WHY AIRPORT?The christening of a major airport after a distinguished politician or internationally renowned public figure has, over the past fifty years, become one of the most respected methods of commemoration on all continents. The following survey illustrates this tried and trusted phenomenon and demonstrates the representational value of this symbolic act.
In Europe we need look no further than to our neighbours to find the Konrad Adenauer Airport in Köln am Rhein, named after the Federal German Chancellor. Munich Airport is named after the Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss while Bratislava Airport in Slovakia bears the name of politician and aviator Milan Rastislav Štěfáník. In Poland, Cracow Airport was christened John Paul II during the Pope´s lifetime in 1995! Paris´ largest airport was named after President Charles de Gaulle and Athens Airport after Eleftherios Venizélos, who served several terms as Greek Prime Minister during the years 1910-1933. In Southern Europe we can find Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport in Portugal, named after a Portuguese politician. The largest airport in Istanbul was christened after the first Turkish president, Mustaf Kemal Atatürk.
It is not unusual to use a politician´s name shortly after his or her demise: the largest airport in Israel was named after David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, in 1973 – a few weeks after his death. The largest airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, was christened after Benazir Bhutto half a year after her assassination. In 2005 Beirut Airport was named after Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, 4 months after his funeral. Delhi Airport was named after Indira Ghandi. In the case of New York Airport, the decision to commemorate John F. Kennedy was taken a month after his assassination. Another NY airport was named after the city´s former mayor, Fiorello la Guardia. Toronto´s largest airport bears the name of Nobel laureate and politician, Lester B. Pearson.
Other political leaders, including Pope John Paul II, witnessed the christening of airports in their names during their lifetimes: George Bush was alive when Houston Airport was named after him in Texas; in 1998, when Washington Airport was named after president Ronald Reagan, the former president still had another 6 years to live. In 1998 Yassir Arafat presided personally over the christening of Gaza Airport.
This form of commemoration can be found on all continents: Indonesia´s largest airport in Jakarta was named after its first president, Sukarno. Africa´s busiest airport in Johannesburg bears the name of anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo. Sydney, Australia´s largest airport, was named in 1953 after the famous aviator Kingsford-Smith.
In Argentina, the largest airport in Buenos Aires was named after politician Juan Pistarini. Mexico City´s enormous airport bears the name of President Benito Juárez, while the airport in Brasilia, capital city of Brazil, is named after the Brazilian president of Czech descent, Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira.
Some airports bear the names of ancient military commanders – for example, the Mongolian airport in Ulaanbaatar commemorates Genghis Khan while Greece and Macedonia each boasts an airport named after Alexander the Great.
Not every airport has to named after a politician; in fact many have resorted to famous artists and musicians. Liverpool Airport in the UK has been named after the Beatle John Lennon, New Orleans after the jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, Rome´s airport after Leonardo da Vinci, Rimini Airport after Federico Fellini.
In Budapest the no public or expert debate was necessary for the country to name the city´s airport after Franz Liszt. Warsaw´s Chopin Airport was named after the famous pianist. One could go on and on in similar vein, listing tens of personalities whose names now grace significant strips of tarmac around the world.
However, the name of Václav Havel, leader of the Velvet Revolution, inaugural president of the Czech Republic, internationally renowned champion of human rights, politician, playwright and author, stands out amongst the many: few individuals whose names today grace international airports can claim such a broad and varied palette of distinctive attributes.
Just as the countries listed above have all selected the point of entry into their country as the spot to commemorate outstanding individuals so too would it be difficult for us in the Czech Republic to find a location of comparable, endurable significance and with such international impact as Prague International Airport. Any other address would lack this unique quality.
Our ancestors, when faced by a similar task, took a similar decision. After World War I railways symbolised social progress and so they named Prague´s Central Railway Station after the first Czechoslovak president, T. G. Masaryk (in spite of the fact that Masaryk took special pleasure in riding horseback). The aforementioned list demonstrates how people all over the world today consider air travel as our correlative symbol of progress. And they do so in spite of the fact that not all of the personae listed above actually travelled by plane or enjoyed flying.