“Absolutely marvellous” lost Havel text set for release on 40th anniversary of Charter 77

Source: Radio Praha / www.radio.cz / By Ian Willoughby /

Part of a 100-page personal report on the Charter 77 period written by Václav Havel is set for publication on Friday as part of events marking the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Charter 77 protest document. After being lost for many decades, the valuable text was recently discovered in the papers of another leading Chartist and friend of Havel’s, the late Zdeněk Urbánek. Michael Žantovský is the director of the Václav Havel Library, which is issuing the facsimile of “The Case of Charter 77: The First Assault”. He told us all about it.

“In the book known in the West as Disturbing the Peace, which was published in 1985, Havel wrote; ‘I wrote a report of about 100 pages about the beginnings of the Charter 77, my arrest and first incarceration. I put it somewhere and I have no clue where it is. Maybe I will find it again one day.’ “It was found about a month ago.”

What does the text tell us about Havel’s state of mind at the time of the Charter? Was he excited, worried, both?

“He was quite high-strung at that time. He and his colleagues all realised that this was a serious thing that they were undertaking. They fully expected to get into trouble – and they did. “Much of the report is about Havel’s inner thinking in the days between his first detainment on 6 January and his eventual arrest on 14 January. “He half feared what was coming, he saw it was inevitable that he would be arrested, and was half looking forward to it. “He repeatedly says, ‘I cannot stand this uncertainty. I want some closure.’ It took eight days before he got his closure of sorts.”

A hundred pages is a lot. What exactly is in the text?

“We do not have the 100 pages. We have about half of it, about 50. We are very optimistic about finding the second half. “Because he was a very meticulous writer, Havel actually divided the text into chapters. What I believe we have is the first full half. It ends with his arrest and his being put into pre-trial custody. “The second part, which we don’t have, is apparently about the time he spent in his cell and his thinking during those next four months before he was released.”

What about the quality of the writing? Was it meant to be published or read by anybody else than him?

“We have no idea. Apparently, he felt compelled to write something. “But still it’s safe to say that the quality of the writing is exceptional. “It’s a very funny text. He describes the behaviour of his interrogators: what he saw of their psychology, what he could surmise of their intentions. “At the same time, he describes his own inner thinking. And the result is absolutely marvellous.“Regardless of its importance as a historical document, I think it’s a great story.”

The book is being launched at a gathering at the villa where Zdeněk Urbánek lived in Prague 6. Why there?

“Because that’s where the Charter embarked on its journey from, 40 years ago on Friday at noon. It will be exactly 40 years – the same place, the same house.
“There’s a plaque today on the house commemorating Urbánek and the Charter.
“We thought it would be appropriate and fitting to start the commemoration there.”