It’s Here at Last

2009 was marked by the 20th anniversary of the political changes in Czechoslovakia. Dagmar Havlová and President Václav Havel decided to hold a special event chiefly intended to recall and evoke the spirit and ethos of the non-violent November rising against the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia and present it in the context of the similar changes throughout the Eastern Bloc, which soon led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the ending of the bi-polar division of the world.

Mr and Mrs Havel also invited other like-minded not-for-profit organisations to help them implement the project, in addition to the Vize 97, namely the FORUM 2000 Foundation and the Václav Havel Library. The concert was organised by the ABOUT Production s.r.o. The demanding joint work of preparation went on throughout the year and culminated on 14th November. when a debate took place in the morning in the Aula of the Arts Faculty of Charles University entitled “Freedom and its Opponents”. It was broadcast live by Czech Television’s news channel ČT 24. The main participants in the two discussion panels were Madeleine Albright, Jacques Rupnik, Adam Michnik, Tom Stoppard, André Glucksmann, Jan Sokol, Petr Pithart, Jan Urban and Martin Bútora.

The programme of the event then shifted to the Prague Crossroads, where a gala concert commenced at 8pm entitled “It’s Here at Last” after one of the slogans of the Velvet Revolution. The concert was broadcast live on Channel 1 of Czech TV and Czech Radio’s Radiožurnál. President Václav Havel, the current President Václav Klaus, the French philosopher André Glucksmann, the Polish historian and journalist Adam Michnik, one of the student leaders of the Velvet Revolution, Šimon Pánek and a representative of today’s students from the “Taking Stock of Democracy” campaign, took the floor in the beautifully-decorated Prague Crossroads to share their personal memories, insights and ideas. The concert opened with a short improvisation by the jazzman, flautist and composer Jiří Stivín. The concert was a succession of performances by foreign artistes and musicians who had travelled here at the invitation of President Václav Havel and appeared for no fee. And so the audience at the Prague Crossroads, along with Czech Television viewers and Czech Radio listeners, had a unique opportunity to hear the rock legend Lou Reed, the famed singer songwriters Suzanne Vega and Joan Baez, and the world renowned opera singer Renée Fleming. Video messages from the former President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachov, the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the US President Barack Obama and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel were projected. There were also recorded greetings from the musicians Peter Gabriel, Mick Jagger, Bob Geldof and Bono Vox of the band U2. The entire evening’s programme was accompanied by the Prague Chamber Philharmonia conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek and screenings of scenes from November 1989. The concert’s culmination was when all the performers (and a large part of the audience) joined together to sing the spiritual “Oh Freedom”, which President Havel dedicated to citizens of all countries where people are still oppressed.

The packed Prague Crossroads witnessed a truly unique evening which also enjoyed great success with the TV viewers. Apart from the performers and guests already mentioned we would also like to thank all partners of the event whose logos are to be found on p. 63. This year the VIZE 97 Foundation and Czech Television are planning to jointly issue a DVD combining a recording of the concert with a film by Petr Jančárek documenting the preparations. We will also try to distribute the “It’s Here at Last” concert among foreign TV stations, particularly of those countries where freedom is still not something to be taken for granted.