Havel and Hillary, Sitting in a Tree?

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I recently read Vaclav Havel's latest book To the Castle and Back (translated by my friend and former editor Paul Wilson), which was a decidedly mixed pleasure since on one hand he was filled with charming offhand confessions like this:

I wouldn't call myself an alcoholic, but the thought of not drinking beer or wine with a meal is hard to contemplate. In any case, drinking water with meals reminds me of my years in prison.

But on the other hand his long-running feud with Vaclav Klaus has, in my judgment, dulled some of what I admire most about Havel in the first place: His insight that insisting on calling things by their proper names is potentially revolutionary, and almost always more useful than lapsing into cheap hyperbole. In the book he lapses into the positively Klausian habit of comparing whatever he's irritated by to Communism, which is a sloppiness that would have been unimaginable not long ago.

Anyway, that's all preamble; the main event is the shocking (to me) news that Havel ? at least in May 2005, when he was living in Washington, D.C. ? is a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. From a diary entry he wrote back then:

Yesterday we went to dinner at Madeleine's with Hillary. Hillary made a marvelous impression on me. She looked good.

She listened carefully, which not all politicians do. Everything interested her. She spoke concisely and clearly and I understood her American English very well, which gave me the courage to talk on American subjects myself. I think that she would make a wonderful president. I put considerable pressure on her in that direction and she merely laughed. Next year, in the fall, she will run again for the Senate and according to our plans at the moment we will be there at the same time, and if it's possible, or appropriate, or useful, I will support her somehow.

In another entry, he writes:

I think that the Democratic Party has at its disposal a great fund of intellectual and political capital but that it's waiting for the right person to bring the two together and articulate a clear, comprehensible, yet modern hierarchy of values. Perhaps Hillary will be the one to do that, who knows?

Well, so much for that.

NEXT: R. Kelly's Sex Tape Phantom

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  1. Havel was an embarrassment even at a time when he still was my President. Mainly for his refusal to hang/imprison/ban from public life forever all former communists.

  2. Maybe he’s referring to Hillary Duff? Because that would make more sense.

  3. Boy, Matt, and I thought I was obsessed with all things Czech.

    I always find it funny how the neocons at NRO drool over Havel; when in truth — outside his hatred of communism — he’s politically a lot closer to Ralph Nader than Ronald Reagan.

  4. I should give a rats ass about what Vaclav Havel says why?

  5. I’ve never met the woman but I suspect she’s much more impressive in person. Her fans say so, anyway. But is her (seeming) demise attributable to her defects or Obama’s gift for rhetorical hogwash? The thing that may be hardest for her to swallow (besides Bill’s thing) is her certainty that a gullible electorate has had the wool pulled over its eyes.

  6. Jozef, I think you know very well as president he didn’t have such power.

    My understanding is, though, he did ban communists from entering Prague Castle — something Klaus isn’t doing.

  7. You gotta love that picture of Havel and Zappa.

    I read once that Havel wanted to give Zappa’s company one of the country’s mobile phone licenses, but James Baker stepped in and nixed the deal.

  8. My favorite quote of the book.

    “degenerate ghettos whose only purpose is to elevate their members into positions of power.”

    Q: “Are you still as suspicious as you once were of the role that political parties play in a democracy?

    Vaclav Havel: I think more or less the same as I’ve always thought. It’s just that over the years, and particularly during my presidency, I have refined and moderated my opinions a little. I think that political parties are an important instrument of democratic politics, but they are not its most highly evolved form, nor its ultimate meaning. They should provide a place where people can come together, refine their opinions, encounter the views of experts in public policy; where political personalities are formed and aspects of the political will are articulated. They should not, however, be more important than the key institutions of the state, like the government or parliament. They should not be superior to them but, rather, serve them. They should not be places where brotherhoods aimed at seizing power are born, quasi-legal metastructures of the state; instead, they should be the icing on the cake of a richly structured civil society, a place that draws nourishment from that society and gives it a political expression that can then be used in political competition. Only a living civil society can provide spirit to political parties as well, or rather can provide the roots from which they receive their vital nourishment. When civil society languishes, when the life of organizations and voluntary associations is curtailed, then sooner or later political parties will begin to languish as well, until ultimately, they become degenerate ghettos whose only purpose is to elevate their members into positions of power.

