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Havel's Giant Heart Brightens Brussels; Kabul Is Next

The 15x17-meter neon heart was lit above the entrance of the Altiero Spinelli building of the European Parliament in Brussels on December 17, the eve of the first anniversary of Vaclav Havel's death.
Officials in Brussels have flipped the switch to illuminate a giant, red neon heart on the facade of the European Parliament to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Vaclav Havel.

It is the artwork's first stop on a journey that is also supposed to take it at least to the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The heart dates back to the end of Havel's second and final term as president of the Czech Republic, when in a farewell gesture to the public and "high politics" it was mounted on Prague Castle, overlooking the city, in December 2002. He described it as a symbol of "love, understanding, and decency."

Havel died on December 18, 2011, at the age of 75, an anniversary that democracy and rights activists and intellectuals around the world are marking this week.

The late playwright and Charter 77 leader famously accompanied his signature with a heart in the decades he played an instrumental role in knocking down one-party rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.

The neon heart had been disassembled and stored in a Prague garage, but will now light up the European Parliament building until the end of January to commemorate the last Czechoslovak president and first Czech president, who helped dissolve the Warsaw Pact and lead his country into NATO and initiated Czech membership of the European Union.

Lucie Cadilova, head of the Representation of Prague to the European Union in Brussels, says the idea was initially to place the heart on the representation's facade. But the European Parliament entered the picture as co-organizer when it became clear that the 15x17-meter construction was too big for the representation's building.

"We thought that since it is the first anniversary of the death of Vaclav Havel, we thought we wanted to bring something big to mark this anniversary, to remember Vaclav Havel," Cadilova says.

It took four days to transport and assemble the 275-kilogram piece, which was created by Jiri David.

The Massoud Foundation hopes to transport the heart to Afghanistan next September to commemorate the death of political and military leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, who is thought to have been assassinated by Al-Qaeda operatives on September 9, 2001. Mas'ud was posthumously awarded the title of "National Hero" by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The head of construction for the heart project, Robert Klemm, says Havel had agreed that the heart would travel to Afghanistan but that only now has it become possible to transport it such a distance.

"Regarding the venue of the installation [in Kabul], we have chosen the Olympic football stadium" -- known also as Ghazi Stadium -- "where even public executions were made even in the 1990s," Klemm says. "Since that time the stadium has symbolized the movement of freedom. It is the place where Taliban executed people until 2001, so the place also serves the purpose of paying tribute to people fighting for freedom."

-- Rikard Jozwiak

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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