Almost 23 years ago, Vaclav Havel led the people of Czechoslovakia in a revolution that ousted four decades of Soviet communist rule. Early in his life, Vaclav had been a dissident playwright; When the Soviet was rejected in 1989, he became, despite persecution and imprisonment, President of liberated Czechoslovakia, and in 1993 President of the Czech Republic.
Vaclav Havel died a few weeks ago, on Dec. 18.
Vaclev had come from a good family. His grandfather, Vacslav Havel, had held a venerable role as a civic leader in Prague during the the first decade of the 20th century. A notable component of Vacslav’s (with an “s” in the middle) legacy, and the legacy of his family, was a grandiose Prague landmark, called the Lucerna Palace, the construction of which was begun in 1907.
Consider this historical account of what happened to the Havel family’s creatively constructed heritage, before and after a communist government nationalized it in 1949.
From page 37 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:
“Vacslav Havel, Vaclav’s grandfather, built Prague’s Lucerna Palace, an arts and entertainment center that was on a par with that of any great European city. It was his life’s work. He loved Prague and wanted to do something that would promote Prague from an Austro-Hungarian provincial town to a great city…
“…and from time to time, he consulted his wife, Emilie. In his memoirs, Vaclav’s father writes: ‘When his (Vacslav’s) project was finished, he showed my mother his suggestion for the facade on Vodickova Street. As soon as she saw it, she exclaimed that it was like a great big lucerna, or lantern. May father jumped at her remark, saying: That’s a good name for the whole building, Lucerna, It is a Czech word that even a foreigner could pronounce well.’ ”
“During the first stage of development from 1907 to 1908, they built the building on Vodickova Street and its courtyard wing. Grandfather Havel built Lucerna in three stages at his own expense with the help of bonds and mortgages. He and his wife, Emilie, guaranteed the repayment of the loans with all their property as collateral.”
Continuing, from page 38 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:
“The ambitious concept of a single enterprise for entertainment, haute cuisine, and culture was crowned by the construction and inauguration of the Great Hall in 1920. The hall was submerged three stories below ground; above it stood a seven-story building. It was the largest underground concert hall in Prague. For the construction of the hall, Vacslav Havel innovated the use of steel-reinforced concrete for the pillars and ceilings, designed and engineered by Stanislav Bechyne, later a member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The construction was a worldwide rarity.
“…after the war (World War II), the Communists nationalized the Lucerna Palace.”
But 18 years before World War II, When Vacslav had died in 1921, ownership of the Lucerna had passed to his son Vaclav (senior, father of the late President Vaclav), from whose possession it was later taken when the communists took over in 1949. From page 84 of Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:
“According to Vaclav’s father’s memoirs, 1952 was the family’s most difficult year. Mr Havel had to leave the Lucerna. It had not belonged to him for three years, but they had allowed him to work there. He worked well and his employers liked him. The final parting was hard for him, because he was attached to the business by countless emotional ties, by his family tradition, by his whole life.”
Something tells me that this is not the way things should happen. A family was robbed of its legacy by a communist government. The government later allowed the former owner to work as an employee.
If you care to know more about this Lucerna Palace of Prague and the Havel family who built and managed it until it was taken from them, then look it up, or google it. My point here is that there have been times in human history when the hard-earned legacy of an enterprising family was absconded by a redistributive totalitarian government. Among the many forms of injustice in history, this misappropriation is one of them. It happens when a meddlesome State steals property from the so-called bourgoisie (merchant class), or when a statist government, for purposes of leveling income inequality, occupies the assets of “the rich.”
Here in America, we value and constitutionally protect the rights of individual citizens and families to own private property and manage it as they deem necessary. Let’s keep it that way.