Michael Žantovský

    is a Czech writer, translator and diplomat, currently the director of the Václav Havel Library in Prague. After graduating in psychology he practised the profession in the 1970s; he also contributed to samizdat and from 1988 worked as the Prague correspondent for Reuters. In November 1989 he was one of the founders of the Civic Forum and in January 1990 became press spokesman and adviser to President Václav Havel, later serving as the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the US, Israel and the UK. He is the translator of over 50 works of modern English-language fiction, poetry and drama into Czech, author of a book on Woody Allen, and a song lyricist. His biography “Havel: A Life”, appeared in Czech and English in 2014. “In my view, the two key themes of Václav Havel’s life and legacy are identity and responsibility. The first theme is based on the simple realization that in order to make a meaningful impact on society and to participate in political events, one has to, first and foremost, know something about oneself, to know and accept oneself. This is something Václav Havel learned under communism. He believed that many people tried to survive by giving up their identity, by adapting to the demands of the day, only to realize that it rendered them unable to live an authentic life and to realize their full potential, not just in terms of political movements, parties or ideas but as individuals, as everyone for himself. Havel has explored this issue in numerous essays including his most famous one, Power of the Powerless, as well as in his plays. The way the theme of responsibility fits into all this is that once you become aware that being yourself is your duty, you also realize that you bear a responsibility for what goes on around you, which you cannot deny, and instead have to find ways of fulfilling it and behaving accordingly. For Václav Havel there was a transcendental dimension to this. He believed that our identity and responsibility are anchored in some distant horizon, which may not form a direct part of this world but in which all our actions are recorded and which makes even the smallest thing we do matter as something that our lives will later be judged and appreciated by. This is, of course, quite close to a religious sensibility; however, Havel wasn’t a believer in the true sense of the word, i.e. someone who identified with a specific religion, although the spiritual dimension was quite characteristic of him as well.”