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Compostela Prize


Vaclav Havel, II International Compostela - Xunta de Galicia Prize



The jury of the Compostela Group – Xunta de Galicia Prize, presided over by Manuel Fraga, President of the Galician Regional Government, agreed to award in 1998 the prize to Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic. It was highlighted the relevance of his literary works and in particular, of his works as a playwright.


Havel, one of the most relevant figures of Central and Eastern Europe, both from an intellectual and moral point of view, has seen that his literary and essayist trajectories remain slightly hidden due to his condition of President of the Czech Republic. He was born in Prague in 1936. He was forbidden to study at university because of his origins. When he was about fifteen, he took an interest in poetry and visited Jeroslav Seifert, who read his first texts, clearly influenced by Kafka. From 1951 to 1955, he worked as a laboratory technician, studied in a Technical University between 1955 and 1957 and, during the next two years, did the military service in the Czech army. He began to be known as a writer thanks to his works in the magazine Kveten (May). In the seventies he oriented his career towards the theatre, as a writer for the Prague Balustrade Theatre (1960-1969). During this time, he studied in the Prague Academy of Dramatic Art, finishing his studies in 1967. His first work written for the theatre Na Zábradlí, The Garden Party (1963), which had a great success both inside and outside the Czech Republic, is a satire of the time bureaucratic routine. In 1969 he was deprived of his passport, because his works were considered subversive.


A leitmotiv in his works is the concern for the language as means of lack of communication among people. In The Memorandum (1965) he introduces an artificial language, which theoretically allows more accurate communication. The absurd attempt leads to the total breaking-off of human relations. This issue is carried even further in The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968) in which Havel attacks the sociological terminology which is so fashionable at the time


The letter which Havel addressed to the Czech President Gustav Husák in 1968, in favour of the reformist movement known as the Prague Spring, had a wide diffusion. Cofounder of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Oppressed (VONS), his works were prohibited although illegal copies and copies printed in West Europe circulated profusely. Havel’s works attracted the world’s attention due to the situation in Czechoslovakia. At this point, his arrests started. In the seventies and eighties he was arrested several times by the police and he spent several periods of time in prison (1977, 1978-79, 1979-83, 1989). In the eighties he became the undisputed leader of the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia. In 1989, owing to the creation of a new opposition group, the Civic Forum, and to the fall of the communism, he was elected democratically President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. He resigned in 1992, but he was re-elected President of the new Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.


As far as his works are concerned, the eighties constitute the beginning of a new creative period in which moral and identity problems are a priority. Temptation (1986) is a modern evocation of the myth of Phausto. In Largo Desolatio (1985), the protagonist suffers because of the loads imposed on him both by friends and enemies.