I, shamefully still a smoker after all these years, albeit a light one, have vowed not to smoke today – and hopefully smoke-free days will turn into weeks and months. For me the connection to Havel is key: after all, he was a decades-long chain smoker who finally quit. Well, it took him the loss of half a lung to convince him. But if he could continue his literary and intellectual life—which often seem to go hand in hand with cigarettes—then why can’t I?
The fifth anniversary of his death at seventy-five will be coming up in December. Being tobacco free only prolonged his life so much, as he suffered from several health problems. In the late 1990s, while on vacation in the Austrian Alps, he developed an ailment which required the removal of several inches in intestine. He had developed pneumonia while a political prisoner in the 1980s—and of course smoking exacerbated any lingering effects.
I had long believed that I would be in Prague for Havel’s funeral when the end finally came. But, as it happened, I had just returned to the U.S. from three months in Central Europe, and I’d used up nearly all the ninety days a non-Schengen citizen is allowed in the EU for any six-month period, it was close to the holidays and difficult and terribly expensive to arrange last-minute travel even if I could do so without overstaying.
So I did the next best thing and went to the Czech Embassy in Washington with a bouquet of flowers and signed the condolence book. There were a number of people in D.C.’s diplomatic corps who came to pay their respects; the Indonesian ambassador was in line before me. And all those flowers and signatures were, I assume put on an overnight passenger plane to Prague, where they became part of the next day’s funeral.
As for the Velvet Revolution, see my musical tribute from two years ago here
For curiosity’s sake, here’s Madeleine Albright’s Czech speech at his funeral.