Nation mourns death of a hero

Photo: CTK

The death of Vaclav Havel stopped Czechs in their tracks on Sunday. A hush fell over the country as thousands of people gathered to light candles and pay a silent tribute to the hero of the Velvet Revolution. At 6 pm bells around the Czech Republic tolled in memory of the man who showed endless courage in the face of oppression and who led his nation on the road to freedom and democracy.

Václav Havel, photo: CTK
Vaclav Havel died in his sleep at his beloved country cottage on Sunday morning. He died of circulation failure, succumbing to chronic heart and lung problems that left him frail for more than a decade. For millions of his countrymen however Vaclav Havel was a tower of strength, a moral authority, and an inspiration who showed people that freedom and human rights were worth fighting for.

As the news of Mr. Havel’s death spread condolences poured in from statesmen at home and abroad. The country’s leaders, Vaclav Havel’s close friends from the dissident days and ordinary people found it hard to hold back the tears as they hailed the dissident-playwright-president.

President Vaclav Klaus said his predecessor had come to symbolize the modern Czech state.

“Vaclav Havel’s personality, reputation and work were crucial in helping Czechoslovakia join the community of free and democratic nations.“

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Petr Nečas who heard the news on a live debate on Czech Television was visibly shaken.

“This is a personal blow to me. President Havel was a symbol of the Velvet Revolution and he did so much for the benefit of his country.”

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was a good friend of Mr. Havel’s and his one-time chancellor.

“Unfortunately people did not appreciate him enough in recent years. Now that we have lost him they will come to realize just how much we have lost.”

Czech Defense Minister Alexander Vondra is an old friend from the dissident years.

“He was quite simply a wonderful human being. He had power and influence, but he remained sane and level-headed throughout and never lost his sense of humor.”

Alexandr Vondra
Lubomír Zaoralek shadow foreign minister for the opposition Social Democrats had this to say:

“He was the Czech who opened doors for us abroad. His name won the country respect and we were all, in a way, his envoys.”

The speaker of the lower house Miroslava Nemcová:

“He was the man who helped us cross the bridge from oppression to freedom and democracy and I will never stop being grateful to him for that.”

Michael Kocáb –is an old friend who stood by Havel during the dissident days and later masterminded the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia.

“I am crushed. I loved Vaclav Havel. He was with me during the most important moments of my life.”

Barack Obama, photo: CTK
Jan Ruml, a former interior minister, is also a close friend dating back to the dissident days.

“The sparkle in his eye was there to the very end. No matter how ill and tired he was –there was this sparkle in his eye that said everything would turn out right in the end.”

News of Vaclav Havel’s death quickly spread around the world and condolences and tributes poured in from both statesmen and ordinary people. U.S. President Barack Obama issued the following statement:

"Vaclav Havel’s peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon".

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was a close friend of Mr. Havel’s. She spoke in her native Czech.

“He came across as such a nice person who never let the fame go to his head. I remember him at the centre of attention wearing a black T-shirt and jeans – a really modest person.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Europe owed Vaclav Havel a "profound debt" for bringing freedom and democracy to the continent. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France had lost a friend and Europe one of its wisest men. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described Vaclav Havel as a great European, paying tribute to his courage and humanity.

In neighboring Poland, former president Lech Walesa, the founder of the anti-communist Solidarity movement, called Mr. Havel a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy who deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

“He was a great man, a deserving man, who will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”