Playwright Tom Stoppard special guest as Czech PEN Club marks 80th anniversary


The PEN is an international organisation which - as well as providing a social forum for writers - fights for the rights of imprisoned authors and promotes free speech. The Czech branch of PEN has just celebrated its 80th anniversary - in the exact same place where it was established.

Jiri Stransky and the Minister of culture Pavel Dostal, photo: CTKJiri Stransky and the Minister of culture Pavel Dostal, photo: CTK On Tuesday the head of the Czech PEN Club, Jiri Stransky, welcomed guests to the very room in Prague's Café Louvre where the organisation was founded by Karel Capek and other writers on February 15, 1925. He says Capek adapted the ideas of PEN, founded in London four years earlier, to the Czech 'environment'.

"It was a very important date of course - two years after Mussolini appeared with Fascism. And we were always in the very middle of these events. So I think that was really a great gift of Karel Capek to PEN Club."

Mr Stransky says Capek might have later become the president of the international PEN organisation, but for his outspoken stance against Fascism. And fighting for free speech and human rights is a big part of the group's raison d'etre.

"We try to react to everything...wrong. If anything happens that we don't agree with then we announce it. We did it always. We were the first ones against an anti-Semite weekly which appeared here. And so on, and so on."

This is your 80th 'birthday', but what about the Communist years in Czechoslovakia? What was the status of the PEN Club during those four decades?

"The PEN Club, being an international organization, couldn't be destroyed or banned by the Communist regime, because they had no means to do that. But it hibernated (laughs) - I can't think of a better expression for it! It just slept. In '89 [Vaclav] Havel and Ivan Klima and other friends in August - before November '89 - they wrote a letter to London that the Czech PEN is going to live again."

Tom Stoppard, photo: CTKTom Stoppard, photo: CTK One of the special guests at Tuesday's celebrations was the world renowned playwright Tom Stoppard, who is an honorary member of the Czech PEN Club. He was born in Zlin in south Moravia in 1937, but left with his family for England after the War.

"I accepted the invitation from Jiri Stransky immediately and enthusiastically, because any reason to come to Prague is good, I have one or two people I know here. And I feel emotionally attached to Czech matters, not to mention Capek himself and his legacy. So I have lots of reasons for being here, and I'm very pleased I am here."

You mentioned Capek - are there any other Czech authors who you particularly admire?

"Well, there was one sitting three places away from me [at Tuesday's event] - Klima. I read Havel and his contemporaries, like Vaculik. I don't even pronounce their names properly, to my shame."