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Why radio works: A hero of his time – “To the Castle and Back” By Vaclav Havel May 7, 2007

Posted by William Spear in >> News, >> Out Basket, >> Radio Drama.

The following is excerpted from the 3 May 2007 print edition of The Economist.

“Before becoming his country’s first post-Communist president, Vaclav Havel wrote absurdist plays and prison letters about speaking the truth to those in power. An intellectual with a near-liturgical respect for words, he distrusts mass-media patness almost as keenly as he hated Communist doublespeak. A writer with his ear and his ironic humour was never going to spoon-feed readers with a smoothly blended fairy tale.

“Instead Mr Havel has tossed together official chronicle, satire, score-settling, self-lacerating apologia and wise thoughts on statecraft with merry disregard for timelines or tidy exposition. Out of the apparent chaos, a pattern emerges. By the end you will have a remarkable feel for Mr Havel’s intricate personality—spiky, shy and under-confident but inwardly tough—as well as a compelling record of what candour and moral authority can, when the times are right, achieve in politics.

“In the mid-1980s, after four years of hard labour in prison for human-rights campaigning, his moral credit was high but his life was a shambles. A physical collapse almost killed him. His marriage was shaky and he nearly drowned by falling drunk into a pond after a party. He was never at university, knew no economics and had no experience of government. His limited acquaintance with business was through his father’s and uncle’s large holdings of property in Prague, which were expropriated when young Vaclav was 12.

“Anyone regarding Mr Havel as too idealistic or too Bohemian for grubby politics soon learned otherwise. . . . The “snide brigade”, as he calls his critics in the press, complained about his appointment at the time. But he defends his first prime minister, Marian Calfa, a young Communist lawyer from Slovakia, for teaching “the new government how to govern”. He is cooler about Vaclav Klaus, who oversaw privatisation as finance minister, was prime minister from 1992 to 1997 and is now president. The two never got on. . . . Mr Klaus is a bumptious free-market populist with nationalist inclinations who scoffed openly at Mr Havel’s sermons on civic responsibility and once called him the most elitist person he had ever met. Here Mr Havel evens the score with several courteous but deadly thrusts of his own. Mr Klaus’s time as prime minister ended in a party-financing scandal in 1997.

“Mr Havel’s answers cover many other points in his presidency: the separation from Slovakia in 1992, an anti-Communist purge law, the restitution of property and the corruption that came with privatisation. The detail will interest mainly central European specialists. But perhaps because Mr Havel never took a higher degree in law, economics or international relations, a few sentences of his shed more light on such topics than dozens of expert reports. His description of the Havel family quarrel over their restored pre-1948 properties is telling and, he suggests, not untypical.

“. . . His whole career, like this book, can be taken as a plea for individuality, for not going with the crowd. Mr Havel is sage enough to know that not everyone wants to stand out. Still, his lesson is a good one, and at times even funny.”

Might there be a lesson in there for the world of radio drama? (Not the part about nearly drowning in a pond after a party.) Radio drama supports a vast range of styles and stories and writers and producers have an open landscape to find and craft individualized voices. All styles and all stories deserve an opportunity to find an audience.

Anybody know where a copy of “Andel strázý” might be downloaded?

To the Castle and Back.
By Vaclav Havel. Translated by Paul Wilson.
Knopf; 400 pages; $27.95

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