- Copertina flessibile: 256 pagine
- Editore: Vintage Books; Reprint edizione (aprile 1991)
- Lingua: Inglese
- ISBN-10: 0679734023
- ISBN-13: 978-0679734024
- Peso di spedizione: 227 g
Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation With Karel Hvizdala (Inglese) Copertina flessibile – apr 1991
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Estratto. © Riproduzione autorizzata. Diritti riservati.
by Paul Wilson
The history of this book has been marked by history itself.
When Karel Hvíďala first proposed the idea of a book-length interview to Václav Havel in 1985, Hvíďala was living in West Germany, Havel in Prague, and neither of them could visit the other. Havel liked the idea because it would give him a chance to reflect on his life as he approached fifty; he accepted. They worked on the book over the next year, communicating by underground mail. According to Hvíďala, the first approach, in which Havel sent written response to the questions, did not satisfy either of them: the answers were too much like essays. So Hvíďala sent Havel a batch of about fifty questions, and between Christmas and the New Year, Havel shut himself in a borrowed flat and came out with eleven hours of recorded answers. Hvíďala transcribed and edited them, then sent the amnuscript back to Havel with some supplementary questions ("for drama," Hvíďala says). Havel prepared a final version with some new material in it, completing it in early June, 1986.
The book was first published in Prague that same summer under Havel's own samizdat imprint, Edice Expedice. In autumn, a Czech emigré publishing venture in England, Rozmluvy, brought it out in the West. In December 1989—with Czechoslovakia's democratic revolution barely a few weeks old—the Melantrich Press in Prague had it published in seven days. It was the first samizdat book to come out legally in the new Czechoslovakia.
Translating this book was one of the most enjoyable tasks I've ever undertaken. Havel had said it would be "recreation" after the hard labor of Letters to Olga, and he was right. I followed his method of composition, translating it first into a tape recorder, and then editing the transcript. I'm not sure it was any faster that way, but I hope the result has something of the quality of Havel's conversation in it.
The Czech title of this book is Dálkový výslech, which means Long-Distance Interrogation. For a long time, this title stood over my translation too; it was awkward but accurate, and something of the irony of the original does seep through. Then somewhere in the higher councils of publishing, doubts were cast upon the title, and the search for a new one began.
My mind acknowledged the need for a different title, but it refused to work on the problem. Then one day Bobbie Bristol phoned from Knopf and said, "How do you feel about disturbing the peace?" I thought she was suggesting another late-night turn through the Lower East Side (such as we'd had on my last New York trip) ending up in Dan Lynch's bar on Second Avenue. No, she was suggesting a title. It was an intriguing idea: "disturbing the peace" was how I once translated the expression výtrnctví, a crime normally rendered as "hooliganism," for which my friend Ivan Jirous (and many others too) had been sent to prison. Jirous later wrote that he liked my translation because it described exactly what he had done: disturbed the artificial "peace" of the totalitarian system. Although Havel was once charged withvýtrnctví,he was never successfully prosecuted for it; nevertheless disturbing the peace was, in a sense, what he had been doing all along: disturbing the emperor's peace of mind. So the title—not without some debate—was chosen and ultimately cleared with Havel.
There may be purists who object to such negotiations, but it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that a book, and especially a translation, is a collective creation. I would like to thank everyone who, knowingly or unknowingly, helped in the completion of this work. I am grateful to Ivan and Dáša Havel, and Olga Havlová for many kindnesses; to Vladimír Hanzel for giving me tie when there was none to give; and to the author himself for patiently dealing with my queries in the middle of a revolution. On this end, my thanks go especially to Marcy Laufer, for her prompt and reliable transcripts; to Bobbie Bristol, for far more than the title; to Edwin C. Cohen, for expressing his admiration of Václav Havel in the most direct way possible: by contributing to the translation fee; and to my wife Helena, for putting up with me while I finished work under the pressure of history. As it turned out, it was a history which this book, in part, helped to unleash.
by Paul Wilson
Toronto, March 1990
In the spring of 1975, outside the Slavia Café, just across the street from the National Theatre in Prague, a friend handed me a well-thumbed sheaf of typewritten pages and told me to pass it on when I was through. In the real-life paranoia of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, our encounter had a touch of conspiracy about it: reading or possessing samizdat—self-published works—was not illegal in itself, but circulating it was, and the two of us had just committed a crime. Our chances of being caught were slim, but still real enough to induce a sense of caution in us and add some salt and pepper to the moment. That evening, at home, I sat down to read in a state of excitement that only the knowledge of doing something illicit can bring.
