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Czech president and playwright Vaclav Havel will not speak at this year's Commencement Exercises, declining the Harvard invitation because the speech would have fallen just one day before his country's first free elections since World War II.
Despite early optimism that the Czech leader would accept the Commencement offer and the honorary degree that traditionally accompanies it, an embassy spokesperson said yesterday Havel will not be able to travel to the U.S. in early June because the crucial elections are scheduled for June 8.
"It seems to me that [Havel] must make a choice because of the dating of the two, even despite the charm of a Harvard Commencement," said Professor of History Charles S. Maier '60.
Harvard's offer to Havel was made public in early February, when the Czech elections were only tentatively scheduled for the June 8 date. Now that the noted playwright has declined the offer, speculation is once again mounting about the identity of the Harvard Commencement speaker.
The University's governing boards select the speaker--a process traditionally shrouded in secrecy. Members of the boards would not comment on who would replace Havel as the speaker, but an announcement is expected soon.
Recent Commencement speakers include Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir "Pinkie" Bhutto '73. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez and Spanish King Juan Carlos.
Havel, a dissident intellectual of Prague Spring fame, had long denounced Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. He was elected president in December by a unanimous vote of the parliament. He has since said he will only serve as interim president until the parliamentary elections, but many believe he may decide to remain active on the Czech political scene.
Grzegorz Ekiert, a Cabot House tutor and research assistant in the Center for European Studies, said yesterday that "it is no wonder that it's absolutely necessary for Havel to be there for the elections" because of Czechoslovakia's tense political situation.
While the Communists are expected to receive only 5 to 10 percent of the vote, the election--in whichnearly 60 parties will compete--is seen as acentral test of the new, non-Communist governmentin Czechoslovakia. Havel and the members of theopposition who are currently in power were notelected, and therefore need these initialdemocratic elections, the first in more than 40years.
"It's a very special situation," said Ekiert,who emigrated from Poland in 1984. "The realdemocratic mandate would only come from theseelections."
Adams House Associate Master Jana M. Kiely, whoemigrated from Czechoslovakia some 30 years ago,said she was disappointed that Havel cannot speakat Harvard, but said she hopes he will be invitedagain in the future.
Kiely has worked for several years to haveHavel invited for Commencement. Last year, shehelped organize a petition of Harvardadministrators, professors and affiliates thathelped the dissident obtain his release from jail.
"I am upset he's not coming, but I understandperfectly why," Kiely said. "I have hopes for thedevelopment of the country, and perhaps in thefuture a speech by Havel would be of even moreinterest."
In 1988, Havel was asked to speak atCommencement but did not receive the invitation intime to accept
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