Newyorske listy Nezavisle ceske elektronicke noviny *** Havel special 5-/97
New York Times Magazine is Sunday insert of the NY Times.
Sunday, May 11th * V nedeli 11. kvetna, 1997

The front page has a picture of Havel with title:
Titulni cela strana ma portret Havla s titulkem:

The Poet of Democracy and His Burdens

Basnik demokracie a jeho brime

Vaclav Havel, the Czech President once revered as a political prisoner, now serves a different kind of sentence

Vaclav Havel, cesky prezident jednou slouzil jako vezen, nyni si odpykava jiny rozsudek

Paul Berman

Czech translation - First part is HERE - Second part is HERE

Relevant part from original:

THE HAVEL FAMILY was rich, once upon a time. The President's grandfather, Vaclav M. Havel, was a real-estate mogul early in the century who built, among other enormous projects, the Lucerna Palace on Wenceslas Square in central Prague. The building is an Art Deco extravaganza. An elaborate skylit arcade runs through its center, opening on one side to a dance hall with carved wood Moorish molding, on another side to a music bar and a valued cavern serving food and drinks and on still another to a movie theathr with marble stairs (the first theatre in Prague equipped for sound) guarded by a goateddd bronze bust of Vaclav M. Havel himself, the builder.

Lucerna is a place of legends - the place where Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Maurice Chevalier once performed and where the Communist Party used to hold its conventions. The Communist nationalized Party used to hold its conventions. The Communists nationalized the building, of course, after they took over the country in 1948. And this elaborate palace, yelow with age and with legend and leaky in its roof, was duly restituted, after the revolution of 1989, to the heirs of Vaclav M. Havel, namely to President Havel and his brother, Ivan.

Neither brother especially wanted Lucerna, but Ivan's wife, Dasha, conceived a mad passion for it. Ivan signed over his share to her, which left Dasha and Vaclav as co-owners. But the co-owners could not get along. They could not figured out a way for Dasha to buy Vaclav's share. Finally Vaclav arranged to sell his share to someone else, intending to give proceeds to charity. Dasha sued.

Sued? Why not sit down calmly and talk through the dispute? Both, Ivan and dasha Havel stressed to me that a heart-to heart business discussion has been their fondest hope all along. One of Vaclav's personal secretaries told me, on the other hand, that Dasha tried to push her way in to see Vaclav in middle of his health crisis to discuss the irritating business question, and the aggressiveness was infuriating, and that is why Vaclav wouldn't deal directly with her. That left the family no other way to communicate except by denouncing one another in separate television interviews, as began to happen in March, to amazement of the Czech people.

The family tried mediation. Vaclav put the dispute in the hands of one of his advisers, , a former Communist Prime Minister named Marian Calfa, who turned out, however, to hold an additional position as legal consultant to a company called the Chemapol Group. Chemapol offered to buy the President's share. And here the story descends from the lower murk of family life to the still lower murk of politics and economiscs in the post-Communist age.

For what is the deepest problem in the Czech Republic today, the problem that lurks beneth everything else that has happened and is likely to happen? It is the question of property, of what kind of economy the Czechs are going to have. Will it be an economy of individual responsibility, as Havel has dreamed of building - of village pubs and bakeries owned by the local people? Or, as has emerged elsewhere in the formerly Communist East, will it be an economy of Mafias and opaque arrangements with remnants of the old party aparatus and secret police - a capitalism of bullies, with no way to know who real owners are or what they are doing?

Prime Minister Klaus, not President Havel, makes the crucial economic decisions in the Czech Republic, and he has made those decisions on the basis of political adroitness and free-market zealotty. The adroitness has prevented Klaus from launching too many attacks on the old Communist industrial bosses, some of whom still control state-owned companies. Thezealotry has prevented him from erecting too many regulatory mechanismus to administer whatever has been privatized. You cannot say that failure has resulted. People are rich. Unemployment has stayed at the admirable level of 4 percent. Prague has bloomed. Tourists fill the sidewalks and streetcars go rattling by painted green, red, cream and shocking pink.

Yet for every success there has been a scandal. Eight Czech banks failed last year alone. Investment managers keep absconding with investments. No one really knows who owns certain enterprises. The judicial system cannot begin to cope. Russian gansters swarm around Wenceslas Square, clutching sinister cell phones. And the dark symbol of all this is the Chemapol Group.

I discussed the company with a number of knowledgeable people in Prague. Chemapol, it appears, has never engaged in genuinely illegal activity; but neither can the company be considered a respectable enterprise. Under Communism, Chemapol held the monopoly for importing Russian oil - which is to say, it was always a company with strong Russian ties and, at the same time, because of its engagement in international trade, a company linked to the secret services nd the K.G.B. After the Velvet Revolution the company managers privatized Chemapol by selling it to themselves (instead of to public, through vouchers), and the man who ended up in charge was a former industrial spy named Vaclav Junek.

Chemapol under Junek made a fortune in the early 90's by exploiting a loophole in the tax laws, which allowed it to import light oil and sell it to gangsters for conversion into heavy oil - a shady business, but within the law's loop, so to speak. Chemapol purchased an arms import-export company. The company bought a newpaper, and put it under the management of a former high official of Communist television, which led some of the leading columnists to flee to another paper (as recounted to me by one of the journalistic refugees, Daniel Kumermann).