It was an extraordinary essay, addressed to the Czechoslovak president, Gustav Husák, about the desolate state of the country seven years after the Warsaw Pact armies had crushed the Prague Spring. The author described a society governed by fear—not the cold pit-of-the-stomach terror that Stalin had once spread throughout his empire, but a dull, existential fear that seeped into every crack and crevice of daily life and made one think twice about everything one said and did. This fear was maintained by the Secret Police, "that hideous spider whose invisible web runs right through society," and it reduced human action—and therefore history itself—to false pretense.
The letter was, in fact, a state of the union message, and it contained an unforgettable metaphor: the regime, the author said, was "entropic," a force that was gradually reducing the vital energy, diversity, and unpredictability of Czechoslovak society to a state of dull, inert uniformity. And the letter also contained a remarkable prediction: that sooner or later, this regime would become the victim of its own "lethal principle." "Life cannot be destroyed for good," the author wrote. "A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy crust of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undermining it. It may be a long process, but one day it has to happen: the crust can no longer hold and starts to crack. This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something new and unique. . . . History again demands to be heard."
The letter, dated April 8, 1975, was signed "Václav Havel, Writer."
Havel finished this autobiographical interview with Karel Hvíďala in 1986. As I read it again, in the spring of 1990, I am struck by how the extraordinary events of the last few months—events that have toppled communist regimes from Berlin to Bucharest and that have borne the playwright Václav Havel from the ghetto of dissent to the world stage—have enriched it with new levels of meaning. Havel, for instance, describes in detail the struggle, in the mid-sixties, to keep a small literary magazine, Tvár, alive in the face of pressure from the Communist Party to close it down. In this struggle, Havel discovered what he called "a new model of behavior": when arguing with a center of power, don't get sidetracked into vague ideological debates about who is right or wrong; fight for specific, concrete things, and be prepared to stick to your guns to the end.
On Tuesday morning, November 28, 1989, Havel led a delegation of the Civic Forum to negotiate with the Communist-dominated government. The issue was not a magazine this time, it was the country. Ten days before that, the "velvet revolution" had been set in motion by a student demonstration in Prague; that was followed by a week of massive demonstrations culminating in a general strike on Monday, November 27. Early Tuesday afternoon, following the meeting, the government announced that it had agreed to write the leading role of the Communist Party out of the constitution. We do not know what was said at the meeting, but I don't think we would be far wrong to assume that the discussion stayed very close to the concrete issue of amending the constitution, and that the Civic Forum delegation stuck to their guns. A principle that Havel and his colleagues had learned decades before now stood them in good stead.
The parallels run deeper still. Havel's description of the birth of Charter 77 in 1977 is an almost canny prefiguration of the creation–in radically different circumstances—of the Civic Forum itself. Although for legal reasons it was described as an "initiative" and avoided making overt political proposals, Charter 77 was in fact a political movement in the deepest sense, a coalition of many groups of people from widely different backgrounds, ranging from former party members who still thought of themselves as Marxists to noncommunists who had never had anything to do with the party (except perhaps as its victims), but who all agreed on the fundamental importance of openness, tolerance, and respect for human rights. Havel describes the plurality of the Charter as something historically new for Czechoslovakia, something that would germinate a genuine social tolerance. Regardless of how it turned out, this achievement could not be wiped out of the national memory. "It was a steeping out toward life," he says, "toward a genuine state of thinking about common matters . . . and the cost of doing so was saying goodbye forever to the principle of 'the leading role of the party."
