New book highlights historic meeting of Václav Havel and Dalai Lama

A new book about the historic meeting of the late Czech president Václav Havel and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is set to be published in the Czech Republic later this year. The meeting in February 1990 marked a significant milestone in Czech-Tibetan relations and the beginning of a life-long friendship between the late Czech president and the Tibetan spiritual leader.

In his first New Year’s speech on January 1, 1990, president Václav Havel expressed his wish to have Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama visit what was then Czechoslovakia “even if only for a single day“. A month after President Havel’s personal invitation, in February 1990, His Holiness did indeed arrive in Prague.

Václav Havel and Dalai Lama | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

The historic meeting is the subject of a new publication, called Together: His Holiness, Václav Havel and Friendship for the World, which is set to be published later this year. It was initiated by the association Czechs for Tibet, in cooperation with Forum 2000, Václav Havel Library and a number of other institutions.

Sinologist Kateřina Procházková is one of the authors of the book:

“The Dalai Lama had great respect for Václav Havel and the two of them were unusually close from the very first moment they met. People who witnessed their meeting say it was as if they already knew each other.

“At the time of the meeting, the Dalai Lama was not very well known either in Czechoslovakia, or elsewhere in the world, while Václav Havel was an important figure in the West. And it was Havel who opened doors for the Dalai Lama to a number of Western political leaders.”

Kateřina Procházková | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

Václav Havel and His Holiness the Dalai Lama continued to meet regularly until Mr. Havel’s death in 2011. But according to Mrs Procházková, it was their first meeting that helped to establish a firm link between the Czech Republic and Tibet.

“It also became a platform for the establishment of various associations and events supporting the Tibetan cause. There is for instance Forum 2000, which was established thanks to the cooperation between its founder, Oldřich Černý, and his Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a regular guest to the conference to this day.

“But the visit also raised a debate in the Czech Republic about  democracy and human rights in general. So I think the countries became really close and for instance the Tibetan leader in exile, Lobsang Sangay, has often mentioned the historic parallels between our two countries.”

Dalai Lama | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

The book, mapping the historic meeting between Václav Havel and the Dalai Lama, will be published both in Czech and English at the end of the year.

It will include their correspondence as well as interviews with Tibetologists, politicians and other public figures, both from the Czech Republic and Tibet.

The texts will be accompanied by photos capturing the landmark meeting but also the unique atmosphere in Czechoslovakia shortly after the fall of the Communist regime.