Havel begins heartfelt farewell
Two days before the Nov. 21-22 NATO summit began, the public’s attention was easily diverted to an even more visible and lasting event – the lighting by President Vaclav Havel of a huge heart above Prague Castle. Although it is ostensibly the creation of artist Jiri David, the 17-by-17-meter (56-by-56-foot) neon heart, which blinks on and off, is arguably Havel’s biggest public relations gesture ever. The heart, which can be seen from virtually any Prague vantage point, allegedly has several meanings. First, it is a copy of the little heart that Havel draws next to his name on his signatures. Second, it is meant to symbolize Prague as the heart of Europe. Third, it is directly linked with Havel’s presidential term, because the heart is due to stop beating in February 2003, following Havel’s last day in office. Fourth, five neon and glass replicas of the heart are being produced as collector’s items that will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to Havel’s foundation, which engages in charitable works. So far, so good. But how Havel swam easily through the myriad of bureaucracy needed to erect a neon sculpture on a former church of Prague Castle has angered many, not to mention its construction atop the nation’s holiest and most symbolic shrine. To liken this to a blinking heart hanging on the Washington Monument, the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben would be no exaggeration whatsoever. Thus, many view Havel’s gesture as self-serving and just another example of the president’s lack of understanding of where his influence should end. Quite a few others criticize the heart itself, with one blue-blooded nobleman labeling it an example of post-dissident kitsch. Others point to its bordellolike appearance, which is difficult to ignore. Despite that, most Czechs seem to shrug the whole thing off with an air of resignation, claiming, Havel is Havel.” Naturally, Havel’s political opponents, including Vladimir Zelezny and Vaclav Klaus, have come out with direct criticism, though Zelezny, as head of TV Nova, which specializes in tacky reporting and weather forecasts featuring nude models, should really rethink this one. Havel has responded to their criticisms by saying he is glad that the heart provoked them. And so, the debate over the beating heart remains at street level. As opposed to other democracies, no one here has yet raised the question of whether the reality that a president can basically hang what he chooses on a national landmark should be looked into a bit more. It remains to be seen if the heart, beating day after day, won’t develop some anginal pains before its planned exit.
– Dr. Martin Stransky is the editor of The New Presence.
|The Prague Post||4.12.2002|
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