In one sense, the Civic Forum, the creation of which Havel announced on November 19th in the Činoherní Klub in Prague, was Charter 77 writ large. Like the Charter, it was a coalition of all the forces in society (and by 1989 there were many) that had sought nonviolent, nonpartisan solution to the crisis. The Civic Forum's program, called "What We Want" and issued only a week later, was drafted by, among others, Charter signatories; it strongly reflected the discussions that Charter 77 and other civic groups had been carrying on among themselves for the previous thirteen years. Moreover, the Forum's miraculous ability to act quickly, to make rapid decisions, to organize efficiently (despite appearing utterly chaotic), and to communicate effectively was possible largely thanks to the wide network built up over the years in difficult conditions among dissident and quasi-dissident groups. The atmosphere of those chaotic, exhilarating early days of revolution in November and December (so vividly described by Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Review of Books, and reprinted in his new book, The Magic Lantern) is anticipated in miniature by Havel's account of the early days of Charter 77, when his flat, as he said, "began to look suspiciously the way the New York Stock Exchange must have looked during the crash of '29, or like some center of revolution." There was a big difference, though: in 1977, the "hideous spider" was weaving its web tightly around the Chartists: in 1989, the spider had withdrawn, and the nation was beginning the enormous task of disentangling itself.
Disturbing the Peace, though, offers far more than insights into Havel the President, Havel the first among equals in a democracy struggling courageously to be reborn. It is a detailed and complex self-portrait of a man who sees himself both as an ordinary person, with down-to-earth needs and desires and aspirations and humors (he once said that the reason he was never tempted to emigrate was that he was just a Czech bumpkin at heart and he liked it there) and as someone whose destiny is interwoven with the destiny of his country. Havel, the writer by choice who became a politician malgré lui, has literally written himself into his country's history. His power as a writer and his power as a politician come from the same source: his capacity to voice the hopes and fears of people around him. But he sees his role realistically. "Occasionally," he writes, "I have the desire to cry out: 'I'm tired of playing the builder's role, I just want to do what every writer should do, to tell the truth!' . . . Or: 'Take your own risks; I'm not your savior!' But I always bite my tongue before I speak, and remind myself of what Patočka once told me: the real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him."
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This book should be read as an adjunct to the author's other major book along these lines on power to the powerless.
The most gripping and troubling conclusion that I drew from this book is that the United States of America is today much closer to where Czechoslovakia was in 1968 than anyone other than the Chomsky's and Vidal's might be willing to admit. We have both a federal government and a national corporate economy that thrives on elitist secrecy and blatant lies--even our non-profit sector is corrupt, from the Red Cross to United Way to many others. The people, the citizen-voters, truly have lost all power, as well as access to the information that might give them back the power, and this is indeed a black, absurdist-realist situation.
On a more positive note, the author offers up, in the course of a long series of interviews, a number of ideas that are relevant to America today, as well as to any other emerging or re-emergent democracies in the making.
1) Model of behavior. When arguing with the center of power, do not get side-tracked with ideological debates over right or wrong. Focus on very specific concrete things (e.g. term limits, campaign finance reform, neighborhood economics) and stick to your guns.
2) Popular coalitions. Non-violent non-partisan popular coalitions are the core means of taking back the power. They represent a means for bring together groups of people from widely divergent backgrounds, with genuine social tolerance.
3) Informal networks. Even under conditions of repression and censorship, informal networks of dissidents and quasi-dissidents can be effective in sharing information through samizdat publications. [With the Internet, these possibilities explode, although caution must be taken on the fringes since the Internet is easily monitored and the more radical leaders could be declared seditionist "combatants" ineligible for their rights as citizens...speaking of the Soviet Union, of course, not America.]
4) Man versus Machine. Havel reaches his own conclusions founded in Czech literature and his own experience, with respect to the urgency of restoring the kinship and human connections that used to drive politics, economics, and other aspects of organized living. He is at one with Lionel Tiger among many others, with respect to the terribly consequences of the industrial era in terms of de-humanizing decision-making and allowing remote elites to treat individual workers as dispensable cogs in the machine, whose lives matter not a whit.
