Vaclav Havel is a man of letters—author, playwright, essayist, and poet. A series of more than two hundred letters between him and Czech emigre historian Vilem Precan are now available to researchers at the Hoover Institution.
As a dissident, human rights activist, and political figure, Havel was prominently involved in Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring and Velvet Revolution and served as the Czech Republic's first president. He remains a cultural and political icon in the Czech Republic today. The letters, from the late 1970s through 1989, are an interesting mixture of personal news and commentary with reflections on society, theater and philosophy. Havel’s correspondence with Precan, like the published prison letters, will be an essential source for future biographers of Vaclav Havel, the man, the writer, and the unlikely hero of the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution.
Although the first letter is from 1978, the bulk of the correspondence, more than two hundred letters dates from 1984 to 1989, after Havel was released from prison after three years serving for illegal political activities. Although Havel was later arrested several times, from that time forward he spent relatively little time in prison. Havel’s contact with Precan in the Federal Republic of Germany was by mail, with the help of Western diplomats, which enabled Havel to publish abroad. One of Havel’s most celebrated books, Letters to Olga, first appeared in the West in a German edition. The book was comprised of a collection of 150 letters to his wife, Olga Splichalova.
Aside from correspondence, the Precan Collection includes Havel’s video and voice recordings. Other Hoover Institution holdings on the history of the final years of communism in the former Czechoslovakia include a large and comprehensive collection of samizdat (the Czechoslovak Independent Publications Collection) and the Josef Skvorecky Papers (Skvorecky headed the émigré Sixty-Eight Publishers in Toronto), as well as two extensive collections documenting the repressive activities of Czechoslovak communist security forces: the Jiri Setina Collection and the Pavel Zacek Collection. Another noteworthy collection of correspondence from a noted personality under Communist rule is found in the Pasternak Family collection, which includes correspondence for Nobel laureate author and poet Boris Pasternak to his family in the West. This correspondence provides insight into Pasternak’s life under the harsh Soviet regime.