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The Rockstar President: Vaclav Havel and The Rolling Stones

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The Rolling Stones and Vaclav Havel

From The Tres Bohemes:
Vaclav Havel was the dissident and Czech writer who had a way with eloquent dissections of Communist rule. Some believed he was the rockstar president with a heart. His way of expressing gave voice to a powerless people under communists and helped to destroy it in revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall.

The New York Times said, “His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the end of more than 40 years of Communist rule and the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single shot fired. He was chosen as post-Communist Czechoslovakia’s first president — a role he insisted was more duty than aspiration — and after the country split in January 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic.”

Even in his own book Life, Keith Richards writes: “At the tail end of the Steel Wheels tour we liberated Prague, or so it felt. One in Stalin’s eye. We played a concert there soon after the evolution that ended the communist regime. Tanks Roll Out, Stones Roll In was the headline. It was a great coup by Vaclav Havel, the politician who had taken Czechoslovakia through a bloodless coup only months earlier, a brilliant move. Tanks were going out and now we’re going to have the Stones. We were glad to be apart of it.”

Richards continues, “Havel is perhaps the only head of state who has made, or would imagine making, a speech about the role that rock music played in political events leading to a revolution in the Eastern Bloc of Europe. He is the one politician I am proud to have met. Lovely guy. He had a huge brass telescope in the palace, once he was president, and it was focused on the prison cell where he did six years. And every day I look through there to try and figure things out.”

“We lit the state palace for him. They couldn’t afford to do it so we asked Patrick Woodroffe, our lighting guru, to relight the huge castle. Patrick set him up, Taj Mahal’d him. We gave Vaclav this little white remote control with a tongue on it. He walked around lighting up the palace, and suddenly statues came alive. He was like a kid, pushing buttons and going, whoa! It’s not often you get to hand with presidents like that and say , Jesus, I like the cat.”
The band would meet Havel again in 1995 when they played the Strahov/Spartakiadni Stadion in Prague on August 5, 1995.