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Private funeral service for Havel held at crematorium in Strašnice

Prague, 23.12.2011 21:49, (ROMEA)
Photo:  Lukáš Houdek

This afternoon in Prague, the family and friends of former Czech President Václav Havel bid farewell to him during a private, hour-long service at the crematorium in Strašnice. At the end of the memorial service, those gathered sang the national anthem of the former Czechoslovakia. A recording of Havel's voice was also played. The private service symbolically marked the end of a five-day period of mourning for the man who became the country's first president after November 1989.

The Czech Press Agency reports that the private service opened with one of the symbols of the Velvet Revolution, the song "A Prayer for Marta" (Modlitba pro Martu). Havel's widow Dagmar laid flowers at his coffin. Other family members were seated in the front row, including her daughter Nina and Haven's brother Ivan. Many of those present were crying.

The actor Táňa Fischerová delivered the first eulogy, followed by Charter 77 signatory Dana Němcová, who expressed the hope that Václav Havel had finally received an answer to his questions about the meaning of life. "I won't say farewell. See you soon," she said.

The actor Jiří Bartoška said he wished he could smoke a cigarette with Havel at his country home in Hrádeček. "Mr President, we promise you we will continue with the shock show," declared another famous thespian, Oldřich Kaiser, who succeeded for a moment in relieving the sadness of those present, many of whom even laughed. The actor Vlasta Chramostová recited a poem. Sisters from the Order of St Carlo Borromeo, who cared for Havel during the last few months of his life, sang over his coffin.

Musician Michael Kocáb arranged the musical framework of the memorial service, selecting songs the president had loved together with Havel's widow, Dagmar: John Lennon's famous antiwar song "Imagine", American rocker Lou Reed's hit "Perfect Day", and the underground piece "Magické noci" (Magical Nights) by Plastic People Of The Universe. The folk song "Když jsem já šel tou Putimskou branou" (When I Passed through the Putimska Gate), recorded by the former First Lady the previous evening, was also played. Other musical selections included Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", which is the anthem of the European Union, and other songs such as "Krásné je žít" (It's Beautiful to Live) and "Lavička v jasmínu" (The Little Bench in the Jasmine).

At the very end of the service, people recited the Lord's Prayer, led by Father Romuald. The national anthem of the former Czechoslovakia was then played. Those present spontaneously sang the words and applauded at the end, the most emotional moment. Then, to the music from Havel's film "Leaving" (Odcházení), the curtains were drawn and a recording could be heard of Havel's quote: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred. Turn off your mobile phones." The phrase, used by the celebrated man of letters and playwright to close his debut film, reminded those present of his famous sense of humor.

Mourners included the actors Jiřina Bohdalová, Jiřina Jirásková, Martin Stropnický and his wife Veronikou Žilková, Tomáš Töpfer, Jiří Lábus, the surgeon Pavel Pafko, the actor and singer Jiří Macháček, and the dissident poet Jiří Kuběna. The service was originally conceived of as a private leave-taking, but before it began security opened the large gate to the crematorium so members of the public could at least come into the entryway. Approximately 200 people total were gathered.

The coffin bearing the president's remains was brought to the crematorium by hearse at around 15:00 CET. The coffin was covered with flowers, mostly roses, in the ceremonial auditorium. Wreaths were sent by the Charter 77 Foundation (Nadace Charty 77), the Presidential Guard, the Vinohrady Theater (Divadlo na Vinohradech), the Theater Husa na provázku (Divadlo Husa na provázku), and the singers Hana Zagorová and Štefan Margita.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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