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In unusual harmony, Václav Havel's supporters and opponents have shown their poet-president their last safe-haven. Because while Havel was being awarded one honor after another abroad, he had long since suffered the fate of the 'prophet in his own country' at home: For years, his critics have accused him of his moralizing tone and his distance from the concerns of the citizens. But the death of the first Czech president triggered a wave of reconsideration in Havel's morality. Martin C. Putna offers a new approach to this with his portrait of the Havel. In it, the literary scholar examines - as the first, according to the consistently positive criticism - the intellectual environment in which Havel moved and which has significantly shaped his worldview since childhood. Putna writes:

In Czech cultural history, Havel plays the role of an intersection where different intellectual traditions met, Czech and international, old and modern. Havel received these different ideas and directions and then brought them into an updated socio-political form.

Martin C. Putna writes in the introduction to his portrait of the Havel, in which he chronologically illuminates the spiritual and intellectual discourses over the decades that influenced Havel's work - beginning in Havel's family history, with his spiritist grandfather and his father, the had strong sympathies for Freemasonry and American Unitarianism. Up to the Forum 2000, founded by Havel in 1997, at which prominent thinkers from all over the world gather year after year and discuss global issues. Putna shows how early Havel was not only open to various intellectual concepts, but also taking a public stance. Already at the age of seventeen Václav Havel founded - in 1953, in the darkest Stalinism - the 'thirty-six' - a literary-political group of young people - all born in 1936 - who wrote their own texts and distributed them in small editions - a kind of early samizdat.

One often hears, especially from former committed communists: 'We were young and believed in it', or: 'Anyone who wanted to be publicly active had to adapt'. The thirty-six both refute these apologies: they neither believed in communism, nor did they plan to opportunistically adapt to it. They acted 'out of time' freely and just thought and wrote what they wanted.

For Putna, a key to Václav Havel's ethical self-image are the letters that Havel wrote to his first wife from prison between 1979-1983 and which appeared in Samizdat in 1983 as "Letters to Olga". With their existential thoughts - for example on the question of God or the role of the individual in a totalitarian system, the letters are Havel's most 'philosophical' work and a decisive reason why the playwright increasingly turned to the moral one for the Czechs as well as abroad from the mid-1980s and intellectual authority. Putna sees Havel's great strength in the openness to other points of view, in the ability not only to listen to other opinions, but also to accept them without getting caught up in them. In one of Havel's personal testimonies, which Putna included in his book, from the early 1990s, it says:

I have never identified myself with any particular ideology or doctrine, on the contrary, I have always tried to judge everything impartially with my own mind. I have always objected to being pigeonholed and making my life easier by adopting someone else's finished worldview.

With the warning against hasty, easy judgments, with his uncomfortable love of truth and his moralizing speeches of truth and love, Havel in the Czech Republic became increasingly offensive in the Czech Republic from the mid-1990s and - according to Putna - gradually became an 'anti-myth'. Since Havel's death, his opponents have again spoken with respect about the poet's high moral standards. In his biography on the Havel, Martin Putna thankfully avoids the creation of myths, in contrast to many hagiographic or diatribes about the Havel. In addition, by illuminating Havel's open-mindedness and tolerance for different opinions and worldviews, the literary scholar recalls a claim that would suit the Czechs especially today, where the political and social debates in the country are all too often characterized by blanket polarizations. Incidentally, Putna received the blessing for his biography from Václav Havel himself. In a newspaper interview in mid-September, Putna described Putna's study as one of the best, "extremely good" works that had appeared about him recently. Without a doubt, Martin Putna's book provides an important impetus for addressing Havel's rich legacy, which has only just begun.

Martin Putna
Václav Havel. Duchovní portrét v rámu česke 20. kultury století. (Václav Havel. An intellectual portrait within the framework of 20th century Czech culture) Edition of the Václav Havel library, volume 3, 384 pages, approx. 11.60 euros
ISBN: 978-8-087-49007-5-808749007X