Martin M. Šimečka

    is a writer and journalist based in Bratislava. Before 1989 he could publish only in samizdat; later he co-founded the Archa Publishing House, and edited the critical weekly Domino-Fórum and the daily SME. His books include fiction Džin (The Genie, reissued in 2015) and Žabí rok (The Year of the Frog, English translation 1994), as well as an edition of his father’s letters from prison with his comments, Světelná znamení (Light Signals) and a book of essays, Hľadanie obáv (Looking for Concerns). From November 2006 until January 2009 he was editor-in-chief of the Prague cultural and political weekly Respekt and until 2016 an editor of the journal. He is currently an editor of and commentator on the daily Denník N. “We don’t know what lies ahead but we sense that the battle between truth and lies, civilisation and barbarity has erupted with full force and we cannot be sure which will win. Václav Havel understood the defeat of the ‘spiritual man’, in the sense defined by the philosopher Jan Patočka, as his natural destiny. Ironically, it was the awareness of this destiny that gave him strength, which neither the communists nor his later opponents were able to deal with. For unlike them he was not afraid of defeat, he was only afraid of personal failure. That is why he could not be defeated. […] Seen from the outside, Havel’s life seems like a fairy tale, so unique in its seemingly happy ending that we might be led to believe there is no point in following in his footsteps. However, this is just a retrospective delusion. The presidential office was not the culmination of his life but a lesson in natural destiny, which teaches us that victory, too, is part of defeat since victory is temporary and defeat is permanent. The real happiness and reward for accepting this destiny is the fascination with life, of which Václav Havel was a shining example. Even in his last months, when he was immensely tired and many of us were dreading not just his end but also the end of an era, he was preoccupied with the idea of life in its broadest sense. At his last birthday party I asked him what he was thinking about and he said he was wondering ‘whether the existence of life per se is proof of its meaning’. And what is the meaning of our human existence, I asked him. He was silent for a moment, as if looking for the simplest words. And then he said: ‘To preserve civilisation.’”

  • Truth and Love

    If lies and hatred prevail we must all accept responsibility for it. By Martin M. Šimečka.