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Admirers Press 'Short Trousers' To Honor Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel died in December 2011
Vaclav Havel died in December 2011
With the first anniversary approaching of the death of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, there's a campaign afoot to honor the iconic communist-era dissident with humor and affection.

"On Vaclav Havel Day, 18.12.2012, we ask you to honor his memory by rolling up your trouser legs," reads an English-language announcement on the "Short Trousers for Vaclav Havel" website.

The goal is a "gesture that is humorous, non-violent but significant and perhaps even very Czech like."

Havel, a heavy smoker through decades of persecution for his championing of human rights in the face of communist oppression, died at the age of 75 after a long battle with respiratory ailments.

The "trousers" reference dates back to Havel's inauguration as Czechoslovak president on December 29, 1989, when cameras caught the almost painfully reticent champion of the Velvet Revolution in pants that barely reached his ankles.

Years later, in a 2006 interview, Havel tried to dispel what he called a "national myth" by saying he'd simply adjusted his pants during the ceremony and they hadn't settled in time for the cameras, which had turned on him earlier than scheduled.

"Every man knows that we pull our trousers up from time to time and then it takes some time before they get back into the original position. That's what happened that time at the castle. And because the military parade took place in the fourth minute instead of the fifth, since then it has become a national myth that I had short trousers at the inauguration," Havel explained.

But according to Jan Solc, who worked in the president's office during the 1990s, Havel had a preference for wearing his pants up high that dated back to his time in prison. Solc recalled meeting a tailor who told him a story about Havel's prison days.

"In jail, every time they came for him, they used to yell, 'Havel, make yourself presentable,' and so he used to grab his pants and pull them up like this. He kept doing it the whole time he was locked up," Solc has recounted.

The initiative has been organized by self-proclaimed entrepreneur and technologist Oldrich Neuberger. It has been supported by the Forum 2000 rights and democracy foundation that Havel helped found, as well as by prominent Czech personalities including former politician and activist Jan Ruml, economist Tomas Sedlacek, and "Respekt" editor Erik Tabery.

The "Short Trousers for Vaclav Havel" Facebook page was launched on October 2 and has so far attracted around 2,500 likes.

-- Deana Kjuka

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