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October 29, 2020

 

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Karel Holomek: I have known Václav Havel a long time

Brno, 20.12.2011 17:59, (ROMEA)
Karel Holomek, chair of the Romani Association of Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě)

After the death of Václav Havel, people are researching those who might have been graced by his presence or had the opportunity to meet with him personally during the days before he became famous. This is understandable, because Václav Havel was and will always be considered an extraordinary, world-class personality. At the moment there is not another one like him here.

I do not view early contact with Havel as some sort of accomplishment or achievement. Rather, I view as essential those who have managed to internally identify with Havel's opinions, those who have also advocated those opinions in life, in politics, and at work. That should be considered the real currency of Havel's legacy. I want to uphold that legacy. From that point of view, many might now be weeping in their innermost souls. That's how things are, in life and in death.

Thanks to various circumstances, I have known Václav Havel for a very long time. I did not know him personally or meet with him regularly, but from the moment Charter 77 was founded thanks to him, I recognized that many of my friends were being subjected to my same fate - they were losing professional work and finding themselves on the outskirts of society, if not directly in prison. Suddenly I did not feel so alone, and my state of mind fundamentally improved.

My brother-in-law, Milan Šimečka, Senior, was perhaps the most famous dissident in Slovakia. He was in Havel's "circle", as we say today. I learned about all the Charter 77 publications from him, all about everything the people around Václav Havel were doing, all about Havel himself, about his imprisonment. I recall from those days how Šimečka told me that many conspiratorial meetings also included theatrical productions as part of the program. There were several famous actors among the dissidents, after all. In my family archive there is a snapshot of my brother-in-law performing the role of Cardinal Richelieu in one such play, which leads me to believe it was probably about the Three Musketeers.

In Brno there was also a large discussion club led by Jaroslav Šabata. Everything was done as a matter of conspiracy, so meetings between the protagonists in Brno and Prague did not occur frequently and were often prevented by the secret police. Once time Milan Šimečka said to me: "Karel, the Czech and Polish dissidents are meeting up at the border between Czechoslovakia and Poland in Jeseníky. Start building a cottage there, and we will meet at your place." Havel, too, participated in those meetings. At the time we all traveled to those meeting places on skis. I took the idea seriously and started building a cabin there, but before I could finish it, Czech and Polish dissidents were starting to meet at Prague Castle instead, and Milan Šimečka, Senior had become Havel's closest adviser at the Castle. Another story had begun.

As an MP on the Czech National Council, I worked closely with Václav Havel and had the opportunity to appreciate both his work for Romani people and his availability to them. I remember one or two events in particular. The first is his support for the erection of a monument to the Romani victims of Lety by Písek, arranged by the Office of the President, and his personal approach toward the issue. The second event is the series of round tables he organized with representatives of the Romani minority at the Villa Amálie, moderated by Michael Kocáb. Havel was always present and I appreciated his approach and his behavior during those occasions. He was always an observant, silent follower of the discussion who then always brought the evening to an end with a completely precise evaluation of the situation and what would actions it would be desirable to take.

Havel has left us at the time when we need him most. He has bluntly criticized what is happening in society, what our authority figures are allowing to take place. This is not just about particular criticisms, but about the larger cultivation of society. Havel will be very much missed during this ongoing process.

Gwendolyn Albert, Karel Holomek, Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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