    Parties must not be more important than the public interest. They must, on the contrary, serve it. Loyalty to the country, or to the civil service, or to the interests of society, or to one’s personal conscience must always be more important than loyalty to the party, otherwise the parties will produce only nonentities who speak only their own antilanguage that people will ultimately find repugnant. Partyocracy — that is, government by party secretariats and politburos — has had a great tradition in this country since the nineteenth century, and unfortunately it threatens us today as well. After all, we are close to a situation now in which people are beginning to feel ashamed that they voted for a certain party, or even that they belong to it. This can only lead to the decline of democracy.

    And by the way, notice that the more fanatical the party member, the more they suspect that I have nothing good to say about parties or that I don’t want them around at all. At the same time, all I want is for parties to play the creative but modest role that they ought to play, within the bounds of parliamentary democracy. If they do, the public will not ridicule them but, on the countrary, respect them.

  9. Colin, Havel was the driving force behind the reconciliation with the communists. In his later years as President he wouldn’t communicate with the members of the Communist Party, and neither did any other Parliamentary party (communists were never considered by anyone to be a ruling coalition partner). However, if it wasn’t for his first few years where he allowed former communists to freely reintegrate into the society, there wouldn’t be a Communist Party today.

  10. I read once that Havel wanted to give Zappa’s company one of the country’s mobile phone licenses, but James Baker stepped in and nixed the deal.

    I thought the story was that Havel briefly made Zappa “Special
    Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism” before Baker stepped in. Here’s the best link I could find:

    http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/videography/Vaclav_Havel.html

    Here’s another fascinating excerpt from that page about Havel:

    On May 15, 1997, out-there experimental saxophonist John Zorn was in
    the middle of a set at New York City jazz spot the Knitting Factory
    when he abruptly stopped. He proceeded to chew out a group of patrons
    in the balcony who, in a fit of impropriety, were talking loudly over
    his skronk-jazz stylings. “You up there,” he snapped angrily. “Shut
    the fuck up and listen to the music.”
    The chatterboxes at fault? Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and
    his wife Dagmar, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Lou Reed, and
    Reed’s girlfriend Laurie Anderson.

  11. Y’all have it all wrong. It’s not politics, it’s lust. Vaclav + Hillary = Desire.

  12. I’d take Klaus over him anytime

  13. Jozef,
    Do Communists not deserve freedom as well? In a free society, if people want to have a Communist party then shouldn’t they have one?

  14. What in the world is a fued? Is that a type of feud between partial dyslexics?

  15. PL,

    I don’t know. That sounds just as wrong. Czech Republic has an incredible number of hot women. Why choose Hillary?

  16. Who cares?

    Hillary’s done.

    Next story.

  17. Naga Sadow,

    De gustibus non est disputandum.

  18. PL,

    Translation please.

  19. Of taste, there is no disputing. Or, in modern parlance, there’s no accounting for taste.

  20. Ahhhh. I thought it was something about power corrupting. Oh and about someone actually wanting Hillary . . . Yuck!!!

  21. My latin is limited to military/historical quotes. If you desire peace, prepare for war, Delenda est Carthago, Hannibal ad portos, etc. Oh and possibly my favorite quote of all time by Publius Syrius: Everything is worth what its purchaser is willing to pay for it.

  22. As they used to say during triumphs in Rome, as the triumphal general tossed beads to the female members of the Senate* and people of Rome: Monstra mihi tuum mammis.

    * Yes, I’m aware of the lack of women in the Senate. I just wanted to use the phrase.

  23. Alright, PL. I’m going to go dig up my latin dictionary now. Should be able to find it within a month or so.

  24. “oderint dum metuant”

  25. Monstra mihi tuum mammis

    “Show me your tits”, Naga.

  26. And it’s Episiarch for the win. Triumphal ornaments and a dinner date with the Weibskobold are his prize. The meal? Lobster, natch.

  27. Will the hottie from the lobster story be there?

  28. The question as to whether communists should be permitted in the Czech Republic is much like the question as whether Nazis should be allowed in Germany.

    It’s easy for us to make the judgment they should, but if you had been brutally repressed by communists for 40 years, you might feel differently.

