Almost 20 years have passed since the first publication of “Disturbing the Peace”, Karel Hvizdala’s transcription of correspondence written with Vaclav Havel from 1985 to 1986. With Havel recently announcing that he has begun work on an autobiography, it is an interesting exercise. See how Havel depicts himself, his work, and his politics before the tumultuous events of the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Much political water has passed under the Charles Bridge in Prague during this time and in his new book Havel will hopefully examine his legacy and impact as the first president of the Czech Republic in some detail. An interesting result of this will be how your views and opinions have changed or solidified since the mid-1980s.
His interview with Hvizdala took place at a time when the USSR was still intact (albeit with the fledgling prospects of ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’) and Czechoslovakia was a highly regulated communist state.
In “Disturbing the Peace”, Havel finds himself at the height of his political dissent and offers an honest and audacious account of his life.
He fondly recalls the time he spent learning to write for the theater and provides excellent insight and advice on writing in general. Considered by many to be one of the great postwar playwrights in Europe, he also delves into his penchant for absurd theater and begins to define how his works differ or contrast with the work of Beckett and Brecht.
Havel is sincere when he talks about his politics, philosophies, and incarceration in the 1970s and 1980s. It must be remembered that this book was published in the West at a time when it was still under threat of further imprisonment and this actually happened a few years later.
Reading “Disturbing the Peace” also highlights one of the main ironies of his public life. He became much more cautious in his political approach once he took office as president. Havel, once a lightning rod for democratic change, faced in 1989 the same realities that most Western democratic leaders face: how to run the economy and build infrastructure while balancing civil rights and other democratic principles.
Havel resigned as president in 2003 and it has been a long time since he championed democratic causes in Cuba, Ukraine and Burma. At least “Disturbing the Peace” is a reminder of what Havel is capable of saying and accomplishing and this type of voice never goes out of style.