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Havel's memory honored by hundreds in the center of Prague

Prague, 19.12.2011 1:39, (ROMEA)
Národní třída, Prague, Czech Republic, 18 December 2011 (PHOTO:  Zdeněk Ryšavý)

Hundreds of people came to Prague's Wenceslas Square on Sunday evening to honor the memory of former Czech President Václav Havel, who passed away earlier today. At 18:00, chapel and church bells were rung throughout the entire Czech Republic. People lit candles on Wenceslas Square at the foot of the statue of St. Wenceslas and laid bouquets there, mostly of red roses, as well as photographs and portraits of Havel, one of which was partially covered with black fabric. A black flag was also hung between the statues of the other saints in front of the mounted figure of St. Wenceslas. The participants in the mostly quiet gathering ranged from infants to senior citizens. A moment of silence was held.

Those assembled unfurled a Czech flag above them that was 20 meters long and 10 meters wide. One of the main songs of the Velvet Revolution ("Modlitba pro Martu" - "A Prayer for Marta") was then played from a sound system. Havel was the leading figure of the 1989 movement. Economist Tomáš Sedláček then gave a speech in which he noted that even though Havel had passed away, his motto - "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate" - will remain immortal. Havel "drew people to him who did not want to reconcile themselves to a professionally cynical world," Sedláček said.

As the music played, many people spontaneously raised their fingers in the shape of the letter "V". Many had tears in their eyes. They then shook bunches of keys, as they had in November 1989, and chanted "Long live Havel". People then sang the Czech national anthem and another song from the Velvet Revolution, "Jednou budem dál" ("We Shall Overcome"). The weather this evening was similar to that of 22 years ago, with a light snowfall.

When the gathering was over, small groups of people set off down Národní třída for the Kampa Park. Some waited in line to light candles at the arcade on Národní, where the fall of the communist regime began with the brutal suppression of a student demonstration on 17 November 1989. A bonfire was lit in Havel's honor on the banks of the Vltava. The organizers also unfurled an enormous tarp there featuring Havel's signature with its characteristic heart. In Kampa Park, people lit candles in honor of the former president and sang songs with songwriter Vladimír Merta, including songs by Plastic People of the Universe. Speakers at the gathering included Pierre Lévy and the chair of the Ján Langoš Foundation, Gaba Langošová. "In Václav Havel we have lost a person who not only took his own life seriously, but also the lives of other people. We still do not have another politician like him," she said.

Traffic police closed off part of Wenceslas Square to vehicles when the gathering moved to Kampa Park, although some people remained behind at the statue of St. Wenceslas to keep lighting candles. Havel's texts and texts about the former president were read aloud there.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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