I was lucky enough to go to Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia a few months after the “Velvet Revolution” that inspirational event that formed a part of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was an extraordinary time and I was thrilled to be there when there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air.
I remember all the building works going up on so many streets with an energy that shouted new beginnings but more than anything else I recall all those conversations with hopeful people genuinely anticipating a bright future for their freed nation.
I looked out some of the photographs I took at that time and felt a pang of regret that that trip didn’t mark the beginning of a brave new world. Of course nothing is ever as perfect as our dreams foretell and it wasn’t long before Czechoslovakia split into two different nations but only the most cynical of people would not rejoice in what happened in those days when it looked as if the world was going to become a peaceful place.
One day whilst I was walking through the spectacular Eighteenth Century palace complex at the top of the city where all the government offices were located, a car drew up outside one of the grandest houses and out came a rather scruffy middle aged man in a checked shirt, sleeves rolled up, hair tussled and unkept. He was holding an old leather brief case bulging with papers. He could have been a professor running late for a seminar but no, it was the new President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, one of the heroes of the revolution.
After his recent death, he is being honoured around the World and rightly so. Whatever successes and failures can be attached to his political career, nothing can take away his reputation as one of the moving forces behind the new state or as a spokesman for a new type of Eastern European politics. He was a writer, an intellectual and, dare I say it, also a bit of a dreamer. The sad international incidents that have followed on that thrilling moment in history take nothing away from the optimism that could allow a nation to grasp its freedom and to make a man such as him the Head Of State.
Looking at our current petty-minded, historically-blind and quarrelsome leaders in economically-challenged Europe, I am doubly sad at Vaclav Havel’s passing as I remember that moment all those years ago when hope rested on the shoulders of such an unpretentious and idealistic man.