Havel and the legacy of Jan Palach

When the occasion really demands it Czechs are able to act professionally and in an extremely dignified fashion. At 8 a.m. today Václav Havel’s coffin was taken from Prague’s Old Town across Charles Bridge and up to Prague Castle, followed by an estimated 10,000 citizens expressing their sorrow.

These people braved for several hours the inclement weather to make their feelings known, in contrast to the four Stalinist MPs who refused to pay their last respects to Havel in the Lower Hose of Parliament.

Outside of the castle area the cortege transformed itself into a military march and the coffin was transferred on to a gun carriage led by six black horses moving towards the Old King’s Palace, where it will be laid in state until Friday when the funeral ceremony will take place in St Vitus Cathedral next door.

A speech was made by the present Czech president, Václav Klaus, who confirmed that like his co-citizens he too is able to respect the occasion and make a dignified diplomatic speech which emphasised Václav Havel´s achievements and life’s tribulations.

In some ways today’s proceedings reminded one of January 1969 and the funeral of the first student to immolate himself, Jan Palach. He decided to sacrifice himself in the hope of making his co-citizens reflect and step back from the brink of collaboration with the new powers of State ­ agents of the normalisation process supported by Soviet tanks. His co-citizens did indeed spur themeselves to take part en masse in his funeral, which was a most solemn affair. Very quickly thereafter Palach’s legacy was swept under the carpet. Havel and co remained very much the exceptions in resisting the occupiers and their acolytes. I wonder whether this too will be the fate of Havel’s ideas and pursual of truth.