Czechs wax sentimental over Václav Havel’s legacy

Photo: CTK

As the shock of Václav Havel’s death slowly wears off, Czechs are considering the best possible ways to honour his memory and uphold his legacy for future generations. Proposals range from the sentimental – a heart of wax melted from the thousands of candles people lit for their hero –to the stately - a law stating his contribution to freedom and democracy.

For a brief moment Václav Havel’s death recaptured the mood and sentiment of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Steeped in apathy over widespread corruption and fears of an economic downturn, Czechs once again gathered on town squares to recall Václav Havel’s legacy and his conviction that “truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred”. Clearly many people are loath to relinquish those ideals and would like to see the Havel “trademark” stamped on every corner as some sort of guarantee that the late president’s legacy will survive.

As one suggestion follows another, there is argument over what is appropriate, what is sane and what the late president himself would have liked.

Ruzyne Airport
Possibly the most publicized initiative is the proposed renaming of Prague’s Ruzyně Airport to the Václav Havel International Airport. The idea is gaining widespread support and has been signed by over 70,000 people, among them Václav Havel’s widow Dagmar and his brother Ivan. Although the company running the airport has already registered the Václav Havel International Airport trademark ahead of a possible name change, the idea is opposed by Mr. Havel’s former aid Vladimír Hanzel, who says the airport is too commercial a choice and that naming a theatre after the playwright-turned-president would be a better idea. There is now debate over which theatre would be best suited to carry the late president’s name and the fact that such an honour would mean a certain commitment in reflecting the spirit of the Havel legacy.

Photo: CTK
On a more sentimental note, Czech artist Lukas Gavlovsky plans to mould a 2.5- metre-high wax sculpture of a heart made from the thousands of candles people lit for their hero on Wenceslas Square. Václav Havel liked to add a heart to his signature and Gavlovsky says the candle wax is filled with people’s hopes for a more decent society. The artist wants to mould the sculpture on Wenceslas Square, possibly with help from passers-by.

Even the flowers and wreaths people heaped around Mr. Havel’s casket are sacred – they will be piled onto a pontoon which is to sail down a stretch of the Vltava and Elbe rivers as a final tribute to the late president. On its three day voyage from Prague to Děčín the platoon will be accompanied by steamers and people have been invited to come to the river bank to see it go by and bid the late president a last, symbolic farewell.

Václav Havel
It is hard to say what Václav Havel himself would have thought of the pomp and ceremony accompanying his demise. As one commentator noted he failed to give us any leads in this respect in his lifetime. However as a modest man who took a delight in the absurd he would have found much to amuse him. Mr. Havel himself requested that he be buried in the family tomb with only his name engraved above that of his first wife Olga.

He has already left a big part of himself in existing institutions – the Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation, the Prague Crossroads Spiritual Centre established in the former Church of St. Anne and the Václav Havel Library.

Of all the suggestions up in the air – there is one that would almost certainly have pleased the late Václav Havel: his close friend, founder of Charter 77 František Janouch has suggested establishing an international human rights award in his name. During his last appearance in public the former president and the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama signed an appeal to the international community asking it to support dissidents around the world.