history, The Burning Archive Podcast

Podcast #19 – Vaclav Havel’s Letter to a Locked Down World

The latest episode of The Burning Archive Podcast is out 

 and available on all the usual platforms, including AppleSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Vaclav Havel was a Czech writer and dissident who later became, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the President of his country. This episode of The Burning Archive podcast explores how his writing, ideas and the model of his way of living in truth remains meaningful to us today. This episode sets out the main events of Havel’s life and the ideas of his political essays. It looks in depth at the “Letter to Gustav Husak” (1975), and its uncanny evocation of aspects of our lives today in a locked down world.

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Credits and material referred to during the show:

  • Vaclav Havel, “Letter to Gustav Husak” (1975) in Vaclav Havel – Living in Truth (1986)
  • The interview with Havel is from the documentary the Lost World of Communism and is worth watching on YouTube, there is a film of the police following him while he walks his dog
  • You can watch Havel’s New Year’s Address to the nation in 1990, days or weeks after he became President, here with English sub-titles.
  • George Negus from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation does a rather cheesy interview with Havel during the early years of his presidency that is available on YouTube
  • The wonderful Kimiko Ishizaka and the Open Goldberg project, for the public domain recording of the Aria from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations
  • Ezra Pound reading from Canto 81.

Havel’s 1990 New Year’s speech to the nation can be read here. The paragraph from this speech that I used in part – making politics the art of the impossible – in a well-received speech by Terry Moran, then head of the Victorian Premier’s Department was:

Masaryk based his politics on morality. Let us try, in a new time and in a new way, to restore this concept of politics. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics should be an expression of a desire to contribute to the happiness of the community rather than of a need to cheat or rape the community. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics can be not simply the art of the possible, especially if this means the art of speculation, calculation, intrigue, secret deals and pragmatic maneuvering, but that it can also be the art of the impossible, that is, the art of improving ourselves and the world.

Vaclav Havel, 1990 New Year’s speech to the Nation

Tomáš Masaryk was the first, foundation President of Czechoslovakia and was both politician and philosopher. For Havel to invoke him was somewhat like Americans invoking George Washington. Some other posts related to Vaclav Havel are:

The image for this post is from Vaclav Havel Square, next to the National Theatre in Prague.

I hope you enjoy my podcast and this blog. Let me know what you think about what it means for the history of our times – with comments here, via theburningarchive@gmail.com, or on twitter @ArchiveBurning.

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