PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czechs paid tribute to their late playwright-president Vaclav Havel on what would have been his 80th birthday on Wednesday by holding meetings and concerts and naming a small Prague square in his honour.
Havel, a writer and human rights campaigner, was jailed by the communist government before being swept to power in the 1989 “Velvet Revolution”. He was Czechoslovak president from 1989 to 1992 and then Czech president until 2003. He died in 2011.
Many Czechs remember the soft-spoken, pro-western intellectual with a touch of nostalgia, especially in the light of a rise in anti-European Union and anti-refugee sentiment in the central European country.
“I was impressed by his way of thinking, his respect for other people, namely those persecuted in authoritarian countries, his modesty and humility,” said Vladimir Hanzel, Havel’s personal secretary from the early 1990s, on Facebook.
There were no high-profile official celebrations of the anniversary, though the cabinet held a minute of silence, and small plaza at the modern part of the Czech National Theatre was named after Havel on the occasion.
Many stopped at the downtown Prague plaza — a place which, ironically, Havel considered ugly — to leave notes on a two-metre sculpture of a red heart, a reference to a drawing Havel used to add to his signature.
“He meant a lot for me - I read his works and I go see his plays. I honour him for his achievements. He is missed a lot,” said Marketa Kralova, one of those who came to pay her respects.
The main public meeting of Wednesday’s celebrations, along with a rock concert organised by an ad hoc civic group, was planned for Wednesday evening at Prague’s Wenceslas Square, the site of the main anti-communist protests in 1989.
Havel is not a universally adored leader. He had a rocky relationship with his successors as president, Vaclav Klaus and the current President Milos Zeman, neither of whom joined the commemorations.
He was also no hero for those who oppose the country’s western course, and drew criticism for supporting the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the war in Iraq.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan