“Hrádeček turned into a different Havlov after we weren’t able to go to Havlov anymore. During the most eventful life at Hrádeček, in the seventies, I was working and I didn’t manage to make it there very often, sometimes for a week or two days. It was calm there, it was in the mountains, everyday life was filtered out, even though it was under constant watch by the StB. Once I made a small little hut, which was called a lunokhod [moon rover], because it was on pylons. Pretty interesting people hung around there. The difference between a normal situation, like we have today, is that people wouldn’t announce their plans to visit. Whoever showed up, showed up. It got on my brother’s nerves a bit, like when he was writing and needed to concentrate and then a friend would show up and start talking to him. There was a bit of tension there. One time he even ran off and rented a small hotel room in Český Krumlov so he could write in peace.”
“That day, or morning, they busted in on a lot of people, and Olga, I, and some dissidents got stuck there. Olga and I were there for four days. They searched the place and confiscated absolutely everything. Me, bibliophile that I am, I had a copy of every publication we had put out. They took it all. Later during the interrogation, the interrogator showed how he had been punished, and, annoyed, said: ‘I have to read everything to find out what’s [politically] objectionable in it.’ Then he said: ‘In Bondy there are objectionable things.’ We didn’t have very objectionable things. Of course, they wouldn’t have been published anyway, because they were history books from different perspectives or banned authors.”
“The general opinion was that we were under constant observation, which wasn’t true. We had to get used to not commenting on prickly subjects aloud, regardless of who or where you were. Otherwise, we spoke how we wanted. It was a weird situation. We were most scared of being wiretapped, a microphone in the ceiling, we would always gesture above so it was better to write. But I think that the agent was more dependable source. Certainly, there were some there. He would then pass on only the important stuff, not everything, that happened. A clutter of voices in the middle of a debate is basically impossible to decipher from a recording.”
“Supporting the family was never an issue at our house. Well – maybe at most at the end of the fifties or sixties, when we didn’t have enough means. But the notion of “supporting the family” was really never discussed. Rather we heard about being active, doing something for people, for the city. Today that’s not really much understood, thanks to the influence of the Bolshevik indoctrination, that there are actually people who saw the meaning of life in making something better regardless if they are going to personally benefit from it or not. He [father] taught us that from the time we were little, that whole Lucerna. He took it over in the nineties when Grandpa died. He designed – today they’d say he was a developer, but then you didn’t hear that word, he was simply a builder, the builder of Barrandov. He wanted to put that whole hill into some kind of use, make restaurants there, villas. He worked with other people on it, of course. It was his life.”
“You’re right, that it really depends on people, how they see the matter. I will easily find out when someone behaves toward me in such a way as to openly show that they’re trying to put me in their shadow, but someone else will automatically push me in the shadow, naturally, because of course they are known all around the world. There are different attitudes concerning this. I never felt hurt, I’m not sensitive in this way, I’m not so easily offended, or… I never cared much about being an author, some people are crazily tied to such things.”
“Of course, I noticed some of his certain flaws. But also, his strong suits. I had then and still have the feeling today that it played a role, maybe subconsciously, that he was the author of his theatre plays but not the director. He always missed the possibility of directing people, of being the director directly, and that also manifested in his politics. He enjoyed directing, deciding who with who and where will meet, who was going to be invited from abroad, the Dalai Lama, Gorbachov, the Pope… From the director’s standpoint he had it all thought out. But he was not an expert of political philosophy, which might not have even helped him, which annoyed me sometimes; he was able to see people for their natures but not their expertise. He considered an expert to be whoever he knew that worked on something that he didn’t understand himself. I used to say sometimes: ‘If someone showed up who knew a lot about worms, he would immediately make him the Minister of Worms.”
“I regard it as especially important for the start, for people’s becoming aware, that those Germans who fled from the GDR left behind their Trabants and other cars in streets and abandoned them. To have a car always meant something, it was a sacrament in every family. And they left them there and climbed off somewhere over that wall. I didn’t think… the act of escape, but that those people realize that for some people freedom is more important than a car and that one could get somewhere with them. Maybe that was one of the reasons that that revolution worked out so easily, or why it was able to spread so fast. People were already prepared for it. This was one of the aspects of it.”
“It was Friday [17 November 1989]. Nothing really happened on Saturday. But then strikes started taking place in the theatres and universities and so on. Something was going on, but it wasn’t related to us directly… yeah, and then we went that weekend to the cottage and there we listened to the radio and I heard them saying on the radio: ‘A student was killed.’ I said to myself: well that was the final straw. People would finally have to start moving because it was a question of that student’s parents. So, we got in the car and headed to Prague. On Sunday, my brother arrived from Hrádeček, he didn’t know either, he hadn’t been in Prague on the seventeenth either. I think we got there on Sunday because my brother was living with us then in the apartment, which a group of dissidents had just left after deciding to start something like the Civic Forum. I don’t know where exactly the name Civic Forum came from, but I found out then that that evening there was going to be a meeting at the Činoherní (Theatre) club of all those various independent activities, so I went to the Činoherní Club and saw all those different speeches being given, and it was incredibly alive and suspenseful and at the same time improvised. There are awesome film clips and photographs of all those leading dissidents sitting there on the stage.”
“I know there was general unrest that nothing here had happened for a long time, and it was already high time for something to go bust, as they used to say. On one side you had all those petitions and signature collecting actions, there’d already been so many that one stopped taking them so seriously. But what was important, what worked out… among the signatories you could find people who had been till then uncommonly guarded and suddenly in eighty-nine they decided to simply let down their guards. So, new names appeared, new faces, and then they became dissidents, instant dissidents.”
