Vaclav Havel steps down as…

Vaclav Havel steps down as Czech President

Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela are my political heros. Both led that rarest of all political events; a non-violent revolution – Mandela in South Africa, Havel in Czechoslovakia. These were the people who led mass movements that toppled repressive regimes without firing a shot.

Yesterday Havel retired, and his nation, now the Czech Republic, honored him.

“Nearly 100 of the country’s most popular singers and actors took part in a goodbye spectacular Thursday at Prague’s National Theater.

Among the musicians was the Czech rock band the Plastic People of the Universe, which Havel stood with against official persecution in the 1970s in one of the period’s great cultural — and political — clashes between dissidents and Communist authorities. As the group sang, the outgoing president was visibly moved.”

The Plastic People were the now legendary rock band who, with Havel, sparked the stuggle that eventually collapsed a government. They were joined at the hip, comrades in the struggle.

From The Boston Globe

“When Czechoslovakia’s Communist rulers decided to put rock `n’ roll on trial in 1976, they arrested, tried, and convicted Zajicek and three members of the experimental band The Plastic People of the Universe. The men were jailed for “organized disturbance of the peace” and “corrupting the youth.”

It was a classic show trial and bizarre confrontation between a nascent hippie movement and the Communist state. Havel, a playwright already out of favor with the regime, sided with the hippies.

After witnessing the ”Plastic People trial,” Havel established Charter 77, a human rights organization that gained worldwide renown. The group eventually would land Havel in jail, as well. But it also set the stage for the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended Communism in Czechoslovakia and catapulted Havel into the presidency.”

This history of the Plastic People contains the fascinating info that poet Allen Ginsberg may have lit the original match. 

“It was the height of the Big Beat era when American hipster poet Allen Ginsberg made his celebrated visit to Czechoslovakia. After accepting an invitation by students at Prague’s Charles University, Ginsberg arrived in Prague in March of 1965 and gave several poetry readings in small theaters in Prague and Bratislava. The young people embraced the long-haired revolutionary and crowned him King of their May Day Festival. Antonin Novotny’s hard-line Communist government, who Ginsberg had publicly denounced and insulted, appreciated Ginsberg less. After arresting him for alleged drug abuse and public drunkenness, the Secret Police broke into his hotel room and confiscated his writings, which they found to be lewd and morally dangerous. The government used these writings as an excuse to expel Ginsberg from the country on May 7, 1965.

The influence of Ginsberg’s visit on Czech culture should not be underestimated. Suddenly, the streets of Prague were filled with long-haired hippies wearing blue jeans and staging “happenings”. The Communist way of life began to seem more and more foreign to a new generation of Czechoslovaks. An underground club scene formed and grew with each passing year, spawning hundreds of new bands”.