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Havel's Bust Gets Place Among Greats in US Congress

  • Zlatica Hoke

U.S. congressional leaders have honored the late Czech president, author and freedom fighter Vaclav Havel at a time when his country is marking the 25th anniversary of its anti-communist protests that eventually led to democracy. A bust of Havel was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. Havel's widow, Dagmar, and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka attended the ceremony, hosted by Speaker of the House John Boehner.

The bust of the late Czech president is placed alongside those of other eminent leaders in Statuary Hall -- Britain's Winston Churchill, Sweden's Raoul Wallenberg, America's Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

Boehner led the unveiling ceremony.

"He was a writer who exposed the communists, using the one weapon that they couldn’t match, and that was the truth. For this he received three stays in prison, countless interrogations, and constant surveillance, but he kept on writing, hiding pages of his manuscripts throughout his home. Offered a chance to flee to the West, he refused in saying ‘I’m simply a Czech bumpkin through and through,’” said Boehner.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Havel's leadership served as an example to people everywhere in the world striving for democracy and human rights, notably in China and its Tibet region.

"President Havel was a defender of freedom, a champion of human rights and an apostle of hope. He wrote plays, and penned a charter of reform. He spoke out for democracy and crafted a new chapter of progress for his country and his continent, for people worldwide and for generations to come," said Pelosi.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka recalled Havel's 1990 message that "no one who paid the price for freedom should be forgotten."

"By unveiling the bust of Vaclav Havel we do not only pay homage to him, but as he befittingly described it, to each and every one who did not bend down before pressure and fought for freedom, despite a threat of imprisonment, suffering or death, to each and everyone who raised his or her voice like the Czech writer and playwright Vaclav Havel,” said Sobotka.

Havel's activism against oppression and on behalf of human rights and democracy helped topple communism in Czechoslovakia, a development known as the "Velvet Revolution." He became the country's first democratically elected president in 1989, and after the Czech-Slovak split he was elected as the first president of the Czech Republic.

Remembering Havel's love of rock, jazz and blues, U.S. congress members invited American musician and guitarist of the band ZZ Top Billy Gibbons to honor the late Czech leader.

"You didn't have to change it but you did, but you did, but you did, and we thank you," sang Gibbons, changing the original words "you didn't have to love me, but you did" into "you did not have to change it, but you did."