Vaclav Havel exhibition intended as taster for planned US style presidential library

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

Vaclav Havel probably has a higher profile at the moment than at any time since he stepped down as Czech president almost five years ago. His first play in two decades has been published in book form, ahead of its planned stage premiere in spring. And this week has seen the opening of an exhibition entitled Vaclav Havel – Czech Myth, which is a kind of taster for a planned US style presidential library.

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK
The exhibition Vaclav Havel – Czech Myth features, among other things, a recreation of Mr Havel’s cottage, and his desk and book cases from the years he spent in the president’s office at Prague Castle. It has been organised by the Vaclav Havel Library, an institution which currently exists mostly in the planning stages. The man himself explains where the idea came from:

“It’s inspired by American presidential libraries. They are a very interesting institution, without parallel elsewhere. If we succeed in creating one here we would be the first outside the US, although ours would be a lot more modest than those in the States.”

One of the co-founders of the Havel Library is sociologist Miloslav Petrusek; he says another inspiration was the 'negative example' of TG Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, who did not bequeath much to future researchers:

“When Masaryk’s tenure as president ended he said, nothing will remain after me but my books and academic work...In my opinion Vaclav Havel has contributed to the intellectual development of this society. The texts he has donated to us document his thoughts and ideas, and everything, or the great majority, has been archived in the Vaclav Havel Library.”

Photo: CTK
The 71-year-old former president, looking rather well, emphasised at the new exhibition’s opening that it is by no means intended to be definitive:

“It’s more like a kind of trailer, released out of curiosity, to see how the public reacts. One day, when the library fully exists, it will operate in a number of spheres – it should be a research centre, it should have an informative and educational aspect, and it should offer ‘club’ activities and have a lively presence in public life.”

The Vaclav Havel Library is currently negotiating the purchase of a permanent building of its own in the centre of Prague, though it could be some years before it is actually open. In the mean-time, the exhibition at Hergertova Cihelna is worth a visit.