values that are also important to Canadians. When the camera panned the mourners in St. Virus Cathedral, I noticed Bill & Hillary Clinton, but didn't see which other world leaders were present. Regarding Kim Jung Il, hopefully his successor isn't a worse tyrant. The late night talk shows have been having a lot of fun ridiculing the "Great Leader".
Anyone visiting Prague should visit the somewhat dreary Museum of Communism, if only to see their very moving video of what went on in the streets of Prague in 1989. It will give you a real appreciation of the courage of the Czech people in the face of tanks, police beatings, etc. - of what they did to win their freedom, thanks in large part to heroes like Vaclav Havel.
My grandparents were all from the Czech Republic or were born to immigrants from there. I hauled my parents over there in the early 90's, and saw the house and farm my father's father came from, and the town and church my mother's people came from. We listened to people talking about how they did not allow the Soviet soldiers to actually live in Prague, and how the collective farms were back in the hands of the original owner families. My mother seemed always slightly ashamed of being a "dumb Bohemian." She knows better now. Havel and his people stubbornly, persistently, calmly retained their identity and got their nation back, with smarts instead of violence.
Some of Rick's Prague tour guides were actually involved in the Velvet Revolution. To hear them tell the story is very moving. Yes, Mr. Havel was a great patriot and a great man. Those of us in the US often forget that all nations have their own George Washingtons and Abe Lincolns that change the world, for all of us, for the better. I emailed several Czech friends I met on my travels to Prague, and they seemed pleased that an American was following the story! Rest in Peace Vaclav