The Czech Republic is observing three days of mourning in honour of the late ex-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. Some cinemas are screening the film documentary Citizen Havel free of charge. Long lines are still forming at Prague Castle where people come to pay their last respects to the late president. His body is lying in state in the castle’s historic Vladislav Hall where it will remain until Friday’s funeral. Vaclav Havel died in his sleep on Sunday at his cottage in Northern Bohemia. He was 75 years old.
Mr. Havel’s widow Dagmar has announced that the remains of her late husband will be laid to rest in the family tomb at the Vinohrady cemetery in Prague. This is the final resting place of Vaclav Havel’s first wife Olga and the late president’s parents. The family will say a private goodbye to the late president at Prague’s Strašnice crematorium on Friday afternoon. The press have been asked to respect their privacy.
Twelve heads of state and two dozen government representatives are expected to attend Vaclav Havel’s funeral ceremony on Friday, among them French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German President Christian Wulff, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others. The speakers at the ceremony are President Vaclav Klaus, Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and the former US secretary of state Madelaine Albright who is of Czech descent and was a close friend of Mr. Havel’s. A condolence letter from Pope Benedict XVI will be read out during the mass.
At noon on Friday bells will toll across the Czech Republic in memory of the departed president and people will observe a minute of silence in his honour.
Police are gearing up for Friday’s funeral which will be attended by numerous foreign dignitaries and will inevitably bring restrictions to city traffic in some parts of Prague. Drivers have been asked to leave their cars at home if at all possible. Meanwhile, Czech Railways has said it is reinforcing trains to and from Prague on Thursday and Friday in view of high public interest in attending the funeral. Although people will not be able to enter St. Vitus’ Cathedral, which is limited to 1,000 places, the funeral will be shown live on screens outside.
The president’s office reports that Vaclav Havel’s death mask has been taken for the creation of future portraits and sculptures of the late president. Many countries still observe the tradition of taking death masks of eminent personalities and royals.
Tickets to a public memorial concert for Vaclav Havel at Prague’s Lucerna Palace, organized by his brother, sold out in two hours. 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. The organizers have also promised to show clips from documentary films about the former president and play tributes from friends and celebrities. The memorial concert will be shown on a big screen on Wenceslas Square and live on Czech TV.
The northern Polish city of Gdansk has announced that it will name one of its streets after the late Czech president Vaclav Havel. City mayor Pawel Adamowicz said Mr. Havel was the “Czech Lech Walesa” and was greatly loved and honoured in Poland. The decision to rename the street, as of Friday- the day of Mr. Havel’s funeral, is said to have been unanimous. In Prague there is an initiative to rename the city’s main international airport after the country’s first post-communist president.
Prague’s Charles University held a commemorative gathering to honour the memory of the late Czech president Vaclav Havel on Thursday. Among those present at the ceremony were Vaclav Havel’s brother Ivan, an important figure in the Czech academic community and the university’s former rector Charter 77 signatory Radim Palous. In 1990 Vaclav Havel received an honorary doctorate from Charles University for his philosophical writings.
Real estate agents report that the economic uncertainty is making Czechs cautious in their housing decisions. They say potential buyers are extremely cautious in taking out mortgages and many people now prefer to rent out property until the economic situation improves. In the course of 2011 interest in renting property, particularly flats, has risen by over 17 percent. Many companies have announced lay-offs at the start of 2012 and the number of Czechs who are unable to pay their debts is on the rise.
The faulty French breast implants suspected of being potentially carcinogenic were exported to 65 countries including the Czech Republic. The implants are also more likely to split and leak than other kinds. It is expected that the French government will announce a recall of the implants, which will involve tens of thousands of recipients being called in for surgery. It is not yet clear how many Czech women –and foreign patients who underwent surgery at Czech clinics- this may concern. The French authorities are expected to issue a statement on Friday.
The next few days should be partly cloudy to overcast with rain or sleet showers and day temperatures between O and 5 degrees.