Dagmar Havlova: the purity of the Antarctic

25-02-2004

It is exactly 75 years since the first Czech set foot on the Antarctic. His name was Vaclav Vojtech, and he travelled with an expedition organized by the American Richard Byrd. Vojtech returned a national hero. To this day there is a Czech presence on the White Continent, with a research station on Nelson Island in the South Shetlands; later this year a new Czech polar station is to be shipped to James Ross Island in the same area. One person who has become obsessed with the Antarctic is Dagmar Havlova, the one-time dissident and sister-in-law of the former Czech President Vaclav Havel. She was one of the initiators of the station on Nelson Island, and this year is planning her fifth visit. Here she talks about what draws her back to the Antarctic again and again.

"Most people think of the Antarctic as a white, frozen continent. It's true to a degree, but there are also areas on the edge and mountains, where there isn't snow all the time. In the summer, in some areas, the snow disappears for a short time. These are the areas where most of the polar stations stand.

"What really fascinates me is the purity of the Antarctic. I mean that in many ways. Not just the purity of the air and the environment, but also a certain spiritual purity.

Dagmar Havlova, photo: CTKDagmar Havlova, photo: CTK "First of all, the animals living there don't have many enemies. The food cycle is natural and balanced. And the people also all get on well. Maybe it's because there are no permanent residents. They help each other, because they have to. The whole atmosphere is incredibly pure.

"I think that everyone who visits Antarctica for the first time has to overcome his own fear through some experience or other. You have to come to terms with the fact that there aren't any of the trappings of civilization. At our station we don't even use radio - only in emergencies. If you start thinking about things like - what will happen if I fall ill? - it really gives you food for thought, even though, of course, there are doctors on Antarctica. It changes your priorities. When you're there, suddenly the most important things in life come to the fore: getting on with other people, being positive, avoiding unnecessary risks or false heroism. With the wrong kind of attitude you won't survive."

25-02-2004