Czechs, world leaders mourn Vaclav Havel

December 18, 2011 - 12:15 PM
Czech Havel Obit

A woman lights a candle to commemorate the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel at the Velvet Revolution memorial in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE (AP) — Czechs joined their leaders and foreign politicians Sunday in paying tribute to Vaclav Havel, who led the 1989 Velvet Revolution that peacefully toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

A black flag flew over Prague Castle, the presidential seat, while Czechs lit candles to remember the man who helped kick off the fall of the Iron Curtain and then helped lead their country through its difficult first years after communism.

"Mr. President, thank you for democracy," read a note placed at the monument to the revolution in downtown Prague.

Others visited his villa in Prague to lay flowers and light candles in memory of the revolutionary-turned-politician, who died Sunday at the age of 75. Josef Klik, a 67-year-old, was among the mourners.

"He is an unforgettable person who contributed to the fall of communism," Klik said. "And after that, he remained a moral authority for ordinary people."

An impromptu gathering of mourners was called for Sunday evening at downtown Wenceslas Square, where Havel rallied hundreds of thousands in 1989.

The Czech government meets Monday to declare a period of official mourning. Vaclav Klaus, Havel's political archrival who replaced him as president in 2003, said condolence books will be available for people to sign at the Prague castle the same day.

Klaus called Havel "the symbol of the new era of the Czech state," and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg added that Havel "returned dignity to the Czech nation."

Tributes poured in from around the world. The founder of the anti-communist Solidarity movement and former president Lech Walesa called Havel "a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is of Czech origin, said Havel "leaves our world better for having been a part of it."