The House honored late Czech President Vaclav Havel on Wednesday with the unveiling of a bust in Statuary Hall — and ZZ Top.
The ceremony was timed to also mark the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Havel, a playwright, poet and foe of communism, was the first president of the newly liberated Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“It is a poetic but also paradoxical honor for a man who, in his own words, lived ‘a paradoxical life.’ Here was a writer who exposed the communists using one weapon they could not match: the truth. For this, he received three stays in prison, countless interrogations, and constant surveillance,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at the ceremony.
“But he kept on writing, hiding pages of his manuscripts throughout his home. Offered a chance to flee to the West, he’d refuse, saying, ‘I’m simply a Czech bumpkin through and through.’ Treated like a hero wherever he went, he’d beg off, saying, ‘I’m simply a playwright and it’s irrelevant whether I’m a dissident.’ When one of his friends joked that one day he’d lead a revolution and become president, he responded, ‘That would be the worst thing that could happen to me.’”
Boehner mused that one can “imagine what Havel would have said if told his bust would not only stand in the United States Capitol, but go right alongside the likes of Lincoln, Churchill, and Washington.”
He was also a fan of the blues, hence the performance from ZZ Top bandleader Billy Gibbons.
“Today we celebrate the struggle on the part of Havel and so many others in his time. In Poland, an electrician who climbed up on a crate in a shipyard, said to his fellow workers ‘you know me,’ and the Solidarity movement was born. And in East Germany, there was a priest who opened the doors of his 800-year old church every Monday for meetings that started out with no more than a dozen people and turned into the epicenter of a national protest,” Boehner said.
“It takes guts to do these things. Especially when you don’t know how long it will take or how it will end. These men and women proved that the thirst for liberty never dies and that, with drive and sacrifice, it can transform the fortunes of a whole continent.”