Heart for Vaclav Havel, Chicago City Hall

Amb. Michael Zantovsky, the upcoming Director of the Vaclav Havel Library, who will also be joining the VHLF Board of Directors, was one of the dignitaries who unveiled the Heart for Vaclav Havel at Chicago City Hall on June 15, 2015. The dedication was part of Prague Days 2015 in Chicago. In his remarks, Amb. Zantovsky reflected on the meaning of the heart symbol used by Havel.

Ting Shen Ting Shen Ting Shen Ting Shen

The Beating Heart

The association of Vaclav Havel with the heart symbol was well-known, self-admitted, and natural. For most people, it is forever symbolized by his signature, which remained constant for over 25 years; the heart drawn by a red felt pen, and the signature, Vaclav Havel, in green. But his signature was not always so apropos. For many years, until the second half of the 1980’s, Havel accompanied his signature by a drawing of a dog. The shift to a heart coincided with the culmination of his dissident activities (which eventually led to his leadership of the Velvet Revolution and subsequent Presidency) and had a deeper meaning. It is illuminating to ponder the question: what was that meaning?

Used as a symbol, the heart can symbolize many meanings, most of them good but many rather trivial. It would be a mistake, however, to reduce Havel’s heart in his signature to the generic and devalued symbol of love. Daily, we see this symbol attached to pop stars, football teams, soap detergents and even cities – ‘I love New York.’ Sure, what’s there not to love?

Havel’s heart was much sturdier than muscle and capable of great feats of love, but also of courage, persistence, devotion to the truth and humbleness of spirit. As Havel himself memorably told a joint session of the United States Congress in February 1990, “…the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human humbleness and in human responsibility.” Time and again Havel pointed out that the best laid plan, strong policy or design, are of little use unless vouched for by the single-minded commitment and responsibility that are found in one’s own heart.

With all these faculties combined, Havel’s heart is the ultimate tool. The symbol that became his emblem is not a latter day flower power exhortation to love, but an invitation to a single-minded, deliberate effort, to attain our true identity and to fulfill our human destiny, to take action, in the words of a prayer, ‘with all your heart’.

More info on Prague Days 2015 in Chicago: www.mzv.cz/chicago/en