Anna Berseneva, writer
It always seemed to me that a biography book should be written in a fun way. I can’t say that now I will completely abandon this belief. Rather, it will be said that the book of the journalist of Radio Liberty Ivan Belyaev, “Vaclav Havel: Life in History” (M.: New Literary Review. 2020) expanded my idea of what fascinates me when reading biographies. It seems to me that the author found the necessary tone in order to tell not about an abstract character, but about Havel.
For another hero, such a narrative manner might not be appropriate. And here, the academic nature in general inherent in the books of the UFO publishing house turned out to be very helpful. This book is not a mirror set by the author in front of himself, but a magnifying glass set by him in front of the reader. And behind this glass - nothing more, nothing specially invented. Only a hero and the world. The personality of Vaclav Havel appears in all its gigantic scale against the backdrop of world events, the witness and doer of which he became.
I think the most difficult choice that the author had to make was the choice of quotes from plays, prose, essays, letters of his hero. Ivan Belyaev coped with this perfectly: the story of the first president of the Czech Republic is not just supplemented by his texts - they are woven into the outline of his life as its main component. And this is not just a narrative trick. As a writer, Havel knew the power of words, and therefore did not allow himself to lie in words, they were his way to the truth.
He wrote an open letter to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in March 1975 - in those very years that, according to Havel, “seem to us to be compared with the motley, rich and productive sixties as worthless - without style, without atmosphere, without expressive spiritual and cultural movements, colorless, boring and hopeless. " The letter explains what was unacceptable for this person in relatively prosperous Czechoslovakia, which did not suffer, unlike the USSR, due to lack of food: “For fear of losing a place, the teacher at school teaches things that he does not believe in; out of fear for his future, the student repeats them; out of fear that he will not be able to continue his studies, the young man enters the Youth Union and, as a member of it, does everything that is required of him; out of fear that a son or daughter, entering the institute, will not gain the required number of points under the existing monstrous political system of ratings, the father agrees to hold various positions and “voluntarily” does what they want from him. The question arises: what, in fact, are people afraid of? Litigation? Torture? Deprivation of property? Deportations? Executions? Of course not: these brutal forms of pressure from the authorities on citizens, fortunately (at least with us), are a thing of the past. Nowadays, such pressure has more refined and refined forms, and although political processes are still being carried out (who does not know what organizes and directs them?), They represent only an extreme measure, but the main emphasis has been transferred to the field of existential pressure. In other words, if, for example, today's man is afraid that he will not be allowed to work in his specialty, this fear can be just as strong and can push him to do the same things as when a person was threatened with confiscation of property in other historical conditions . At the same time, the method of existential pressure is in some ways even more universal, since we do not have a single person who could not be infringed on existentially (in the widest sense of the word); everyone has something to lose, and therefore everyone has a reason for fear. ”
These words remain relevant for any authoritarian society. Like the existential violence method itself, unfortunately.
The life of Vaclav Havel appears in this book in many carefully studied details. And not even from childhood, but also from the history of his family - his father and uncle, who created the "Czech Hollywood", subsequently captured by Hitler. There are also memoirs of the great director Milos Forman, a friend of Havel's childhood. There is a story about the 50s, when a special phenomenon appeared in Prague's cultural life - many small and relatively independent theaters in which young directors and playwrights got the opportunity to experiment, and Havel did not slow down this opportunity by writing his first play in an absurdist spirit.
There is a chapter on the Prague Spring, during which he addressed on the radio with a “Call to All Citizens”: “Treat the presence of foreign troops in the same way you relate, for example, to a natural disaster. Do not conduct negotiations with this force, just as you do not conduct them with the clouds, but resist it and elude it as you resist rain and elude it. Use your wit, your intellect, your imagination - it looks like the enemy is helpless against this weapon, like rain is helpless against an umbrella. If it seems to you that at some point it is more correct to behave like a Gus - behave like a Gus. “On the contrary, will it seem more effective to behave like a Schweik - behave like a Schweik!”
There is a story of his imprisonment. Yes - the election of the president of Czechoslovakia. There is a description of the inauguration, during which everyone drew attention to the short trousers that Havel kept pulling up. “By the way, the tailor who was preparing the president for the inauguration was in prison with Havel,” writes Ivan Belyaev. - And supposedly then I made a promise that he would sew for Havel if he became a famous politician. He explained the incident by the fact that pulling up his pants is one of the prisoner's natural habits: this is the first thing he does when his superiors demand to put himself in order. Havel had to learn to dress like a president for a long time. ”
But he seems to have not even learned things more important for the president — he was born with them.
For some reason, the idea is widespread among the lay people that a person with bureaucratic experience should lead the country. Vaclav Havel is the most vivid rebuttal. He, the writer, managed to implement what made his country a full member of the European community. “His peaceful resistance shocked the foundations of the empire, exposed the void of repressive ideology and proved that moral leadership is stronger than any weapon,” Barack Obama said on Havel’s funeral day. “He played a key role in the velvet revolution that won freedom for his people and inspired entire generations to fight for self-determination and dignity in all corners of the world.” He embodied the hopes of a half of the continent cut off by an iron curtain, and helped free up the stream of history leading to a united and democratic Europe. ”
In the fullness with which the personality of Vaclav Havel appears on the pages, is the virtue of the book of Ivan Belyaev.