Havel Library to open in 2013

Václav Havel says his presidential library should be an ‘epicenter of spiritual, social and literary life in Prague’ rather than a memorial

Václav Havel speaking at an event hosted by Forum 2000, of which he is a co-founder foto: © Ondřej Sláma, wikimedia commonsČeská pozice

Ricardo Bofill and Marek Tichý, the architects preparing the reconstruction Loretánské square palace that is to house the Václav Havel Library, have said the works could be completed in two years. Havel, 74, told reporters that the library should serve not to build his personal memorial but to create “an epicenter of spiritual, social and literary life in Prague.”

The Vaclav Havel Library, located in Prague’s Hradčany district, was established in 2007 to collect Havel’s works from various stages of his life – dissident, playwright and as the last president of the former Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic. Billionaire Zdeněk Bakala is funding the project, which was inspired by presidential libraries in the United States. ‘The documents should not serve to a certain adoration of my personality but as documents of the past decades.’

Havel said that library visitors might be interested, for instance, in his correspondence with Czech poets Vladimír Holan (1905-1980) and Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986), winner of the Nobel Literature Prize in 1984. “I again stress that the documents should not serve to a certain adoration of my personality but as documents of the past decades,” Havel said, as cited by news agency ČTK.

Bakala told reporters Tuesday that the Havel library would lease one-third of the reconstructed building. The other parts may house Havel’s office as well as offices of some NGOs, he added. Bakala immigrated to the United States in the 1980s; following the Velvet Revolution and collapse of the communist regime in 1989, he returned to his native country and headed the Czech and Slovak branches of Credit Suisse First Boston.

“The Czechs can be quite cynical about their leaders, and their cynicism is oftentimes exploited in day-to-day politics because it facilitates the sort of mud-slinging that pervades Czech politics,” Bakala told Forbes magazine in a Feb. 2 interview. “The Library will attempt to portray President Havel and his time in a factual manner, free of the politically charged interpretations and reinterpretations of his deeds and thoughts that we witness today.”

As a legal entity, the Václav Havel Library was established and registered as a non-governmental, non-profit making organization in July 2004. Its stated mission is to preserve the works and legacy of Václav Havel by placing them in their proper historical context and by highlighting the enduring vitality of the ideas and ideals his life story embodies.

“Inspired, in part, by the American model of presidential libraries, the Václav Havel Library aims to house Havel’s works and papers, to document the complex battle for democracy and freedom in the second half of the 20th century, and to stimulate discussion, research, publications and education about the ongoing struggle for human rights and the challenges of post communist political and civic engagement,” according to the organization’s website.

The library’s director is Martin C. Putna, a literary historian specializing in the relation between culture and religion. He studied philology and theology and has been teaching at Charles University since 1992. He has been a docent of comparative literature since 1998.