Unknown diaries by playwright and dissident Václav Havel, kept when he was jailed by the Communist regime in 1977 will be published later this year by the Václav Havel Library on the occasion of what would have been the late Czech president’s 80th birthday. The recently discovered entries were written over a period of several months following the release of the Charter 77 manifesto in January 1977. I asked Michael Žantovský, the head of Václav Havel Library, to tell me more about their origin:
“The entries were written between January and July 1977 when the Charter 77 human rights initiative was launched and spearheaded by Václav Havel as spokesman and 14 days later he ended up in detention and then pre-trial custody where he spent the next four month.
And he started making notes into a very ordinary scheduling diary which existed at the time and this disappeared after he was released in subsequent years and was only discovered in the garage of a close friend of his by the grandson of the friend, when his grandfather died and he was clearing up his papers.”
So nobody actually knew about the existence of these diaries until they were discovered…
“No, because Václav Havel never mentioned the existence of the diary and it is not a coherent diary as some others are. It is a very fragmentary piece of record in which he just dropped notes and recorded some of the events and some of the interrogations as they happened.”
Would you say that the texts shed some new light on this period of Havel’s life?
“Well, we have had other evidence of this period of Havel’s life from his personal recollections from some of his books, from the police documents and trial documents, so there is nothing radically knew there. But it certainly helps us to understand his mind-set and his mood at the time and the pressures he was under during the period of interrogation. So yes, it adds to the plasticity and depth of our understanding of Václav Havel.”
As you said, the texts are quite fragmentary. Will you publish them exactly as they were written or will you put them in broader context?
“We spent a lot of time thinking about this and in the end we decided not to retype the diaries. We are going to publish them in their entirety as facsimile because they also make a very interesting graphic document. We will also add to them a set of five essays on various aspects of the diaries by Havel experts and associates so that we can bring the context to the reader.”
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