Vaclav Havel: Moral beacon and leader of Velvet Revolution
Vaclav Havel, from dissident playwright to president, left a legacy of courage. Czech admirers are paying their respects today to Vaclav Havel in Prague
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Friend and fellow Charter 77 member Petruska Sustrova recalled how Havell usually had the last word on what they published but refused to acknowledge his influence. That unassuming nature came to the fore when it became clear he would be president.Skip to next paragraph
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"He did not want to be a president," she said. "Ideally, he wanted to sit in a pub and reconcile quarrels. He was not very keen to enter politics, he thought it would cut him off from the normal world."
Havel brought his love of music and counter-culture straight into Prague Castle. Finding it too vast to negotiate on foot, he used a scooter to get around its halls and he invited rocker Frank Zappa to be a cultural advisor in 1990.
He later arranged for the Plastic People to play with his friend Lou Reed at the White House in front of Bill Clinton, whom he had earlier coaxed into playing saxophone at a smoky jazz club in gritty, post-communist Prague.
And he invited the Rolling Stones to the castle and later to play in a Prague park. No one had money to pay them, but for Havel they played for free and put on a show that many Czechs still remember today as definitive confirmation that communism was over.
Many Czechs still remember Havel's 1990 New Year's speech, which again showed a stark departure from the four decades of rhetoric and propaganda feed to them under communism.
"For forty years you have heard from my predecessors on this date in various forms the same thing: how our country flourishes... how happy we all are," he said. "I suppose you have not nominated me for this office so that I lie to you too."
The coming years would win him fame abroad but he repeatedly clashed with his main rival, Vaclav Klaus, a right-wing economist whose government Havel criticised for an economic transition rife with murky deals and corruption.
When the Klaus government was forced to quit in 1997 over a party financing scandal, Havel bemoaned the absence of the democratic "civil society" sought by many dissidents.
"If I blame those who are now resigning...it's not so much for any concrete flaw...(but) an apathetic, almost hostile attitude toward everything that bears even a distant resemblance to a civil society," he said at the time.
But many Czechs saw this statement as too critical and his image also suffered when he married his second wife Dagmar, an attractive blonde film actress, a year after the death of his first wife Olga.
Havel largely retreated from public view after Klaus succeeded him in 2003 but published a new play, "Leaving", which won rave reviews at home was when released in 2008 and was later turned into a film. (Reporting by Michael Winfrey; Editing by Ben Harding)