    Jozef — nezlobte se — but if you count the members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and those who collaborated with it, you’d have to arrest nearly a third of the country, so I’ve been told. But even if Havel wanted to do it, he couldn’t. He had no power.

  29. Havel is an anti-communist intellectual and dissident. Klaus is just a post-commmunist politician. Havel liked to do things like honor Frank Zappa, and Klaus would demagogue him for it. They seem to genuinely dislike each other.

    Jozef, I don’t see how anyone could fault Havel for being pro-communist. You can argue that the Czech republic should have purged all former communists from public life forever, but there wasn’t public support for that in the Czech republic or, for that matter, in most former communist countries.

  30. Of course, Naga, she is the Weibskobold.

  31. Six years of Latin and I’m reduced to translating titty jokes. I’m lucky I was able to do that. I can’t even tell if you did it right; my guess is no considering how byzantine Latin is.

    Wouldn’t monstra be locative as a command? Mihi is accusative for direct object? Tuum should be genitive for possession? Mammis dative for indirect object?

    Latin is great but it’s useless in day-to-day stuff. It’s something of a help when learning a Romance language.

  32. Clicked too soon, ed. I’m sure you meant to say

    The thing that may be hardest for her to swallow (besides Bill’s thing) is her certainty that a gullible electorate has had the wool pulled over its eyes by someone else.

  33. Six years of Latin? Cool shit.

  34. Episiarch,

    What do you use it for? The Latin I mean. A lawyer? I was seeing this girl this semester who was majoring in Latin and wasn’t intent on law school. She got a blank look on her face when I asked her what she would use a dead Romance language for.

  35. Episiarch,

    Knowledge of Latin is also useful when learning other case-based languages.

  36. Episiarch,

    Hell if I know.

  37. Episiarch,

    Speaking of Latin and Earth-Rome parallel worlds, we posted (someone else’s) ST:TNG rap video at Urkobold.

  38. What do you use it for? The Latin I mean. A lawyer?

    Did you just fucking call me a lawyer?

    Seriously, it’s useless unless you are a Classics professor. It gives you a lot of insight into the way Western languages work and particularly Romance languages, as it is insanely complex and contains just about every language concept you’ll see in the Indo-European family, even the ones so onerous that most languages dropped them over time.

    I use it for…nothing.

  39. It’s also good for time traveling. To ancient Rome, anyway.

  40. Furthermore, Episiarch can state with confidence that E pluribus unum does not, in fact, mean “We faked the moon landings.”

  41. The question as to whether communists should be permitted in the Czech Republic is much like the question as whether Nazis should be allowed in Germany.

    We saw how well the de-baathification worked in Iraq. Beside, if communists are so discredited in Czech, then there is nothing to be worried about. They are not going to have any supporters.

  42. You weren’t there — you can only judge from high perch upon which you are sitting.

    In 1946, the communists took over the governemnt with around a third of the vote. There wasn’t another election for more than forty years.

    Let other nations make their own laws, and let us worry only about our own.

  43. “the Democratic Party has at its disposal a great fund of intellectual and political capital”

    I suppose he’s talking about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi there. Or maybe Maxine Waters.

  44. Latin is “useful” if you’re a literate person and actually care about, you know, maybe reading some of the greatest and most extensive literature in the world, literature composed over a 2000 year period including Catullus, Vergil, Cicero, Apuleius, Tacitus, Erasmus, Thomas More, and Spinoza. It opens intellectual doors to worlds most 21st century people don’t even know exist. In that sense Latin is more useful than living thriving languages like Romanian or Dutch.

  45. Don’t forget Greek!

  46. Wouldn’t monstra be locative as a command? Mihi is accusative for direct object? Tuum should be genitive for possession? Mammis dative for indirect object?

    Hmm- I took a bit of Latin, though not anywhere near 6 years of it, but I’ve forgotten a lot of it. Still, this seems backward- tits is the direct object here, and the speaker is the indirect object, n’est ce pas? Other than that I think you have the cases correct.

    I kind of agree with Vanya here though- my Latin sucks, but I can read 4-6 (non-English) languages well (depending on how you define well). It is not that directly useful to me, but I like being able to read things in the original.

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