Overview: ‘Disturbing the Peace ‘ by Vaclav Havel

Between 1985 and 1986, Karel Hvizdala conducted a book length series of interviews with playright and reluctant human rights activist Vaclav Havel, via underground mail. At the time Havel was living in Prague, Czechoslovakia which was still under communist rule; Hvizdala was corresponding with him from West Germany. The book that came from these questions was first published in Czechoslovakia in summer of 1986. Later it would be translated by Paul Wilson and published in the West in 1990 just as Czechoslovakia’s democratic revolution was underway.

I thoroughly enjoyed Havel’s candor and modesty, even if it was only evident on the printed page. He describes his parents and grandparents as enterprising men born to create. Despite an admittedly privileged upbringing, in his childhood Havel says he “felt alone, inferior, lost, ridiculed, ” emotions I’m all too familiar with. Perhaps those feelings are the bane of every writer’s existence. He also touches on the depersonalization of modern society, of losing touch with our fellow man and losing a connection with the work we do, whether it’s in a communist or capitalist state.

He remains hopeful in the power of the masses, which had to be a hard thing as he’d been imprisoned three times for his activities, which would probably not raise half a fuss in our country, even today. “All power is power over someone, and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behavior of those it rules over. One can always find in the behavior of power a reflection of what is going on “below “. No one can govern in a vacuum. ” That gives me some hope too, and believe me we could all use some of that right now.

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