As thousands of Czechs line up to pay their last respects to Václav Havel, bowing to his casket at the Prague Crossroads spiritual centre where he is lying in repose, preparations are underway for Wednesday’s funeral procession to Prague Castle, Friday’s celebratory mass at St. Vitus’ Cathedral and other commemorative events.
Czechs are mourning a modern-day hero and the nation’s first post-communist president. Although Mr. Havel did not die in office, the respects paid to him are truly exceptional. He will be given a state funeral and the highest military honors. Following a special session of the government on Monday Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced a three day-period of mourning from Wednesday through Friday.
Flags will be flown at half mast, theatres and cinemas will alter their programmes to suit the occasion and the government has asked the public to refrain from ostentatious undertakings. The government will propose a special law, recognizing Václav Havel’s contribution to freedom and democracy, which the prime minister has asked Parliament to approve in its first reading.
At the request of the late ex-president’s wife, Dagmar, Mr. Havel’s body has been lying in repose at the Prague Crossroads, a spiritual centre that he himself founded. On Wednesday his remains are to be transferred to the historic Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle. The casket will be drawn by horses on a howitzer gun-carriage –the very same gun-carriage that bore the remains of Czechoslovakia’s beloved first president Tomas Guarrigue Masaryk. The cortege, which is to set out from the Prague Castle garrison in Loretanská Street, will be followed by family members, close friends and politicians. 600 soldiers from the Czech Armed Forces as well as members of the Prague Castle Guard will be part of the procession and lining the route, among them bearers of historical banners of Czechoslovak legions.
A special ceremony is to take place in the Vladislav Hall at which the country’s political elite will honor the man who helped change the course of Czech history. Among those present will be President Klaus, members of the government, deputies and senators, church dignitaries and foreign ambassadors – a gathering reminiscent of those that take place on the country’s state holiday. After the ceremony the hall will be opened to the public for people to pay their last respects.
On Friday a minute of silence will be observed and a 21 gun salute will be fired in the late ex-president’s honour.
The funeral service for Václav Havel, which is to be celebrated by the Archbishop of Prague Dominik Duka and Mr. Havel’s old friend Bishop Václav Maly will take place on Friday at noon at St. Vitus Cathedral within the Prague Castle Complex. At the family’s request a private ceremony will follow at an unnamed crematorium and Václav Havel’s ashes will be placed in the family tomb.