Havel calls on Prague citizens not to vote for Civic Democrats

Václav Havel

The former Czech president Václav Havel has largely refrained from interfering in or commenting on domestic politics since stepping down as president five years ago. But this weekend he seemed to cross that fine line between general philosophising on the state of society and making overtly political gestures, when he said people in Prague should not vote for the right-of-centre Civic Democrats in the forthcoming elections.

Václav Havel
Václav Havel has returned with gusto to his original career of playwright, recently premiering his first play – Odcházení, or Leaving - in 20 years. But suitably enough it is a bitter dispute over the theatre and arts funding that’s prompted what could be interpreted as a return to the political stage.

In a column for Saturday’s edition of Lidové Noviny newspaper, Mr Havel decries the policies of Prague City Council, controlled by the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, over new theatre funding rules that mean subsidies are meted out according to the number of tickets sold. He ends the article by calling on people not to vote for the Civic Democrats in local and Senate elections in the autumn. Political commentator Petr Just:

“Václav Havel has never left politics, even when he left the post of president. He was aware of the possibility that he would have to again become involved in politics somehow or at least in public discourse. Concerning this issue, we have to take into account that Mr Havel’s original profession was that of playwright, and that actually one of the theatres taking part in the protest against the Civic Democrat-led city government is staging Mr Havel’s play Odcházení. So he is directly involved in this issue, as he is one of the playwrights involved in the city’s theatre and all the issues around it.”

Photo: CTK
Mr Havel says the theatre funding dispute – which has seen angry artists invading City Hall meetings – is not just an argument about a few million crowns, but a struggle for the sense and character of the Czech state. The majority must always, he says, subsidise the interests of the minority, to enrich and nourish society. But he doesn’t limit his attack to the theatre, writing that Prague was spreading “like a cancer” with new shopping malls and logistics centres being built on its outskirts while the historic city centre is emptied of residents and old suburbs are neglected.

The former president says only a shake up in the City Council leadership can change things, and urges people not to vote for the Civic Democrats in forthcoming elections. Prague, in fact, will not elect a new city assembly until the 2010 municipal elections. But either way commentators such as Petr Just do not believe Václav Havel’s overtly political article will do much damage to the Civic Democrats’ fortunes.