The company made inroads into the government, too. In addition of hiring Havel's advisor Marian Calfa, the company hired Klaus's press secretary, a deputy director of the Security and Intelligence Service and a minister of labor and social affairs - with all of these corporate triumphs capped by the offer to buy President Havel's half of Lucerna Palace. Obviously the Chemapol Group has been buying influence and, at the same time, legitimacy. For if Vaclav Havel could agree to do business with such a company, who is going to refuse?

Havel did agree to the sale - either because, as Ivan said to me, Vaclav has the brilance to see through everyone except his own advosor; or bacause, as number of informed observers suggested, Vaclav is wild with rage at his sister-in-law and did it for spite; or because he has been too depressed and weakened by the traumas of illness and surgery to make intellligent decision, or, conceivably, as Havel insists in his own defense, because the realities of business left no alternative, and only Chemapol can save the building from tumbling onto the sidewalk. It is impossible for an ousider to judge these matters. But I could certainly judge that on the question of the sale of Lucerna Palace, Vaclav, Ivan and Dasha were, all of them, livid. I Vaclav's case I discovered this when I arrived at the castle for an interview.

I was ushered into an enormous office and seated next to the President, with his spokesman, two aides and his official interpreter arraged around the table. I put my questions in English. Havel responded by staring into space and delivering lengthy speeches in Czech, generally repeating what he has said in various orations and public statements. The translator summarized Havel's remarks in English. It couldn't have been stiffer. Only the colors in Havel's necktie seemed alive.

I brought up the topic of Being. There was a palpable dismay around the table. The spokesman wanted to direct the discussion toward NATO. From the spokesman's very reasonable point of view, the interview was an opportunity for the President to explain to the American public why granting NATO membership to the Czech Republic would be a good idea - namely because NATO should evolve into security system for democracies. (And unspoken; bacause everyone is afraid of the Russians. Very afraid - and indeed, a week before I arrived in Prague, the Russian Abmassador threatened, and then denied threatening, to punish any future Czech membership in NATO by holding up delivery of Russian gas.)

As for Havel, he was not especially interested in talking about NATO, even if he did rehearse a few dutiful arguments. He was definitely not interested in talking about Being. We did linger a moment over the stimulating question of how to separate Heidegger's philosophy from Heidegger's politics. Heidegger once talked about the need for a god, and Havel, echoing him, said, "I really think that this civilization is in crisis and only a god can save it." But wat he truly wanted to talk about was the sale of his share of Lucerna Palace to Chemapol. One mention of this scandalou topic and the interview woke from the dead. The President's spokesman nearly begged him to desist. But no.

The controversy over Chemapol and Lucerna seemed to Havel an example of society's moral morass - not because of Chemapol's shady reputation but because of the dishonesty in criticizing such a company. People want capitalism, but when somebody builds it, they object. "I hate the hypocrisy," he said. "All my life I have fought against hypocrisy. I would welcome the truth. Let someone send me documents, and if there are any horrible things, I'll be leading the fight against Chemapol. But nobody has told me anything concrete."

He refracted a moment. It was true, he acknowledged, that Vaclav Junek, the director of Chemapol, had admitted to having been in the espionage service. Junek had spied in France. But, Havel observed, to be an espionage agent in another country is not as bad as being an informer back home. Better the spies abroad than the informers at home!

At this point the spokesman broke in tosay that it was perhaps inadvisable to get into the position of defending Junek. But havel wouldn't be stopped. There are real criminals in the Czech Republic, he said, people who has stolen billions of Czech crowns from the taxpayers. But who gets called a Mafioso is "the one who has not been proven to have stolen abything" - meaning Junek.

The spokesman broke in again. "OK, let's talk about NATO, and let's finish."

But no. Havel wanted to explain that the criticisms made against Chemapol show the "moral state" of society. "That's what I care about," he insisted, "not Chemapol."

All in all, on the topic of selling his share of Lucerna Palace, Vaclav Havel seemed just as beside himself as his brother and his brother's wife, except with an opposing point of view. And now, for the first time, sitting in the President's gigantic office with all of the Prague visible out the vindow, the irritated complaints that I had heard from his old frinds began to ring in my ear. That he has lost his old humility. That he used to be a playwright and at the start of his political career was always the person who wrote the script and now he is a merely an actor in other people's scripts, and doesn't know it. That the castle has gone to his head - the castle, this hugest of medieval palaces, Kafka's symbol of irrationality, one of the world's gret monuments to megalomania.

Those complaints had me impatient the first three or four times I heard them. But the topic of Chemapol seemed to bring out the imperious in Havel. There in his office I could see why peaple who had known him for many years might work up a resentment. Or, better stated, why they might worry that after the agony of his first wife's death and his own confrontation with death and the collapse into chaos of his staff during the emergency and the horrible fight with his dear brother and his brother's infuriating wife - that after all of those miserable experiences Havel was becoming the victim of his office.

(Voluminous continuation in the original and in Czech translation - First part is HERE - Second part is HERE

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