Dignitaries, faculty and students gathered in Gaston Hall and Alumni Square courtyard Wednesday to dedicate a memorial to former Czech President Václav Havel.
Georgetown established the Václav Havel’s Place memorial in Alumni Square in collaboration with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, the Václav Havel Library in Prague and the American Friends of the Czech Republic.
Havel, who died in 2011, was a prominent dissident and human rights activist during the communist rule in his country. He was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the newly formed Czech Republic.
The memorial consists of a linden tree, a national symbol of the Czech Republic, between two chairs, surrounded by pea gravel, a stone wall and concentric circles of grass. The embassy chose Georgetown as the host site due to Havel’s ties with the university, which he visited on his first trip to the United States.
“Some of it was happenstance, but I think as he knew more and more about [Georgetown], I think he appreciated the whole aspect of a liberal education,” former Secretary of State and Georgetown professor Madeleine Albright, a longtime friend of Havel, said in an interview with The Hoya.
The celebration consisted of a video presentation and panel in Gaston Hall, followed by a procession to Alumni Square for the dedication of the memorial itself.
Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies Angela Stent moderated the program and delivered introductory remarks, which included reflection of Havel’s first visit to Georgetown in February 1990 with a group of students who participated in the Velvet Revolution. She noted how Havel, on the Gaston stage, yielded to the students.
“I challenge you to think of any other president … who would defer to students,” Stent said.
A short video featured testimonials from journalist Fareed Zakaria, singer Suzanne Vega, the Dalai Lama, writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Anglo-Czech playwright Tom Stoppard.
“He was a benign, kind person, so it’s somewhat of a miracle that he ended up as president of anything,”” Stoppard said in the video.
The Dalai Lama spoke of Havel’s vision and the responsibility the world has to recognize the potential of its entire population.
“As a Buddhist monk, I believe his spirit will continue in different forms,” he said.
As attendees left the hall to proceed to the Alumni Square courtyard, paper carnations lined the path, both in Healy and outside. Students also handed out carnation stems to passersby.
University President John J. DeGioia welcomed the assembled from a platform in the Alumni Square courtyard.
“Through [Havel’s] leadership in the Velvet Revolution, he demonstrated for the world the power of non-violence. He exemplified a thoughtful and steadfast leadership, unfailing in his dedication to the public good,” DeGioia said. “We believe in the free and unfettered pursuit of truth for the betterment of the world.”
The Czech First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Jiří Schneider alluded to upcoming elections in the Czech Republic in discussing Havel’s legacy.
“We need courage even in democracy. … Courage is not only needed against tyranny,” he said. “I hope my fellow citizens will express courage and maturity.”
AFOCR Chairman Fred Malek, whose organization supervised and paid for much of the construction, delivered remarks.
“[It’s a] modest tribute … but fitting, because it signifies the man and what he stood for,” Malek said.
In her interview with The Hoya following the celebration, Albright commented on Havel’s courage.
“His courage came from watching what was happening to these powerless people and that he drew his courage from the circumstances in which he lived. He was absolutely amazing. … He was in the face of authorities all the time,” Albright said. “He did things just to kind of push the envelope all the time.”
Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., blessed the site before Havel’s widow, Dagmar Havlová, cut the ribbon to the memorial.
Albright said she might venture to Václav Havel’s Place on occasion.
“It has this interesting aspect of being peaceful but in the middle of things, and I think the way he would feel honored is if people gathered and talked about some of the principles and weren’t afraid to argue with each other,” Albright said. “There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, and I think he would like it if people used the place to have discussions about ethics and human rights and the human condition. I think it’s lovely.”