EU Open House
11.05.2013 / 10:00
(This article expired 21.02.2014.)
On May 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Embassy of the Czech Republic will celebrate the life and legacy of dissident, playwright, and former Czech President Václav Havel on his 77th birthday through theater, photography, film, music and beer, officially kicking off the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2013- Václav Havel. Come join us and Czech out ten stops inside the Embassy grounds to get a sense of the many colors of his personality.
“To understand each other does not mean to become like each other, only to understand each other’s identity.” Václav Havel
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Václav Havel was one of the original creators and courageous signatories of the historically vital document Charter 77, which criticized the then communist Czechoslovak government in 1977 for failing to honor basic human rights. The charter was deemed illegal and a threat to the state. Its creation was inspired, in part, by the arrest of the members of the rock band Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), which voiced its dissenting views of the totalitarian regime. The band was heavily influenced by American song writer Frank Zappa. In fact, many dissidents, including Havel, listened to smuggled in American music such as The Velvet Underground. Two decades later as President, Havel requested the band’s founding member to perform at a White House dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Stop to hear the music of the Czech band PPU that remains popular even today and pick up a copy of the Charter 77 at our welcome table.
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Although the original Charter 77 was confiscated when Václav Havel along with others attempted to deliver it to the communist Czechoslovak government, copies continued to circulate through samizdat; a process through which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand for distribution. Havel underwent constant government surveillance and his activities led to his arrest in 1979 and imprisonment for several years, during which he wrote his views on life and politics to his first wife (later published as Letters to Olga). While in prison, his previously written essay The Power of the Powerless, about the nature of the communist regime and life within it as “living within a lie,” became widely distributed through samizdat in Czechoslovakia as well as neighboring communist countries. Read the essay and discuss Havel’s fight for freedom and democracy with our diplomats.
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The personal motto of Havel’s struggle was “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred!" To bear it in mind, Havel drew a small heart beneath his signature every time. Yet, the heart also serves as a reminder that Havel was more than a dissident turned President. Havel was first known as an artist, mainly as a poet and prolific playwright. He resided in Prague, the Czech capital geographically located in the heart of Europe, and wrote poetry, which was published mostly via samizdat in the 1950s and early 1960s. A collection called Antikody, which consist of provocative visual and literary elements, is some of his most renowned work. Have your child draw a heart in the children’s corner and play the popular Czech game hopscotch while you study Havel’s stimulating poetry. Also, on the stage at stop number 4, watch children led by Lucia Maruska Levendis from the Sokolik group of the American Sokol Washington DC dance and sing their heart out.
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In the 1960s, Havel became known as a leading playwright. Many of his plays, such as The Garden Party, Largo Desolato, and Audience, show the absurdity of totalitarian rule through dark comedy and thus were banned by the communist regime. Even when Audience premiered in New York City, Havel was not allowed to travel out of the country to see it. Audience’s main character Vaněk, which represented Havel himself, also appeared in two subsequent plays Unveiling and Protest. In a letter from US President Barack Obama wishing the best to the Mutual Inspirations Festival, Havel is praised as “compelling playwright…no one better understood the power of the arts to educate and enlighten...” Speak to our diplomats about Mutual Inspirations Festival 2013- Václav Havel, the fourth annual celebration coming this September through October. Then, watch American University theater students under the direction of Gail Humphries Mardirosian perform Kaleidoscope - A Dramatic View of Vaclav Havel.
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The Velvet Revolution brought democracy back to the Czech lands in 1989. The peaceful revolution in the then Czechoslovakia was initially led by student protests and set the stage for the dissident political movement Civic Forum, many of its leaders being of the Charter 77 initiative, to takeover from the ruling communist regime. Václav Havel, its founding member, was elected President and led the nation in its transition from a totalitarian state through the re-establishment of democracy and onto a path to join NATO and the European Union. Join us for the opening of a moving photo exhibition of the revolution and Havel’s life as dissident and political leader inside the Embassy and meet Havel’s friend and photographer Oldřich Škácha.
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After leaving the Presidential office, Václav Havelcontinued to support the values of democracy, promote respect for human rights around the world, and encourage religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance. He created Forum 2000, which provides a platform for global leaders, thinkers and brave individuals. Havel reasoned that “the best way to our own misfortune is to cover our eyes from the misfortune of others,” a belief which prompted his involvement in the advocacy for human rights in Cuba, Belarus, and Burma. So much that, when he himself could have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership during the Velvet Revolution, he successfully campaigned for it to be awarded to Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991. Listen to the members of the Vlach Quartet Prague and guest pianist Helena S. Weiser perform music by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, as we remember those who continue in their struggle for human rights.
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Václav Havel’s unwavering commitment to and involvement in the protection of human rights around the world transcended all religions. He formed special relationships with great spiritual leaders such as Pope John Paul II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was the first leader of a free former Soviet bloc country to visit Israel. Havel was an intellectual and a dedicated humanist in a constant search for spirituality and morality. It was this spirituality which Havel believed that gives democracy its “universal resonance” and “connects all cultures and in fact all humanity.” On a lighter note, in the Czech Republic, we have also found that nothing unifies people like good food and beer. Czechs are known to be great brewers. Even Havel worked in a brewery once. He also loved cooking for his friends. Join us for a Czech beer tasting of Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Bernard and dessert from DC restaurants Capitol Prague and Bistro Bohem and sample Havel’s favorite goulash recipe.
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Despite his moral authority and world respect as political leader, Václav Havel was a humble man. He was witty and wore a grin, frequently joking and then sharing his words of philosophy and politics. After his Presidency ended, Havel returned to his love of writing, publishing To the Castle and Back and Leaving, which was turned into a feature film, starring Dagmar, Havel’s second wife and popular actress. Havel was very fond of his dogs, often walking them past the Prague castle, the seat of the Czech presidency. For the canine lovers in all of us, enjoy watching a demonstration by the Rockville City Police K-9 Unit, Cpl. Kyle Dickerson and Cpl. Heath Marshall and their Czech born German Shepherds.
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“..I gazed into the crown of an enormous tree... I seemed to rise above all the coordinates of momentary existence in the world into a kind of state outside time in which all the beautiful things I had ever seen and experiences existed in a total “co-present..” Václav Havel describes this moment of reconciliation “combined with carefree determination to face what had to be faced” in his letter from prison. Twenty years later, Havel continued the search to answer fundamental questions of knowledge, being and human existence, forming the Vision 97 foundation. Hoping for a better future for his fellow and global citizens, Havel's Forum 2000 foundation identifies the key issues facing civilization, hosting the likes of Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. Help us plant a Linden tree, the national symbol of the Czech Republic, as a living memorial to this great visionary.
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Between 1989 and 2003, Václav Havel became the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. He was the first head of state from a former communist block to visit the US. In a speech before a joint session of Congress, Havel stated, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.” Havel received numerous state decorations, honorary doctorates, and international awards, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. He passed away on December 18, 2011. The Czech Republic held three official days of mourning and a funeral, which was attended by no less than forty-two heads of state and dignitaries. Watch a screening of Václav Havel – Prague Castle in his honor at the residence of the Ambassador of the Czech Republic and examine the great glass works of Bořek Šípek, designer and architect of the Czech Castle under the presidency of Václav Havel.