5) Neighborhoods, Politics "From Below". He joins the authors of the Cultural Creatives (Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson) and of IMAGINE: What America Could be in the 21st Century (Marianne Williamson) in emphasizing the vital role that neighborhoods must play in any democracy. From political self-governance to sustainable economics to low-cost healthy agriculture to cultural cohesion, neighborhoods are the sin qua non of democracy--without active neighborhoods, one can go so far as to say, national democracy is a sham, a false theater, fully equivalent to the centralized, repressive, inefficient totalitarian control states of earlier eras.
6) Small Numbers Can Make a Difference. I was struck by how few were the original dissidents and organizers--in some cases, 20-30 in number, in others 70-80. Earlier studies have suggested that Hitler took power over millions with just 25,000 people. One can only hope that the anti-thesis is true, and that the 50 million cultural creatives can take back the power by getting serious about organizing across neighborhoods and into a national network.
7) Art and theater matter. Even under conditions of severe censorship and control, art and theater can be the manifestation of uncensored life, "life that spits on all ideology and all that lofty word of babble; a life that intrinsically resist(s) all forms of violence, all interpretations, all directives....here stood truth..."
8) Absurdity is a warning. Nihilistic and absurd theater or other works of art are a caution. They "do not offer us consolation or hope (but) merely remind( ) us of how we are living: without hope.
9) Truth can be misappropriated. The author experienced the misappropriation of his words and was both hurt and enlightened, ultimately creating a play about truth, the circumstances in which it is said, and the whom, why, and how of it.
10) Great men doubt themselves. Most touching are the author's many retrospective and current references to his insecurities, to his doubting himself even as he made history and became President of Czechoslovakia.
11) Writers live to tell the truth. This is certainly not true of most American writers who write for money, but it reflects the ideal and merits thought.
12) Change the atmosphere. If you can do nothing else, strive for a moral mobilization and a change in the atmosphere of governance, at any level. We cannot even begin to conceive the magnitude of the positive changes that can occur overnight if the people begin to speak truth among themselves. Work toward a process "in which people's civic backbones (begin) to straighten again."
13) Role of the intellectual. While I the reviewer would churlishly doubt that America has many intellectuals right now, the author's concluding words on the role of the intellectual strike me as very important: "...the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity."
Any person concerned about the corruption and misdirection of their government and their corporate as well as non-profit entities, will be provoked and inspired by this book. It speaks to the future of human life as it might be, were we willing to stand up straight and be counted at citizen-voters, active at every level beginning with our own neighborhoods.
Living in Truth: 22 Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
"Disturbing the Peace". This book is a series of essays by the
dissident Vaclav Havel that were smuggled out of communist
Czechoslovakia and translated by a Havel friend in the West. Vaclav
Havel was a playwright who became a Czech dissident who became leader
of the Velvet revolution (which ousted the communists) and who finally
became president of the republic.
Vaclav Havel was the foremost
dissident under the communist regime. He openly challenged the ruling
government with such essays as "Power to the Powerless" and
"The Soul of Main under Communism". (Actually I forgot the name
of the latter essay. I think "The Soul of Man under Communism"
is an essay written by Oscar Wilde. But Havel did address this theme
in "Disturbing the Peace" and in essays he forwarded to the
One of the most exciting parts of the book is
where Havel describes the dissident communitie's efforts to publish a
Havel essay advocating that the Czech government adhere to the terms
of the Charter 77 human rights accord to which they were a signatory.
The story is spine tingling thriller complete with car chases and
obscure drop points. It reads like a John le Carre novel except it is
After you read "Disturbing to Peace" I also recommend
"The Magic Lanten" by Timothy Garton Ash. This is a first hand
account of the fall of the communism as the democratic revolution
rolled across Czechoslovakia, East German, Hungary, and Romania.
Garton Ash was privy to the inner circle of people who plotted and
executed these bloodless coups. (Bloodless everywhere except, of
course, in Romania.)