Czechs bid last farewell to Václav Havel

Photo: CTK

Church bells tolled across the Czech Republic at noon and the nation held a minute of silence in memory of the hero of the Velvet Revolution and the country’s first post-communist president Václav Havel. All eyes were on Prague’s St. Vitus’ Cathedral where a funeral mass for the late president attracted hundreds of mourners from at home and abroad.

Photo: CTK
Family members, friends, the entire Czech political elite and dozens of heads of state and foreign dignitaries gathered at Prague’s gothic St Vitus Cathedral, the biggest and most important church in the country, for the funeral mass of the late Václav Havel. Among those present were French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German President Christian Wulff, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to name just a few.

The mass celebrated by Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka in Czech and Latin opened with a minute of silence. A message of condolence from Pope Benedict XVI was read out by the Papal Nuncious Giovanni Coppa in which the Pope hailed Václav Havel as a visionary, praising his courage and perseverance in the fight for freedom and democracy.

Photo: CTK
Josef Abrhám, the actor who starred in the film version of Václav Havel’s Leaving, read selected passages from the Book of Job. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Choir performed Antonín Dvořák’s Requiem after which the Archbishop led a prayer for the soul of the departed president. He recalled the day when Václav Havel, as the newly-elected president of Czechoslovakia came to St Vitus to give thanks for the return of freedom and democracy to his homeland.

Among the speakers at the funeral ceremony were President Václav Klaus, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright who is of Czech descent and was a close friend of the late Václav Havel.

Madeleine Albright, photo: CTK
“In the past 20 years he was one of the most respected men on this planet but he was never satisfied with what he had achieved. Those who considered Václav Havel to be naïve could not have been more mistaken. He was fully aware of human weakness but he was determined not to succumb to them. For Havel the human conscience was like a muscle which needed to be worked and exercised in the face of adversity. No one was more Czech than Václav Havel, but his kindness and wisdom transcended borders. It was an honor to be his friend. He will be greatly missed but he will never, never be forgotten”

The funeral for the late president ended to the sound of 21 canon salvos and the Czech national anthem –and his casket was carried out of the cathedral to the sound of organ music.

Photo: CTK
The state funeral for Václav Havel was the culmination of a three day mourning period for the country’s first post-communist president, during which thousands of people followed his coffin on his final journey thought the capital and came to bow to his remains in a show of respect and gratitude.

A private ceremony for family and friends took place at Prague’s Strašnice crematorium on Friday afternoon and Václav Havel’s remains will be laid to rest in the family tomb in Prague’s Vinohrady cemetery.