By AUDREY FISCHER
Czech President Vaclav Havel visited the Library on the eve of the Sept. 18 opening of an exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the independent Czechoslovak state. The opening of the exhibition marked the beginning of "the month of the Czech Republic" in Washington.
"Every month should be the month of the Czech Republic," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was on hand for the festivities, organized jointly by the Library of Congress and the Embassy of the Czech Republic. As a Czech-American, Ms. Albright thanked "dissident and dreamer" Mr. Havel for restoring a sense of pride in her homeland. Mr. Havel, who played a central role in the 1989 "Velvet Revolution" against communist rule and was periodically imprisoned, was elected earlier this year to his second five-year term as Czech president.
"Ten years ago, I was an enemy of my state and an abandoned playwright," said Mr. Havel in summing up the remarkable series of events in his country during the past decade. "I never dreamt I would be president at the time of the 80th anniversary of the Czech Republic."
Mr. Havel also could not have imagined that in 1991 he would receive the original 1918 Czechoslovakia Declaration of Independence in the hand of Thomas Masaryk (first president of Czechoslovakia, 1918-1935) as a gift from the Library of Congress to the Czech Republic.
"Masaryk looked especially to our own Declaration of Independence and to Thomas Jefferson for guidance," said Dr. Billington. "It is therefore especially appropriate that we mark these events in the newly restored Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress -- a library that was built around Thomas Jefferson's personal library."
Many of the items featured in the exhibition are from the hand of President Woodrow Wilson and his secretary of state, Robert Lansing, both of whom were strong supporters of the new state. "These items document the link that America has had with the struggle for independence of the Czech and Slovak peoples," said Dr. Billington.
Alexandr Vondra, Czech ambassador to the United States, also underscored the appropriateness of commemorating this event at "this outstanding institution," and he thanked the Librarian and the United States for recognizing the significance of the 80th anniversary.
An important part of the evening was a "Presentation of Orders" by President Havel honoring "those men and women who have kept alive those ideals which underlay a free Czechoslovakia." Honorees included Gen. John M.D. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; George Kovtun, the Library's Czech and Slovak area specialist and curator of the current exhibition; and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
"I am honored to receive this award from the hands of Havel," said Brzezinski. "He is a relevant teacher who reminds us that selfish freedom is an oxymoron. Freedom must be for everyone. Modernity without morality is not a democracy, but decay."
During his visit, President Havel enriched the collections of the Library with a gift of recordings featuring four of his plays, read in his own voice while still a dissident. He also autographed a few of the 101 books by or about him that are in the Library's collections.
"The Birth of Czechoslovakia: October 18" will be on view in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building Sept. 18 through Dec. 26. A seminar on the legacy of Thomas Masaryk will be held at the Library on Oct. 8.
Ms. Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.