The Havel tartan, by the Liberation Kilt Co., whose slogan is ‘Dress to protest!’
Václav Havel, the dissident Czech playwright and Velvet Revolution figurehead who continued to fight for human rights causes around the globe long after stepping down as president, has been honored with his own official tartan.
“We are delighted to inform you that the Havel tartan … was registered in the official Scottish Register of Tartans and portrays an endless succession of prison cell windows struck through in red, protesting the persecution and imprisonment of writers of conscience in the knowledge that free expression is an essential component of every healthy society,” the Dagmar and Václav Havel VIZE 97 Foundation said in a statement on its website.
The Havel pattern was officially registered in late May after Havel’s widow, Dagmar Havlová, who now leads the foundation, gave her consent to a petition by Liberation Kilt Co., a US-based “experiment” founded by Giles Jackson, a British professor on sabbatical whose “real passion is social enterprise.”
Tartan, a pattern consisting of crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors, although now mainly associated with Scotland, is a tribal mark of ancient Celtic origin which, as Liberation Kilt Co. notes, became such a symbol of subversion that in 1746 the English authorities imposed a 35-year ban, imprisoning offenders or enslaving them on His Majesty’s plantations across the seas. ‘Inspired by the sense of rebellion, our exclusive range of tartans captures the hopes and fears of the protest movements campaigning for a more just, verdant and peaceful world.’
“Inspired by the sense of rebellion, our exclusive range of tartans captures the hopes and fears of the protest movements campaigning for a more just, verdant and peaceful world,” the company says on its website. “While we endorse legitimate protest, which is central to any democracy, we reject the use of intimidation, violence and other tactics that subvert it.”
Jackson, who has a background in business, sustainable development and social entrepreneurship, has taught in Europe, Australia and the US. He feels inspired by Havel’s call for writers and intellectuals to get more directly involved in issues of the day.
“Part of what I wanted to do was to act on Václav Havel’s urging to sort of break out and move beyond writing — at a 1994 Prague World Congress of PEN International he urged members to overcome their natural aversion to political engagement and find new ways to shape human perceptions and open people’s eyes, in a spirit of solidarity,” he told Czech Position in a phone interview.
In 1994, then President Havel, addressed the Congress saying: “Let us admit that most of us writers feel an essential aversion to politics. By taking such a position, however, we accept the perverted principle of specialization, according to which some are paid to write about the horrors of the world and human responsibility and others to deal with those horrors and bear the human responsibility for them.”
“I think that resonated with me. I felt that it was important these days for academics to engage more with the world around them and come out of the Ivory Tower,” said Jackson, who has Scottish blood on his mother’s side, and whose grandfather on special occaisions wore the Thomson family tartan.
Václav Havel (right) and Jiří Stránský, former Czech PEN President, at the 1994 congress in Prague
A percentage of Liberation Kilt Co.’s profits go to non-profits such as Amandla Awethu Africa, its partner in the (ONE) project, a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. But it is early days, and Jackson says he is still largely exploring ways for the tartans to generate revenue for the causes he supports.
“One idea that I proposed to PEN yesterday is potentially create a scarf that would have the Havel tartan on one side, made of wool woven in Scotland, and then on the other side a list of writers who have been persecuted, printed on silk. It would be a way of recognizing these individuals, and then money from the sale of the scarves could go to help fund some of PEN’s operations.”
Among the other tartans registered by the Liberation Kilt Co. are:
The Tahrir — Symbolizes the transition from despotism to democracy in the Arab world, sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the oppressed Tunisian street trader.
The Liberty Sqaure — Represents the golden rule of contemporary capitalism: 'Those with the Gold make the Rules'. Liberty Square is the Occupiers' nickname for Zuccotti Park, NYC.
The Keeling — Symbolizes an urgently needed shift in the energy basis of civilization. Named in honor of the scientist whose research alerted the world to manmade climate change.
The Agua — Symbolizes the crucial importance of water to human development and wellbeing. Named in honor of the guerreros del agua (water warriors) of Cochabamba.
Writer, dissident, statesman, humanitarian
Václav Havel, who died on Dec. 18, 2011, was one of the most visible opponents of the former Czechoslovak communist regime — and imprisoned several times for speaking out against it. He was considered the father of the Charter 77 (Charta 77) civic movement that criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of the country’s Constitution, and a number of international treaties to which it was a signatory — including United Nations covenants on political, civil, economic, and cultural rights.
He was also the leader of the Velvet Revolution that helped to topple the regime at the end of 1989 and became president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92). Later, he was named the first head of state of the independent Czech Republic (1993–2003) after its split with Slovakia (which he opposed).
During his time at Prague Castle, the country joined NATO and began negotiations for membership in the European Union, which was attained in May 2004. Havel said he felt his most important accomplishment as president was the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.After leaving office, he remained an outspoken advocate for human rights and democracy in places like Cuba, Belarus and Russia.
Among his many honors, the human rights campaginer — whose motto was “Truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred” — received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the International Gandhi Peace Prize, and Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for his work in promoting human rights. Havel was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was awarded multiple honorary doctorates from universities around the world.