Václav Havel and guests mark 20 years since Velvet Revolution

Václav Havel, photo: CTK

The former president and one of the key figures of the Velvet Revolution Václav Havel marked on Saturday the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism. A conference “Freedom and its Enemies”, held at Charles University, was followed by a concert “It’s Here at Last”, featuring artists such as Joan Baez, Suzanne Vega and Lou Reed.

Joan Baez, Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed and soprano Reneé Fleming were among those who paid homage to Václav Havel and other leaders of the Velvet Revolution at a concert entitled “It’s Here at Last” in Prague on Saturday. This was one of the events organized by Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist president to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of communism in the country. Václav Havel told some 800 guests as well as TV and radio audiences across the country that 20 years ago music played an important role.

Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Suzanne Vega, Reneé Fleming, photo: CTK
“One of the goals of this concert is to remind us of the importance of the music that was played not only here but also in all the countries that were liberating themselves. This music was with us at all the big rallies; it somehow expressed the general will and was one of the factors that created the atmosphere of the time.”

Mr Havel’s successor, President Václav Klaus, also addressed the audience at the Prague Crossroads, as the venue is known. But unlike Václav Havel, Václav Klaus was greeted much less warmly, and was even booed by some in the crowd.

Often an intellectual and political opponent of Václav Havel, President Klaus noted that, despite their differences, Václav Havel was clearly the key figure in the events of November 1989.

Václav Havel, Madeleine Albright, Václav Klaus, Dagmar Havlová, photo: CTK
“For me, one thing is certain. The events that took place 20 years ago in our country are related to one specific person – my predecessor in the office, Václav Havel, to whom I want to thank for all he did for the revival of our freedom. Thank you.”

The concert also featured video messages by world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama and US President Barack Obama. The latter said that Czechs and Slovaks inspired the whole world by their courage and helped spread freedom all over Europe. He added that the Velvet Revolution keeps inspiring people who are striving for freedom.

At a conference entitled “Freedom and its Enemies” that also took place on Saturday, Václav Havel said that the issue of freedom is a recurring one, and also one that shows that the time of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes is far from over.

Václav Havel, photo: CTK
“It may have ended in its classical form as we know it from the 20th century. But new, much more sophisticated ways of controlling society are being born. This means we have to be on our guard, to be cautious and wary; it requires study and the ability to see things from a greater perspective.”

Václav Havel dedicated the last song of the concert, the gospel tune Oh Freedom, to the people of North Korea, Burma, Tibet, Belarus, Iran, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries whose citizens live under oppression.