The Czech Republic has begun three days of mourning in honour of its late
president Václav Havel. State institutions are flying black flags with
others at half-mast. Concerts, exhibitions and theatrical performances have
been largely cancelled, and casinos and gambling bars are closed. Prime
Minister Petr Nečas has asked businesses and all citizens to reconsider
celebratory events that could be inappropriate. A day of mourning was last
declared in 2001 to honour the victims of the attacks of September 11.
Slovakia will hold a day of mourning for the passing of its former
president on Friday.
The first president of the Czech Republic, the last president of Czechoslovakia, and foremost a humanist of world renown, Václav Havel died in his sleep on Sunday at his cottage in Northern Bohemia. He was 75 years old.
Some 10,000 people on Wednesday joined the procession with the casket of the late ex-president. The procession, which included 600 soldiers, left the Prague Crossroads spiritual centre in Old Town and crossed Charles Bridge on its way to Prague Castle. There, in the Castle Guards garrison, the former-president’s casket was placed on a gun carriage, the same that was used during the funeral of Czechoslovakia’s first president, T. G. Masaryk. Drawn by three pair of horses, the casket was taken to the Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle where it will lay in state until Friday’s funeral.
Speaking at the ceremony, President Václav Klaus praised his predecessor for contributing to the Czech Republic's international position, prestige and authority more than anyone else. He commemorated Václav Havel as a man who courageously and consistently sacrificed himself for his opinions, and called upon people to seek guidance and inspiration in his legacy and his example, stressing that the era that began with the fall of communism should not end with the former president death. The president described Mr Havel as a distinct and complex personality that defied “superficial assessment."
The Czech Press Agency has confirmed that the following international leaders will be attending Friday’s state funeral: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German President Christian Wulff, Hungarian President Pál Schmitt, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of Holland, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski accompanied by former presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Lech Walesa, the president and prime minister of Slovakia, and the presidents of Estonia, Georgia, Austria and Slovenia. Most Other European countries are sending their ministers of foreign affairs; Russia is sending ombudsman Vladimir Lukin. From the United States, either President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden is expected to arrive, accompanied by former president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former secretary of state and Prague native Madeleine Albright.
Mr Havel’s brother Ivan has organised a public memorial concert on Friday evening at the family’s Lucerna Palace on Wenceslas Square. The rock group The Plastic People of the Universe, which was closely associated with Václav Havel, will be playing along with other groups of the dissident music scene, Garage, Hudba Praha and the Velvet Underground Revival. Other areas of the palace will offer documentary films about the former president and other tributes.
Four Communist MPs announced their refusal to honour president Havel to their parliamentary club on Wednesday, including deputy chairman Stanislav Grospič and former party leader Miroslav Grebeníček. The club took no action but to note their dissent. Communist MP Pavel Hojda said he did not recognise Havel as president because the president had not recognised his party, refusing to negotiate with the Communist Party in spite of their Parliamentary mandate. He also criticised the bombing of Yugoslavia, which Mr Havel supported in 1999. The other 25 Communist parliamentarians apparently did take part in the ceremonies.
Nearly 12,000 people have signed a petition to rename Prague’s international airport after president Havel. The initiative, started by film producer Fero Fenič on Monday, has already received the support of numerous Czech celebrities, among them Jiří Bartoška, Marek Eben and Zdeněk Svěrák, and singers Marta Kubišová and Hany Hegerová. Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda said Tuesday that the City Council would certainly support the proposal, but noted that the Ruzyně Airport was not city but state property. The website for the initiative notes that Mr Havel’s journey had taken him from the prison in Ruzyně to the whole world, and argues that many countries have airports named after their great leaders in their major cities.
The Civic Democrat and Public Affairs parties have reached their lowest polling numbers yet, according to a new survey conducted by the CVVM agency. The poll puts the senior coalition Civic Democratic Party down three points at 18.5%, and suggests a mere 1.5% for Public Affairs, the junior coalition party which is new to Parliament but has been hit hard by corruption scandals throughout the year. Only the coalition TOP 09 party has improved its popularity, gaining four points to surpass the Communist Party. As polls have indicated throughout the year, the Social Democrats would win elections held today with 34% of the vote.
The Chamber of Deputies has approved a postponement of part of the government’s tax reform to the post-election year of 2015. The opposition Social Democratic Party negotiated the postponement as a condition for their support of the gambling taxation bill, which is also a part of the government’s tax reform package. The gambling taxation bill was originally approved by the lower house in November but left a loophole for lottery firms to use part of the revenues for charitable projects of their choice. The bill was amended in the Senate which removed the loophole before returning it to the lower house for the final vote. Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek said the postponement was merely a symbolic gesture and promised an amendment would be passed to shorten it to the beginning of 2014.
The new coalition at Prague City Hall has approved its policy statement for the period until 2020. The individual points of the statement will not be released until January, due to this week’s days of mourning and next week’s holidays. According to the Czech Press agency, the plan describes how the city should develop up to 2010 in individual areas and details what the current coalition must do to achieve those goals before elections in 2014. The Civic Democratic Party formed a coalition with TOP 09 almost one month ago after dissolving their leadership with the Social Democrats.