know that similar memorials have been installed in other cities: Prague,
of course, but also Barcelona, Dublin, Tel Aviv, and Washington, DC.
So why would my students object to a symbol of the man who helped
bring down Communism? Will they tell me?
I e-mail Ludvig and a couple of the others who’ve seemed most communicative, asking if they will meet me for coffee and help me understand something. Though I’ve only invited two or three, seven show up
at the café on campus.
“OK. Somebody help me understand why you don’t want the Havel
memorial in the courtyard.”
Adriana seems to be one of those who hasn’t gone along.
“It’s not that I don’t like Havel; it’s just absurd to have everything
named after him.”
She doesn’t mind the square being named after him, but what do a
couple of chairs mean anyway?
Ilonka says she doesn’t like that they also named the Prague airport
after him. That’s too much. Besides people can’t pronounce it. They
should keep the name it had before: Ruzyne.
OK, that’s a stretch. How is Ruzyne easier than Havel?
“There are other personalities,” somebody says. “Why him?”
“Well,” I say, “for starters. He brilliantly skewered Communism for
years with his absurdist theater. And his well-known essay, ‘The Power
of the Powerless,’ seems to me an incredibly clear and thoughtful indict-
ment of the day-to-day indignities of Communism, written in a time
when it was dangerous to speak out.”
I don’t ask if they’ve read the famous essay, which has been men-
tioned to me by several Prague Coffee People. I can tell that with the
possible exception of Ludvig, they haven’t.
“Havel went to jail for expressing his views,” I say. “He was a leader in
Charter 77, the group that helped bring down Communism. Like your
first president, Masaryk, he was a humanist and a philosopher. All of
this seems to me remarkable in a leader.”
Nobody says anything. Do they really want to burst my lovely Amer-
“He’s more popular in the West than here,” Ilonka says finally. “He
wasn’t a good politician.”
“After he died, everything changed too much,” Dagmar adds.
“Not everybody loves Havel here,” Jaroslav says rather defiantly.
“I work at a newspaper, and my colleague really hates him. He was a