Czechs pay tribute to Karel Čapek


On December 25th some 200 people gathered at Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery to pay tribute to one of the greats of Czech literature – twentieth century writer Karel Čapek. Best known as a science fiction author, Karel Čapek was a writer of great scope whose legacy remains pertinent to this day.

Czech actor Miroslav Saic opened a short commemorative ceremony at Karel Čapek’s graveside by reading an excerpt from his collection of essays On Political Matters or Zoon Politikon. At a time when Czechs are disgruntled with the state of the Czech politics, the Brothers Čapek Society which annually organizes the commemorative event, could hardly have picked a more appropriate excerpt from the author’s works. Actor Miroslav Saic, a big fan of Čapek’s says there’s a wealth of wisdom in his books.

“I think that the vast majority of his work – let us say 70 percent of it – is as topical and valid of our times as if he had written it yesterday.”

An author whom literary critics like to classify with Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, Čapek anticipated the possible course of social and human evolution on Earth with surprising clarity, debating the ethical aspects of revolutionary inventions and expressing fear of impending social disasters, dictatorships, violence, and even the unlimited power of corporations. Some of his best-known works are R.U.R Rossum’s Universal Robots, which coined the word robot, The Makropulos Affair which deals with human mortality, The Absolute at Large, a vision of consumer society, and Krakatit which anticipated the invention of a nuclear-weapon-like explosive. On a lighter note he also wrote detective stories, stories for children and even a book on gardening. Each of his fans finds something different to appreciate about his work.

Woman: “The way he uses the Czech language, the way he expresses himself has always fascinated me.”

Elderly man: “There were times when his books were the only really good literature on the market.” Karel Čapek’s most productive years coincided with the founding of Czechoslovakia and its brief period of democracy. He was close friends with the country’s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his Talks with T.G. Masaryk – one of his best-known non-fiction works – inspired many a Czech politician, including the country’s first post communist president Vaclav Havel. Čapek’s worst fears of dictatorship and violence materialized – he died in Prague on December 25, 1938, shortly after the notorious Munich Agreement ceded significant Czech territory to Nazi Germany, marking the beginning of years of oppression for his homeland.