Vaclav Havel to have his own library

15-11-2004

The playwright and former president and dissident Vaclav Havel is to have his own library. On Friday the project was presented to the press, and its director Vaclav Bartuska said it was in the American tradition of libraries devoted to the work of former US presidents. Given Vaclav Havel's key role both as a dissident and then as the longest-serving head-of-state in the years after the fall of communism, the library promises to be a mine of information. David Vaughan reports.

Vaclav Havel presented the project of library to the press, photo: CTKVaclav Havel presented the project of library to the press, photo: CTK Vaclav Havel himself was initially rather sceptical about the library project. But friends and fellow former dissidents persuaded him that it would make sense:

"I realized that as I get older and frailer I'm surrounded by boxes of things - from my correspondence with great Czech poets in the 50s, who criticized my early verses, to hand-written drafts for bills and constitutions, and correspondence with foreign statesmen. It's a shame for all this to lie around growing moldy. In a way it's the history of our country over the last 50 years."

At this stage the library is still in a virtual form, but the project is ambitious. Director Vaclav Bartuska.

"It should be, when it's opened in many years' time from now, a research centre as well as a library, archive plus publishing house, and we would like to have a think-tank as well."

What's going to be in the library?

Vaclav BartuskaVaclav Bartuska "Not just Vaclav Havel's writings, but basically writings and archives covering the whole period of communism in Czechoslovakia plus the 15 years later, the time since the revolution of '89."

And what is the aim of bringing all these documents together in one place, and will there be documents that we haven't had the chance to see before?

"I do hope we'll have plenty of documents no-one has seen before. I think our biggest task is to make history understandable to the young generation in this country, because people who grow up now, they have history only until 1945 at school, which is a disaster. We need young people to understand what was going on here."

How is it being financed?

"We had many discussions with Vaclav Havel about money, because the original idea was that since the US interest in the library was so strong, that basically the Americans would build us and buy us a library. I argued viciously against this idea, because if this institution is to live in this country and exist here, it must start from our own money and from our own work."

Although the library doesn't yet exist, the project does already have one achievement to its name. Friday's event was held to launch its first publication, a book that offers an intriguing insight into the tumultuous months of November and December 1989. The book "Praha-Washington-Praha" brings together dispatches sent daily between the US Embassy in Prague and the State Department, monitoring the revolution as it developed. They reveal how the Embassy was taken completely by surprise by the events of 17th November, when tens of thousands took to the streets, but soon came to realize that history was being made.

"They understood in 10 or 11 days that what was going on in Czechoslovakia was a non-violent revolution, a 'quiet' - that was their terminology - a 'quiet revolution'."

That was the book's editor, historian Vilem Precan, who worked untiringly with the National Security Archive in Washington DC to have the documents released.

The Vaclav Havel Library's website is www.vaclavhavel-library.org.

15-11-2004

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