A simple goal for this memorial — sit down and talk, please

October 4, 2013

Czechs dedicated a memorial at Georgetown University this week to the late dissident playwright and president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, who died in 2011. (Petula Dvorak/The Washington Post)

There are two iron chairs under a linden sapling.

If it were in the Czech Republic, there’d probably be beer, too.

But this simple memorial dedicated on the Georgetown University campus Wednesday to the late Czech president Vaclav Havel, even without the beer, is the perfect example of the way the dissident leader would’ve urged American leaders to end the government shutdown crisis.

Havel, who was jailed as an outspoken playwright under the communist regime and later led a Velvet Revolution to overthrow the communist government, looked to America as a model democracy.

And that was bittersweet for Havel friend and former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, given the smooth-as-sandpaper way we’re functioning right now.

“At this very moment, the U.S. is the very last one to talk about governance,” she said at the dedication ceremony in Georgetown on Wednesday. “We are a complete embarrassment.”

But Tomáš HalÍk, professor at Charles University in Prague, said the little memorial space at 37th and O streets Northwest is the perfect embodiment of how Havel believed conflict could be resolved.

It’s a spot with two seats, under a tree, a place “of meeting, of dialogue,” HalÍk said.

And because Havel also had a biting wit that always popped up when he was in a “particularly irritating time,” Albright said, Havel would’ve also injected some humor into these Congressional meetings. He’d say something absurd.

The American Friends of the Czech Republic funded the memorial; the Czech Embassy donated the tree; Havel’s widow, Dagmar Havlova, cut the ribbon roping off the two chairs; and Suzanne Vega sang a song she wrote for the former president, who died in 2011.

I interviewed him once when I lived in Prague. I think he would’ve been proud of the memorial, of the Georgetown students who drew Czech flags in chalk along the campus walks and of the people shaking their keys on a parade through the campus — the sign protesters used in 1989 to tell the communists it was time to go home.

He would’ve been ashamed of our current shutdown. And I bet he would’ve encouraged us to start shaking our keys at Congress.

 

 

 

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.
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