Vilém Prečan on how Czechs see Václav Havel

Vilém Prečan, photo: Šárka Ševčíková

Vilém Prečan was a longtime associate of the late dissident-turned-president Václav Havel. In the following interview, he discusses the reasons behind some Czechs' ambivalent attitudes towards celebrating the life of Havel.

Václav Havel,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
“It is not necessary to celebrate Havel, but rather to learn from him.”

Do you think Czechs have not learnt the message of Havel? What is his message and what should Czechs do to better understand someone whom much of the rest of the world views as an icon?

“The most important lesson from Václav Havel’s whole life is the appeal for active citizenship. Civil courage as a phenomenon of modern society. We can learn to see this in all of Havel’s life.”

Why do you think the rest of the world is more emotional and more glowing in its praise of Havel than many Czechs, who seem to be quite reserved about questions like whether he was a major icon and leader like Mandela?

“There are many reasons. Some of them are psychological. For instance, the feeling that they don’t behave in everyday life and in political life as Havel would. And also disappointment about the results of the last twenty-three years. It is now clear that the heritage of the communist past, of its more than forty-year presence, cannot be repaired in a short time. It is not a task for just one generation.”

Vilém Prečan,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
Do you think that for some Czechs, Havel is damaged by his association with the 1990s; with the wild capitalism and coupon privatizations? Do you think some Czechs think back to Havel and say “That was a bad time. That was a corrupt time.”

“Yes, you are right. But this is the task of anti-Havel propaganda. If I follow, especially on the Internet, the anti-Havel propaganda, it is clear that there are certain powers whose interest is to systematically discredit Havel.”

So why is it important for some people that Havel is not seen as a hero?

“Please ask Václav Klaus. Ask most of the political elite of today.”

So you are saying that many of today’s powers-that-be are diametrically opposed, or stand in opposition to, the message of Václav Havel?

“Of course. Yes. The message to build a powerful civic society. And to be active in the struggle against any injustice. I can imagine now, for example, how Havel would be active in the support of the opposition in Ukraine. And I can image what he would have done two weeks ago. He would have flown to South Africa to be there during the burial of Nelson Mandela. And he would not have been thinking [as other Czech politicians were found to be] about whether he has other things to do, or is tired, ill or something similar.”

Photo: CTK
Do you believe that Havel deserves to stand alongside recent iconic figures such as Mandela? Is he up there with Gandhi, for example?

“Many of Havel’s ideas from the 1970s and 1980s are still alive. I would say even more than before. Because the crisis of our civilization; the crisis, which Havel analyzed at that time so precisely, is even more deep. And Havel’s ideas and essays from the 1970s and 1980s are still valid today.”