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Tuesday, November 18, 1997 Published at 15:08 GMT


Prague's most famous cafe re-opens with Havel's blessing

President Havel - the re-opening represents one more piece of the "natural structure" falling into place

Cafe Slavia, the foremost watering hole of Czech intellectuals, has reopened with a glittering ceremony.

The cafe, whose fame stretched from the 1930s into the communist era, had been closed since 1992 due to a complex legal dispute - much to the irritation of the Czech intellectual elite, including President Vaclav Havel.

The ceremonial reopening, coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the "Velvet Revolution" which ended Czech communist rule, summed up what is special about the Cafe Slavia. It is hard to imagine where else government ministers would be seen mingling with tattoo covered anarchists, or where managers of financial institutions would have a chat with cloth-capped jazz musicians.

President Havel emphasised this unique quality in a message sent to the assembled guests, saying the re-opening of the Cafe Slavia was a victory of "reason over stupidity". The President was unable to attend the opening in person as he is currently ill in hospital were he is receiving treatment for pneumonia.

The Czech President was a regular at the Slavia in the 1960's during his days as a young dissident playwright and he said it's re-establishment was a step towards renewing the natural structure of Czech spiritual life, stressing the cafe's role as a meeting place for various artistic streams and currents of opinion.

Mr Havel also said he looked forward to coming in, sitting down in a quiet corner and gathering his thoughts.

Some people at the grand re-opening asked whether the Slavia really could recover its position as the watering hole of choice for Prague's intellectuals. But its new owners have done their best to recapture the atmosphere of the 1930's, the period of its hey-day, and have also pledged to keep prices down so the place doesn't become a mere tourist trap.

And Mr Havel also had a message for anyone with similar worries - the Slavia need not degenerate into another seedy Prague bar frequented by dubious Mafia types - if you come here he said, they will not.

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