Former Czech President Václav Havel remembered on 10th anniversary of his death

Havel passed away on December 18, 2011; events and honors in the Czech Republic and around the world remember him on the anniversary of his death.

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky Published on 18.12.2021 13:38:00 (updated on 20.12.2021) Reading time: 4 minutes

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first first president of the Czech Republic. Havel left office in 2003, and passed away at the age of 75 on December 18, 2011 at his cottage home in Hrádeček by the country's Krkonoše mountain range.

A playwright, poet, and outspoken dissident, Havel was imprisoned multiple times and spent years as a political prisoner during the strict period of normalization in Czechoslovakia during the 1970s and 1980s, following the Warsaw Pact invasion of the country in 1968.

Havel led the Civic Forum, which played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that ultimately toppled the Soviet regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989. He was elected president of the country immediately afterward in a landslide democratic vote, and re-elected after the Czech Republic split from Slovakia in 1993.

Havel's death in 2011 at the age of 75 sent the country into mourning as tributes to the former president poured in from around the world.

"His 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 United States President Barack Obama said in an official statement following Havel's death.

"He played a seminal role in the Velvet Revolution that won his people their freedom and inspired generations to reach for self-determination and dignity in all parts of the world. He also embodied the aspirations of half a continent that had been cut off by the Iron Curtain, and helped unleash tides of history that led to a united and democratic Europe. Like millions around the world, I was inspired by his words and leadership, and was humbled to stand with the Czech people in a free and vibrant Hradčany Square as President."

On the tenth anniversary of Havel's death, a series of events in Prague will culminate with a concert at Lucerna Music Bar from 6:00 p.m. Beata Hlavenková, Michal Hrůza, Jiří Dědeček, and many other Czech musicians will perform at the concert, which is free to attend and will also be streamed online.

The venue at Prague's Lucerna Palace is located in a building that Havel's grandfather built in the 1920s, and which is now owned and operated by his widow, Dagmar Havlová. Originally intended to be an ice hockey stadium, the building now contains a cinema, cafe, concert halls, and other cultural and artistic venues.

Next to the Lucerna Palace at the former Melantrich publishing house, a commemorative plaque honoring Havel was unveiled yesterday by Czech Senate Chairman Miloš Vystrčil and Bishop Václav Malý.

The plaque was placed under the location where Havel gave his first address during the Velvet Revolution demonstrations from a balcony at the Melantrich building on Wenceslas Square.

A crowd of 200,000 people gathered before Havel at the address on November 21, 1989. An engraving on the plaque includes Havel's signature and the heart symbol which he became known for.

"We also respect Havel because he appreciated the role of the Senate very early and very clearly, unlike others," Vystrčil said during the unveiling ceremony.

Prague isn't the only location to get a new Havel plaque. In Warsaw, a new plaque commemorating Havel was also unveiled yesterday. The plaque is located in Václav Havel Park, near the Czech Embassy in Warsaw.

"I had the opportunity of speaking with Havel officially, but also in a semi-private conversation and I was attracted by his openness," Bogdan Borusewicz, deputy chair of the PoIish Senate, said at the unveiling ceremony. "I learnt that he is a very wise man when I read what he wrote."

The new plaques join a growing number of memorials honoring Havel, which include a bust at U.S. Congress and Columbia University, a sculpture at Leinster House in Dublin, a statue in Tbilisi, and a growing number of "Václav Havel Benches" in cities around the world. Many streets, parks, buildings, and other locations also bear Havel's name.

An unusual memorial to Havel was also unveiled at the former president's final resting place at the Vinohrady Cemetary in Prague 10 yesterday: a poetry jukebox (poesiomat) that plays recordings of speeches and excerpts of plays and poetry spoken by Havel.

The poetry jukebox also includes content from other figures who rest at Vinohrady Cemetary, including author Jaroslav Foglar, musician Petr Novák, and politician and victim of communism Milada Horáková, who was cremated at the adjacent Strašnice Crematorium and whose remains have never been found.

"We would like the Poesiomat to be an excuse for more people go to the president's grave and, for example, take some inspiration into their lives," Poesiomat creator Ondřej Kobza said during the unveiling yesterday. The new poetry jukebox at Vinohrady Cemetary joins about twenty others across the Czech Republic and also in New York, Berlin, and elsewhere.

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