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Vaclav Havel
November 7, 2014

Czechs promote Havel abroad but criticize him at home

Havel’s activities and achievements perceived differently in Czech Republic and abroad

Prague, Nov 7 (ČTK) – Prague‘s efforts to promote Václav Havel abroad is in sharp contrast to the critical or indifferent approach the Czechs take to him at home, Petr Fischer writes in daily Hospodářské noviny (HN) today, in connection with the forthcoming anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

Havel (1936-2011), a Czechoslovak leading dissident who became the first president after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, has probably been the country’s best and steadiest exports “commodity” since, Fischer writes.

Within the ongoing celebrations of the Velvet Revolution, Václav Havel’s Place has been installed in Oxford and Havel’s bust will be unveiled in the seat of the U.S. Congress.

In addition, a new book on Havel has appeared, which Michael Žantovský, Havel’s former spokesman who is the Czech ambassador to London now, has written as a text acquainting global English-speaking readers with Havel’s story and personality, Fischer says.

These efforts to promote Havel abroad are in contrast with the domestic approach to him. At home, respect and thanks have been addressed to Havel only scarcely. Now and then he comes under criticism, but a majority of Czechs have forgotten about him and show indifference, Fischer writes.

It is usual for nascent national myths to fare worse at home than abroad. Later, on the contrary, myths tend to grow up excessively and take unearthly dimensions, Fischer says.

Remarkably, on the foreign scene Havel is usually praised for his views and steps that are criticized by Czechs, Fischer writes.

As an example he gives Havel’s “stubborn” emphasizing of human rights, which has been strongly appreciated abroad, mainly by nations with semi-dictatorship or despotic regimes.

In Czech conditions, this feature of Havel easily turns into a political kitsch and becomes a dangerous ideology, which Václav Klaus, Havel’s successor in the Czech presidential post, has condemned as “humanrightism,” Fischer writes.

Another example is Havel’s repeated support of “fighting for the sake of humanity,” in the case of Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Iraq. From the U.S. point of view, it was Havel’s firm position for the benefit of mankind. In the eyes of Czechs, it was a mistake and support provided for illegitimate military pressure. The Czechs mainly condemned Havel’s support to the bombing of their “brotherly” nation of Serbs, Fischer writes.

Havel is viewed as an almost rightist conservative abroad, while the Czechs consider him left-leaning or even a communist, Fischer adds.

This yawning discrepancy is noteworthy mainly because many foreign politicians and intellectuals still perceive the Czech Republic through the image of Havel as the country’s first post-communist president (1989-2003), Fischer writes.

In this respect, Havel has much in common with the first Czechoslovak president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (in office 1918-1935), whose thinking, too, was far from a typical Czech’s. Perhaps this is why he succeeded in promoting the Czechs and their independent state abroad, Fischer points out.

Like Masaryk, Havel also considerably differed from a majority of Czechs. The world does not know it yet, since the Czech Republic is still outwardly wearing a posthumous mask of Havel, Fischer says.

After the mask falls off one day, it will turn out whether the Czechs are really the heirs of Havel and Masaryk or whether they incline to a different tradition, which was set by Klaus and the current president, Miloš Zeman, and which is much more pragmatic and attractive for people, Fischer concludes.

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