Leaders from all corners of the world have paid tribute to Vaclav Havel -- dissident, revolutionary, playwright, and the first president of the Czech Republic -- who died on December 18
But from the Kremlin there has been only silence.
Neither President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, nor Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has publicly commented on Havel's death. Medvedev did, however, offer a swift reaction to the passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who died one day earlier but whose death was announced a day later. The Russian president sent his condolences to Pyongyang almost immediately.
As reported by website Czechposition.com
, the Russian Embassy in Prague told the CTK news agency on December 20 that it had sent an official letter of condolence in the name of the "Russian leadership" to Czech President Vaclav Klaus. (UPDATE: It was reported on December 21 that Russia will send Vladimir Lukin, the country's ombudsman, to the funeral on December 23.)
Havel's hatred of communism and symbol as a democratic reformer put him at odds with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he was especially critical of Putin.
But news of Havel's death propelled many ordinary Russians out of their warm apartments and houses and through the cold Moscow streets to the Czech Embassy, where a book of condolence had been set out. Radio station Ekho Moskvy reported that a steady stream of people was still arriving at closing time on December 19.
In the face of the Kremlin's silence, hundreds of Russians have found their own ways to express their feelings. A website has been set up in Havel's memory, havelinmemoriam.ru
, and the text, written in both Czech and Russian, reads:
Vaclav Havel, a man who embodied the strength of personality and talent in the face of totalitarianism...was a rare model of politics in which consistent defense of, and loyalty to, principles and ideals is above all else. Havel will remain forever in our memory as a brave and uncompromising fighter under a totalitarian regime, against which he was able to build honesty and human dignity.
Unfortunately, the president of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev has found it unnecessary to express condolences to the Czech nation. More important for the Kremlin was the death of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il.
We understand that mutual relations between Russia and the Czech Republic were sometimes strained, but that does not apply to relations between our nations....
We share the grief of loss that the Czech Republic is currently experiencing, and we express our deep condolences to the relatives of the Czech nation and of Vaclav Havel.
It ends with several hundred signatures and an invitation to readers to add their own thoughts of sympathy.
Havel wrote his last commentary for "Novaya gazeta," on December 9, about the disputed Russian parliamentary elections days earlier. "There can be no talk of democracy as long as the leaders of the state insult the dignity of citizens, control the judiciary, the mass media and manipulate election results," he wrote.
On December 19, deputy editor Vitaly Yaroshevsky wrote in praise of Havel's unflagging concern for Russian freedom: "The passing of Vaclav Havel is not just a loss for Czechs. It's a loss for us all, because now it will be much harder for us to struggle with the complex circumstances within our country."
-- Heather Maher