Václav Havel’s philosophical legacy remembered on 9th anniversary of his death

Václav Havel, photo: Jaroslav Mrkvička, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

The hectic run-up to Christmas is now linked to an anniversary that makes Czechs slow down and reflect on the important values in life – the death of playwright, dissident and president Václav Havel nine years ago, on December 18, 2011. Václav Havel was a moral authority for Czechs as he re-moulded the role of president and led the country in the transition from a totalitarian regime to a Western-style democracy. Increasingly people are now looking to the philosophical legacy he left behind.

Source: Universum Publishing House

Every year people leave flowers, hearts and light candles at places associated with Vaclav Havel – be it the equestrian statue of the country’s patron saint at the top end of Wenceslas Square or Vaclav Havel’s beloved country cottage Hrádeček, where he died.

But increasingly, Czechs have been commemorating the anniversary by highlighting the beliefs and reflections  of Vaclav Havel – by reading excepts from his books, speeches and philosophical reflections and drawing on the wisdom of a man who is sadly missed. Those who want to delve deeper into Havel’s legacy can leaf through Pavel Kosatík’s 2019 book “100x Vaclav Havel”  - in which the author presents  100 selected statements by Vaclav Havel which best characterize him as  a philosopher, politician and visionary. The citations are complemented by Kosatík’s own reflections about the given statement and in what way it is pertinent to the present day.

Pavel Kosatík,  photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

"Maybe Václav Havel would have enjoyed sifting through the collection, and maybe he would have been bewildered by some of the statements selected,” Kosatík says in his introductory note. “Because some of the quotes and citations which resonate the most today, were slogans created for the needs of a given historical moment -literally at the last minute.”

In remembrance of the late president, Czech Radio this week launched a competition in which the book is the main prize.

The Václav Havel Library which annually organizes events honouring Václav Havel’s legacy has also had to tone down its plans this year due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed. Pavel Hájek from the Václav Havel Library says the only event on December 18th will be online.

Pavel Hájek,  photo: Michael Erhart,  Czech Radio

“The Václav Havel Library has many events highlighting the life and legacy of the country’s first post-communist president.  In the morning of December 18  - at 10am – we will run a recording of his acceptance speech for the Sonning Prize that he received in 1991 [a speech on the temptations of political power].  It is a speech that is pertinent in any day and age. ”

The library is also working to develop engaged citizenship – something Václav Havel felt strongly about. This year’s student essay competition was titled “Who cares about Belarus?” Fifty-three students from 33 secondary schools took part.