Sunday, December 18, 2011

Remembering Václav Havel (5 October 1936 - 18 December 2011)

Amongst the political figures from the second half of the 20th century, one of them truly earned my admiration - the former president of Czechoslovakia then of Czech Republic, Václav Havel (5 October 1936 - 18 December 2011), who died today.

He was a renowned playwright and poet and before the fall of the communist regime, he was a leading voice of dissent and had been imprisoned due to his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77, which brought him international fame as the leader of the opposition in Czechoslovakia.

1989, I was a college student and marginally participated the mass demonstration for democracy and free press in China, and only witnessed the brutal crackdown by the government in mid-year and then with envy, saw the success of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, which led to the end of the communist government and launched Havel into the presidency.

I admired the then Chinese Communist Party chief, Zhao Ziyang, for his refusal to participate in the crackdown with troops, yet, grieved that there was no Chinese Havel to lead the fight for human rights and democracy in my native country.

Many years later, in 2002, after I had become the U.S. citizen, I visited Czech Republic and was by chance, had one of the most amazing experiences in my life.

Prague Spring International Music Festival, 12 May 2002 _ 9197 - Copy_500 We arrived in Prague in the evening and the next day, we visited the imposing Castle - the inspiration for Franz Kafka's eponymous novel.  There were musical performances in the castle, and the musicians would appear in period costumes.  It would be fine and fun but just a tad too precious and touristy.  I made a decision that after the tour of the castle and the cathedral, we ought to go to theMunicipal House to try our luck to buy a pair of tickets for that evening's opening performance of Prague Spring International Music Festival.  It was on May 12, the day of the opening of the festival, also the day of the composer Bedřich Smetana's death, and the program would be Smetana: Má vlast (My Country), an evening-length six movements tone poems. Smetana is considered the founding father of the national music movement and in Má vlast, he combined the symphonic poem form pioneered by  Franz Liszt with the ideals of nationalistic music which were current in the late nineteenth century.  Each poem depicts some aspect of the countryside, history, or legends of Bohemia

Prague Spring International Music Festival, 12 May 2002 _ 9192 - Copy_500When we arrived at Municipal House, a couple hours before the performance, we realized that this would be a grand gala performance and our chance of getting a pair of tickets was practically none but we were extremely luck because someone just returned a pair of tickets to the box office.  After procuring the tickets, we pushed through guests just got off the limousines to have a quick bite for dinner.

When we came back, we automatically went to the nose-bleeding seats but was sent down to a corridor.  We saw people at the far end of the corridor but they didn't not talk to us and only gestured that we could go no further.  Eventually we found our seats, in a box, to the left of the stage.

Prague Spring International Music Festival, 12 May 2002 _ 9196 - Copy_500Just before the performance, some music started and people started to get up so we followed suit and then realized that the president Havel and the First Lady of Czech Republic emerged from that box we tried to crash in.  It was a thrilling moment.  I am not a hero-worshiper but I had deep admiration for Havel - for his tireless fight for human rights, for his wisdom and his integrity.  He was not typical politician and he relied on his humanism to guide his country towards a better future.

Czech people love their music and Smetana's music spoke eloquently of the characteristics of the land and its inhabitants.  The performance of the soulful and stirring music was absolutely electrifying and the presence of the Havels definitely etched this concert into my memory.

Prague Spring International Music Festival, 12 May 2002 _ 9196 - Copy_Details_500



Prague Spring International Music Festival, 12 May 2002 _ 9200 - Copy_500


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