“They’re supposed let you go automatically after two days, but when you’re accused they have another two days. The accusation means that the case can go to court, this is where the police end with it and trial begins. I was accused for high subversion of the republic and in collaboration with a foreign country, which was some law or another and which carried a sentence of three to ten years. I was kept hanging on in a state of accusation for nearly ten years, or eight or I don’t even remember how many, even though when you’re accused you’re supposed to have only four days before getting a hearing. The point was obviously to keep me in some state of fear. I couldn’t have cared less then, I don’t know why. I just didn’t buy it. When they had already let me go it was clear to me that they wouldn’t be able to squeeze anything else of out of it. I had some worries about the future for a moment at the conclusion. These first two days I was just thinking about what could happen… Ten years, I knew I was accused and that they could lock me up.”
“It was right when I was in America when Normalization began. There were checks. Of course, we got our news from the press or from the Houdeks who followed Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. So, we found out that there was some kind of change going on. But I was still living in that sixty-eight, in that illusion, it was a big mistake from my side. I thought that as soon as people (maybe I’ve already mentioned this to you) started being in solidarity with one another against the common enemy, which was the Russians that had come, they would change and stay changed forever. I told myself: Let there be totalitarianism, let rule whoever wants to, but people are going to be good to each other, they’re going to help each other, and treat each other decently. Yeah, so I show up and there’s deep Normalization. People had changed within a couple of years. It was smart of the Bolsheviks to stretch it out a bit, that it wasn’t overnight, but that they chipped away at those freedoms little by little, and thus there was never really an immediate reason to revolt or whatever. So, it was the end of any solidarity. People withdrew, went off to their cottages, and spent all of their energy building those summer houses or playing around with their car’s engine, and they tried to avoid any sort of civic activity.”
“My father was especially reconciled. He accepted things for how they were, he didn’t protest to make things a certain way. Mom was different, she was ready to fly into a tailspin if called for. Those things had to be really awful because, like… the company was actually… family-run… like his child, and somebody starts taking it away from him. Anyway, since my father was forgiving and reserved, he arranged things with the first national administrator so that he would be able to stay on there as an economist. So, for some time he was employed at Lucerna as an economist. Then after some more time, Lucerna was taken over by district authorities of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, so then that had to stop. But a long time afterwards, all the – and this is maybe what kept his head above the water – all of employees, the then employees, thought highly of him. I know that they used to go lunch together at the Black Horse, in the summer on Barrandov, they showed us every courtesy, gave us every sort of discount, and they always told my father what they’d been up to at work, that they bought a new carpet or whatever; knowing that it would make him happy, as they were actually keeping his business above the water, even in those unlucky times.”
I enjoy learning new things and bridging academic disciplines
Ivan Miloš Havel was born on 11 October 1938 in Prague to the family of the builder Václav M. Havel and the art historian and artist Božena Havlová, née Vavrečková. He and his brother Václav spent their first years in Prague as well as the Havlov farmstead surrounded by an inspiring society of relatives and family friends made up of many academics and intellectuals. For the family, the communist coup of February 1948 brought about a drastic reversal. The Havels lost their family property, and in 1952 during the “Action B” they were temporarily forced to move out of Prague. Ivan M. Havel and his older brother Václav began their studies at the prestigious Kolej Lyceum of Jiří z Poděbrad; in 1950, however, they were kicked out and afterwards they were barred from studying at the lyceum level. Ivan M. Havel learned precision mechanics and ended up studying for lyceum in the evenings. Already as a teenager he was involved with the Thirty-Sixers society, artists and intellectuals with whom Václav Havel met with in the Slavia coffeehouse. After his military service in Humenné, he began studying through his employer the field of automation and computers at the Electro-technical College of the Czech Technical University of Prague (ČVUT).
In 1968, he married for the first time and in the years that followed he went abroad to engage in his doctoral studies at the University of Berkeley in California where he studied metatheories of programming languages. He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1971 during the ongoing Normalization period. He was ousted from his job at the Institute for the Utilization of Computers in Systems because of the political engagement of his brother Václav, but was nevertheless allowed to work till 1980 for the Academy of Science. Starting around the end of the 1970s, he organized apartment seminars on various scientific topics, and starting in 1979 he was the main organizer of the publishing activity of the samizdat edition of Expedice (Expedition), which he took over from Dana Horáková and his brother Václav. In the 1980s, he worked as a programmer for an enterprise of people with disabilities called Meta, which enabled him to work from home and to have a remarkable amount of freedom concerning his time. In 1981, he was detained, along with many other dissidents, because of the uncovering of a network of people contributing to the distribution of literature from the West (the so-called Kamion (Semi-Truck) Action). He was charged with subverting the republic, but ended up never going to court. In 1986 he married the mathematician Dagmar Ilkovičová. After November 1989, he worked in the coordination center of the Civic Forum (OF), with his contribution being mainly concerned with its artistic structure. In 1990, he helped found the Center for Theoretical Study, a shared workplace between Charles University and the Academy of Science, whose mission was the collaboration of various academic fields. Starting in 1990, he worked as the editor-in-chief of the Vesmír (Space) magazine and published many academic articles and essayistic meditations. In 1992, he, along with his brother, was given back in restitution the Lucerna Palace. In 2012, he received the Václav Benda Award for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights, awarded by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. Ivan Miloš Havel died on 25 April 2021.