Glen Hansard to headline Wenceslas Square concert honoring Havel's legacy

Remembrances of the Velvet Revolution, 1939 student protests, and Havel’s legacy will take place again in the center of Prague on Nov. 17.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 02.11.2021 15:38 (updated on 02.11.2021) Reading time: 4 minutes

Large celebrations for the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day will take place again in Prague on Nov. 17 after a one-year break due to the pandemic. The Czech state holiday, also known as International Students Day, marks not only the Velvet Uprising in 1989 but also student protests in 1939. This year, the events will also commemorate 10 years since the death of dissident and former president Václav Havel.

Festival svobody (Festival of Freedom) will take place on Wenceslas Square and Národní třída. As in the past, several groups are working together under one banner to coordinate the events.

Concert for the Future on Wenceslas Square

The traditional Koncert pro budoucnost (Concert for the Future) will take place at Wenceslas Square, starting at 4:30 pm. The concert’s biggest star will be Glen Hansard, singer and guitarist of the Irish band the Frames. He was also half of the duo the Swell Season, along with Czech singer and pianist Markéta Irglová.

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová perform "Falling Slowly."

Other expected performers include singers Jana Kirschner and Aneta Langerová and the bands Zrní and Už jsme doma.

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Diplomat Michael Žantovský is among the speakers. He was a press secretary and advisor to Havel in the 1990s and wrote a biography of the former president that has been translated into over a dozen languages. Currently, he is head of the Václav Havel Library.

Important figures from November 1989 including musician and former human rights minister Michal Kocáb and Šimon Pánek, now head of the People in Need Foundation, will also take part.

This motto for this year’s concert is “the future is us.”

“The quality of our democracy is decided by each of us. We share the responsibility for where we will go next. We all decide the fate of this country,” Jan Gregar, spokesman for concert organizer Nerudný fest, said.

“That is why we want to stimulate public debate on key issues and involve society as a whole. This relates to remembering Václav Havel's legacy and ideas, which are more and more topical despite the passage of time,” Gregar added.

The concert will take place under safety protocols. “A team of organizers and volunteers will alert visitors on-site to the need to keep spacing and wear respirators. Safety information will also be provided on large screens and digital information panels in the square,” Gregar said.

For more on the concert, visit the event’s website or Facebook page.

Korzo Národní on Národní třída

The main venue will be Národní třída, which played an important role in the events of 1989.

The Korzo Národní celebration, organized for the eighth year by the group Díky, že můžem, will feature street exhibitions, light installations, and audiovisual projections, plus theater performances and debates. There will also be events online.

The program has been designed so visitors won’t gather in crowds but instead can walk at safe distances along the entire length of the street. There will also be reminders of the security measures in place.

Korzo Národní celebration before the pandemic. (Photo: Díky, že můžem)
Korzo Národní celebration before the pandemic. (Photo: Díky, že můžem)

“This year is a promise for us to return to normal. During Nov. 17, people will be able to enjoy the program directly on Národní třída, just as they were used to in the past. We will also offer several ways to celebrate the anniversary at a distance,” Lucie Bílková, chairwoman of Díky, že můžem, said.

The plan includes an outdoor projection on the facade of Tesco department store, focusing on the current political situation in Belarus. Exhibitions and educational walks will map the communist era, Velvet Revolution, and the early post-revolution years.

Unlike last year, some events such as performances and debates will take place in building interiors around Národní třída.

Candles on Národní třída
Candles on Národní třída in 2019. (Photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)

The space in front of the memorial plaque in the middle of Národní třída will become filled with candles, wreaths, and flowers. As was the case last year, people who decide to celebrate from home will also be able to symbolically lay a candle at a distance.

“In 2020, due to the circumstances, we were looking for creative solutions to bring people's celebrations of freedom to their homes. This created an online memorial, and the opportunity to light a candle remotely was used by over 2,000 people. We have decided to repeat it for this year and allow people to honor the memory of the November events, even if they cannot or do not want to come directly to Národní třída for various reasons,” Bílková said.

The organizers are hoping for civic celebrations full of mutual respect. “We believe that we will enjoy the national holiday together with dignity, recall the importance of the freedoms acquired 32 years ago, and create an environment for reflection on current social developments. We are pleased that the current situation allows us to return the celebrations to where it all began – that is, to Národní třída,” Bílková said.

Prague Castle lit in the Czech national colors. (Photo: Jan Gloc, Prague Castle Administration)
Prague Castle lit in the Czech national colors. (Photo: Jan Gloc, Prague Castle Administration)

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The rest of the country can also participate. Last year, more than 55 important buildings across the country were lit in the national colors, and building operators are invited to join in again. The iconic song “Modlitba pro Martu” (Prayer for Marta}, seen as the anthem of the Velvet Revolution, will be played on Czech TV, various radio stations, and public sound systems at 5:11 pm (17:11).

Díky, že můžem is an organization of dozen students and young people. Together with other groups, they want to say "Thank you that we can" to those who were instrumental in bringing the freedoms people now have. The group strives to cultivate a committed civil society that respects humanistic and democratic ideals that takes freedom as a responsibility, but not a matter of course.  

For more on Korzo Národní visit the event website or Facebook page.

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