Despite its 1.2 million residents, Prague is a surprisingly small town, where artists of all disciplines bounce off each other on the street or in the pub, and eventually on the newspaper page and gallery wall. Havel, the somewhat shy scion of a bourgeois family (which owned, among other things, the wonderful Lucerna Theatre on Wenceslas Square), was particularly drawn to and awed by the “authentic culture” of unbridled rock music, in a way that recalls the rather prim Orwellâ€™s fascination with Henry Miller. He preferred the Stones to the Beatles (let alone Clintonâ€™s favorite, Fleetwood Mac), and took from rock-influenced â€™60s culture “a temperament, a nonconformist state of the spirit, an anti-establishment orientation, an aversion to philistines, and an interest in the wretched and humiliated,” he wrote in his underrated 1991 reflection on governing, Summer Meditations.
Many things I guess I’ll never understand about Havel and the Czechs. Havel was one of the reasons I came here 11 years ago, and the benevolent influence he wielded from Prague Castle was always welcome – at least with myself and the people I know.
I don’t understand the venom of Havel’s detractors, certainly, and to this day there is still a pretty rabid anti-Havel, pro-Klaus faction in Czech politics – not just in the halls of parliament, but in the streets and pubs too. Even Masaryk had his sworn enemies, though, and I’m convinced that in another generation or so every city will have a Havlovo nÃ¡městÃ.
Added 20:03 Wed: Don’t miss Chandler Rosenberger’s insightful comment in Matt’s comments section.