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Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala Paperback – April 3, 1991
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From Publishers Weekly
Havel discusses his transformation from absurdist playwright to activist to president of Czechoslovakia in interviews conducted during 1985 and 1986 by exiled journalist Hvizdala. "Mingling autobiography with discussions of politics, literature and theater, his ruminations add up to a disarming and involving self-portrait," said PW .
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In 1986, as his 50th birthday approached, then-dissident Czech playwright Havel submitted to a mail interview with exiled Czech journalist Hvizdala. The essays written as answers for that interview, here translated into English, range over all aspects of a varied life: Havel's childhood in a bourgeois family in Prague during the 1930s, as well as his unusual education--adolescent intellectual circles in the 1950s, experimental theater, and Charter 77 activities. A complex portrait emerges of a man long involved with his community and his state because he considers such involvement a moral imperative. With Havel as president of a newly organized Czechoslovakia since December 1989, expect interest in this title. Highly recommended for all libraries. Previewed as Long Distance Interrogation , Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/90.
- Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book should be read as an adjunct to the author's other major book along these lines on power to the powerless.
The most gripping and troubling conclusion that I drew from this book is that the United States of America is today much closer to where Czechoslovakia was in 1968 than anyone other than the Chomsky's and Vidal's might be willing to admit. We have both a federal government and a national corporate economy that thrives on elitist secrecy and blatant lies--even our non-profit sector is corrupt, from the Red Cross to United Way to many others. The people, the citizen-voters, truly have lost all power, as well as access to the information that might give them back the power, and this is indeed a black, absurdist-realist situation.
On a more positive note, the author offers up, in the course of a long series of interviews, a number of ideas that are relevant to America today, as well as to any other emerging or re-emergent democracies in the making.
1) Model of behavior. When arguing with the center of power, do not get side-tracked with ideological debates over right or wrong. Focus on very specific concrete things (e.g. term limits, campaign finance reform, neighborhood economics) and stick to your guns.
2) Popular coalitions. Non-violent non-partisan popular coalitions are the core means of taking back the power. They represent a means for bring together groups of people from widely divergent backgrounds, with genuine social tolerance.
3) Informal networks. Even under conditions of repression and censorship, informal networks of dissidents and quasi-dissidents can be effective in sharing information through samizdat publications. [With the Internet, these possibilities explode, although caution must be taken on the fringes since the Internet is easily monitored and the more radical leaders could be declared seditionist "combatants" ineligible for their rights as citizens...speaking of the Soviet Union, of course, not America.]
4) Man versus Machine. Havel reaches his own conclusions founded in Czech literature and his own experience, with respect to the urgency of restoring the kinship and human connections that used to drive politics, economics, and other aspects of organized living. He is at one with Lionel Tiger among many others, with respect to the terribly consequences of the industrial era in terms of de-humanizing decision-making and allowing remote elites to treat individual workers as dispensable cogs in the machine, whose lives matter not a whit.
5) Neighborhoods, Politics "From Below". He joins the authors of the Cultural Creatives (Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson) and of IMAGINE: What America Could be in the 21st Century (Marianne Williamson) in emphasizing the vital role that neighborhoods must play in any democracy. From political self-governance to sustainable economics to low-cost healthy agriculture to cultural cohesion, neighborhoods are the sin qua non of democracy--without active neighborhoods, one can go so far as to say, national democracy is a sham, a false theater, fully equivalent to the centralized, repressive, inefficient totalitarian control states of earlier eras.
6) Small Numbers Can Make a Difference. I was struck by how few were the original dissidents and organizers--in some cases, 20-30 in number, in others 70-80. Earlier studies have suggested that Hitler took power over millions with just 25,000 people. One can only hope that the anti-thesis is true, and that the 50 million cultural creatives can take back the power by getting serious about organizing across neighborhoods and into a national network.
7) Art and theater matter. Even under conditions of severe censorship and control, art and theater can be the manifestation of uncensored life, "life that spits on all ideology and all that lofty word of babble; a life that intrinsically resist(s) all forms of violence, all interpretations, all directives....here stood truth..."
8) Absurdity is a warning. Nihilistic and absurd theater or other works of art are a caution. They "do not offer us consolation or hope (but) merely remind( ) us of how we are living: without hope.
9) Truth can be misappropriated. The author experienced the misappropriation of his words and was both hurt and enlightened, ultimately creating a play about truth, the circumstances in which it is said, and the whom, why, and how of it.
10) Great men doubt themselves. Most touching are the author's many retrospective and current references to his insecurities, to his doubting himself even as he made history and became President of Czechoslovakia.
11) Writers live to tell the truth. This is certainly not true of most American writers who write for money, but it reflects the ideal and merits thought.
12) Change the atmosphere. If you can do nothing else, strive for a moral mobilization and a change in the atmosphere of governance, at any level. We cannot even begin to conceive the magnitude of the positive changes that can occur overnight if the people begin to speak truth among themselves. Work toward a process "in which people's civic backbones (begin) to straighten again."
13) Role of the intellectual. While I the reviewer would churlishly doubt that America has many intellectuals right now, the author's concluding words on the role of the intellectual strike me as very important: "...the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity."
Any person concerned about the corruption and misdirection of their government and their corporate as well as non-profit entities, will be provoked and inspired by this book. It speaks to the future of human life as it might be, were we willing to stand up straight and be counted at citizen-voters, active at every level beginning with our own neighborhoods.
Living in Truth: 22 Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
"Disturbing the Peace". This book is a series of essays by the
dissident Vaclav Havel that were smuggled out of communist
Czechoslovakia and translated by a Havel friend in the West. Vaclav
Havel was a playwright who became a Czech dissident who became leader
of the Velvet revolution (which ousted the communists) and who finally
became president of the republic.
Vaclav Havel was the foremost
dissident under the communist regime. He openly challenged the ruling
government with such essays as "Power to the Powerless" and
"The Soul of Main under Communism". (Actually I forgot the name
of the latter essay. I think "The Soul of Man under Communism"
is an essay written by Oscar Wilde. But Havel did address this theme
in "Disturbing the Peace" and in essays he forwarded to the
One of the most exciting parts of the book is
where Havel describes the dissident communitie's efforts to publish a
Havel essay advocating that the Czech government adhere to the terms
of the Charter 77 human rights accord to which they were a signatory.
The story is spine tingling thriller complete with car chases and
obscure drop points. It reads like a John le Carre novel except it is
After you read "Disturbing to Peace" I also recommend
"The Magic Lanten" by Timothy Garton Ash. This is a first hand
account of the fall of the communism as the democratic revolution
rolled across Czechoslovakia, East German, Hungary, and Romania.
Garton Ash was privy to the inner circle of people who plotted and
executed these bloodless coups. (Bloodless everywhere except, of
course, in Romania.)