Friday, December 23, 2011
Lost in the news this week was the passing of playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.
While much of the attention this week was focused on the death of a different world leader, whose notoriety was based more on his tyranny, egomaniacal behavior and oppression of his own people plus his desire to rattle the cage of and poke sticks at the United States. As the decades pass his place, as well as his claimed and remarkable ability to master the game of golf in such a brief amount of time, will fade from memory as the sum of his accomplishments add up to very little beyond initiating his country's nuclear weapons program, leaving him nothing more than a mere pimple on the butt of history. Yet it was his passing that garnered all the page 1 headlines.
Havel, meanwhile, is assured of his rightful place in history as a man who changed the world, and did so in a manner very few before him have managed despite being pushed off the front page by the misfortune of poor timing. Born in Prague in 1936. After serving in the military he began to work in the theatre and soon was writing plays, which were ultimately banned by the communist Czech government in 1968 following the suppression of the Prague Spring uprising. Unfortunately for those who banned his works, now no longer able to freely pursue his passion for the theatre, Havel became more active in the realm of politics, helping create Charter 77, which called for the Communist Government to adhere to international standards for human rights, in January of 1977.
He continued to write however, with his works critical of the government now being distributed via underground channels across Czechoslovakia, and his reputation as a leading voice among dissident revolutionaries was now on the rise. He was the bold and brave enough to co-found the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted in 1979, which led to constant government surveillance of Havel, questioning and multiple incarcerations. His longest stay in prison was from June of 1979 to January of 1984, 4 years and 7 months, which as a writer he naturally documented as a book of letters he wrote to his wife, "Letters to Olga".
In 1989, Havel, a passionate supporter of non-violent resistance, was a leading figure in the Velvet Revolution which occurred from November 17th to December 29, 1989, during which student and citizen demonstrations against the ruling Communist Party took place, first in Prague and then all across Czechoslovakia.
On November 17th, International Students Day, a peaceful demonstration of 15,000 students chanting anti-communist slogans was suppressed by riot police, spawning false rumors that one student had been killed. Students and theatre employees and actors went on strike in protest of the violence, as posters were used to spread the word since the government controlled media would suppress any such stories.
The inaccurate reports of a student death having occurring on the 17th added to the unrest among the general population and the strike began to spread to other cities beyond Prague. Havel and other leaders of opposition groups established the Civic Forum on the 19th to unify the protestors and went on to call for the dismissal of those responsible for the violence of the 17th as well as the release of all political prisoners.
On the 20th, the Civic Forum added the abolition of the guarantee that the Communist Party would hold the ruling position of the nation from the constitution. At the same time, non-communist newspapers began publishing information which differed from that of the government controlled newspapers and the first mass demonstration, attended by 200,000 people, occurred in Prague, while other demonstrations began in Bratislava.
On the following day, November 21st, the Prime Minister had his first official meeting with the Civic Forum and personally guaranteed no violence would be used against the demonstrators, which had now swollen to 500,000, but he went on to assure the group that he would also protect socialism without debate. Organizers of the protests began to spread the word to factories to attract even more participants as the mass demonstrations, which were now becoming a daily occurrence in not only Prague, but in other cities as well. Calls for a nationwide, two-hour general strike were being called for on November 27th, as was the demand for the release of political prisoner Ján Čarnogurský. That night, hard line government officials called in a 4,000 member paramilitary organization to crush the protests, but called them off at the last moment, likely losing their last, best opportunity to remain in power.
The daily protests continued, now aided by increasing media coverage of the events which depicted the government in a bad light. On the 23rd Čarnogurský was released and he would later go on to become the Prime Minister of Slovakia. Also on that same day, the Minister of Defense issued a statement in which he said the army would never undertake action against the Czechoslovak people, despite the military informing the communist leaders of it's readiness to do just that.
Demontrators giving policemen flowers as the protests stayed non-violent
On the 24th the entire executive committee of the government resigned with a more moderate communist named the new General Secretary. Meanwhile, Havel appeared on television for the first time, addressing details of the planned general strike, which was now to be joined by Czechoslovak TV and Radio, which led to the editorial staff of various newspapers now joining the movement.
The 25th saw 800,000 protestors and the 26th saw the first meeting between the Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec and Havel, as the demonstrations continued to swell.
The anti-goverment protesters in Wenceslas Square
The planned two-hour general strike was supported by 75% of the population, which solidified the Civic Forum as the representative of the people in it's dealings with the government. Also on the 27th, the Ministry of Culture released anti-Communist literature in libraries, effectively ending government censorship.
Two days later on the 29th, the demand for the removal of the declaration of the Communist Party's leading role from the constitution was met when the Federal Assembly abolished that particular constitutional article.
