|Yesterday, Sunday 18th December, was a very significant day in the life of the Anglican Church here in the Czech Republic when we held our first ever service in Brno. However, just as I and five members of the Prague congregation were leaving Coffee Hour following our Sunday morning Eucharist in Prague in order to catch the train to Brno, news reached us of the death of Václav Havel, leading dissident during the communist era, first President of post-communist Czechoslovakia and, following the Velvet Divorce, President of the Czech Republic 1993 -2003.
I returned home from Brno, just after midnight last night, to find the death of Václav Havel as the leading news story on the BBC News website – the first time in over three years of living here in Prague that I can remember a news story from the Czech Republic being so featured. However, within a few hours, the story had lost top billing to the death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. In many respects, this is understandable as the death of the North Korean leader means there is a great deal of concern around the world as to what future leadership will emerge within that unpredictable nuclear power.
Living here as a foreigner in the Czech Republic, I have been trying to get the measure of how Czech people feel about the death of one of their most famous citizens. As I had previously understood it, the general consensus was that in many respects, Havel was more highly regarded outside of this country than within in it. Judging by what has happened within the last 30 hours or so since his death, that understanding may well be wrong.
|The picture above is of the front page of today’s edition of Dnes /’Today’, one of the leading Czech national newspapers. The first section of the paper, all sixteen pages of it, is completely given over to reports about a whole variety of aspects of the life and death of Václav Havel to the total exclusion of any other news. In the second section for regional news, the first three pages are given over to describing the reaction in Prague to Havel’s death. All of that I believe, speaks volumes – newspaper editors usually know what their readers want to read.
What will be totally new territory for this nation is the organisation of a state funeral at which the attendance of numerous major figures from around the world is expected. No Czech national of the stature of Václav Havel has died since the fall of communism just over twenty-two years ago. Preparations for this event, which it is currently suggested, will happen this coming Friday, will be interesting to observe. As for the first ever English-language Anglican Carol Service in Brno, a blog post will follow shortly.