According to former US President Bill Clinton, today’s world could use more personalities like the first President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel.
In an exclusive interview from New York with Czech Radiožurnál this week, the American ex-president also expressed his views on NATO, the European Union, and the political climate of the 1990s.
At the beginning of the conversation, Clinton spoke about his personal relationship with Václav Havel, which, over time, developed into a mutual friendship.
He also discussed several of his now legendary visits to the Czech capital.
On his first trip to Czechoslovakia:
“I went to the Czech Republic as a young man, it was the first week of 1970 – exactly 24 years before I arrived as an American president! I had a friend at Oxford with whom I played basketball. His parents supported the Prague Spring. The fate of Czechoslovakia has always been interesting to me, and I have always been watching Havel from afar. Right from the beginning, I knew we’d be friends.
On Havel’s first visit to the White House in 1998:
“He was much more relaxed and full of life than most politicians are usually allowed to be. I liked it because he liked music, liked jazz, rock’n’roll…When I invited him to a state dinner at the White House, I asked him who he would like to hear after dinner…and he said, “I want to hear Lou Reed because he helped the Velvet Revolution.” So we got Lou Reed. He broke off his retirement to play. And it was a great performance.”
On his visit to Czech pub U Zlatého Tygra in 1994:
“I liked it! I was a politician who came ‘from below’, here what we call grassroots. I like to go among the people, which was pretty tough when I got the security. So go to the pub with Havel, I liked it very much.”
On playing impromptu sax at the Reduta Club in 1994:
“When I arrived to Prague, Havel took me to the Reduta club. I enjoyed it very much because I wanted to know what it was like to go to a club that is at the same time the center of political activity and which has emotional and intellectual charge. And suddenly, Havel gives me a saxophone made in the Czech Republic…it was a pretty good tool, it had a little heart that was Havel’s logo. Then they asked me to play with the band. Havel played the tambourine. His writing, however, was much better than keeping the rhythm.”
In his closing remarks, Clinton said, “The life that Havel lived and which led him to the President’s chair is what we should try to imitate…he did not want people to be obsessed with following the one ‘right ideology,’ but instead to accept universal values and to follow them. This is even more important today than when Havel was president.”