On December 10th, President Gustáv Husák swore in a new government, the first in 41 years not dominated by the Communist Party. 19 days later Havel was elected as the new president of Czechoslovakia in a unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly, bringing to an end the bloodless downfall of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. It was a role he insisted was more duty than aspiration.
Havel greeting the masses following his election in 1989
Havel's presidency was confirmed in a free election by the people in 1990 and one of his first acts was to grant a wide ranging amnesty which set many political prisoners free.
Havel and his supporters had peacefully brought to an end over four decades of communism in Czechoslovakia in a matter of a couple of weeks, but still had decades of communist rule to unweave from the fabric of the country, as they converted the country into a free market society and integrated Czechoslovakia into the European and world community from which that had been so isolated.
In 1992, forces in the Slovak parliament adopted a Declaration of Independence of the Slovak nation, which would lead to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which Havel opposed. This opposition led to his resignation on July 20, 1992, as he did not want to preside over the breakup of his country. The separation into two distinct nations occurred on January 1, 1993, giving birth to new nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
25 days later Havel was elected as the first president of the Czech Republic, a post he would hold until early 2003 after serving two terms in office, during which his health began to be an issue, having had two bouts with lung cancer in the late 1990's.
In 1998, the Czech Republic emerged victorious from the first Olympic Games to feature the stars of the NHL all competing for their home countries, following their 1-0 win over Russia on a lone goal by Petr Svoboda. Following the gold medal game, Havel, in attendance in Japan, visited the locker room of the victorious team to invite them all to his home for a party in celebration. "He was there and after the game, we all flew to his house," Jaromir Jagr recalled. "He wanted all the team there. It was fun. Big house."
Jagr is congratulated by Havel following the 1998 Olympic victory
"If you look at the big picture, he was the main guy. Without him, nobody would play in row NHL from the Czech unless you defect. After the revolution, which he started, the borders were open and there was freedom. You could go anywhere you want." Jagr said.
Jagr had been to the White House with Havel on three occasions, including the time Havel was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.
Havel, President Clinton and Jagr at the White House
After leaving the presidency, Havel continued his humanitarian works as well as staying active in the theatre, which included the first complete festival of his plays, held in New York City, in celebration of his 70th birthday. He also wrote his first new play in 18 years, "Leaving", which was published in November of 2007, later directing a film version of it which premiered in March of 2011.
Havel passed away on December 18, 2011, which elicited numerous tributes from leaders all over the globe.
His funeral will be held today.
Today's featured jersey is a 1991-92 Czechoslovakia National Team Richard Král jersey. This jersey was obtained by us from team trainers following an exhibition game between the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and a touring Czechoslovakian National Team, which won 5-1 on December 27, 1992.
Tackla was the sole supplier of jerseys to IIHF tournaments in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Their dye-sublimation process allowed for bright colors and bold designs not seen before. This is a surprisingly vibrant a flashy design, particularly for a staid communist country generally known for it's spartan and utilitarian designs. This waving flag effect was a foreshadowing of the bold Nike jerseys later worn at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
Five days after obtaining this jersey, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.
Czechoslovakia was founded at the conclusion of World War I and was divided up during World War II essentially between Germany and Hungary. The country was re-established at the conclusion of World War II and in February of 1948, power was seized by the Communists. During a brief period of liberalization in 1968 known as the Prague Spring, five countries, led by the Soviet Union, invaded Czechoslovakia to restore and maintain the Communist system and ideals. It is because of this invasion in 1968, also the year in which his grandfather died in prison, that Jaromir Jagr wears #68.
Czechoslovakia played their first game of international hockey at the 1920 Winter Olympics in Antwerp, Belguim, a 15-0 loss to Canada. The program would improve quickly, as they would record their largest margin of victory ever by 1939 in a 24-0 defeat of Yugoslavia, later matched several times in a 24-0 win over Belguim in 1947, a 27-3 drubbing of East Germany in 1951 and a 25-1 win over Japan in 1957.
Czechoslovakia would win the Olympic silver medal four times, in 1948, with gold going to Canada, and then again in 1968, 1976 and 1984, each time as runner up to the powerful Soviet Union. When they weren't winning silver, they were generally in contention, with bronze medals in 1920, 1964, 1972 and 1992.
They would also participate in five Canada Cups, with their best showing being second in the inaugural 1976 tournament.
They also had a long and successful history of competing at the World Championships, dating back to 1930, with six gold medals to their credit, which they won in 1947, 1949, 1972, 1976, 1977 and 1985 with 10 silver and 14 bronze to go along with their championships. They were the only country to break the stranglehold of the Soviet Union during the 24 years from 1963 to 1986, taking great delight at defeating their main rivals four times during the main era of Soviet dominance.
Today's video section begins with Amnesty International's Steve Crenshaw paying tribute to Havel.
Next are news reports aired during the Velvet Revolution.