Vaclav Havel receives 24th international award

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

A ceremony was held at the Canadian Official Residence in Prague on Wednesday night, where former president Vaclav Havel received the Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honour to be appointed by the country's Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. Mr. Havel is only the third foreigner to receive this prestigious honour, after her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and former South Africa President Nelson Mandela.

Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
It was an informal ceremony at the Canadian residence in Prague. Though the ex-president was appointed honorary companion last year it was only yesterday that Canadian Ambassador Bruce Jutzi, presented him with the award. Canadian diplomats, businessmen, famous Czech émigrés to Canada, and current foreign minister Cyril Svoboda were all there to pay respect to the deserving recipient. As I perused the room's inhabitants the discussion was friendly and unpretentious in pure Canadian style. I heard a couple of debates about Canadian versus Czech beer and when Mr. Havel began to say a few words in accepting the award he said he was delighted that the event was so intimate. Important personalities such as Paul Wilson, a Toronto based academic responsible for the translation of Havel's plays into English, sent greetings for the occasion, among other important figures in Czech-Canadian relations.

But I spoke with Edvard Outrata a unique example of a Czech-Canadian. He emigrated to Canada in 1968 as a computer specialist and quickly achieved remarkable success in his adopted country, becoming the General of Informatics at Statistics Canada. He then moved back to his homeland in 1993 and presently works in parliament of the Czech Republic Senate. The senator felt that the award given to Vaclav Havel would resonate for those of Czech heritage living in Canada.

"Well it should resonate and I think it will. It's an extreme honour as it is only the third foreigner to receive the award. I think it puts Havel in a very high category and I think we should be very proud of that, all Czechs generally and Czech Canadians in particular."

This is Vaclav Havel's 24th International award; he is an international figure in his promotion of human rights and has brought the Czech Republic to the international stage. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda's speech may have explained it all when he said that it is nice that even though Mr. Havel no longer has a title of power he received this award. It is rare that the pragmatics move the world forward but the idealists.