Kicking the Door

Václav Havel, translated from the French by Tamar Jacoby

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, was one of the three principal spokesmen for the Charter 77 group. Since the signing of the Charter he has been arrested three times. First imprisoned from January through May 1977, he was arrested a second time in October of that year and condemned to another fourteen months in jail, a sentence that was suspended. In January 1978, a ball given for Charter signers was raided by Prague police who beat up several people and made three arrests: Havel, Pavel Landovsky, and Jiroslav Kukal were charged with “creating a scandal”—a violation of the Paragraph 202 described by Havel in the following article written a few days before his arrest. 1

Havel was released from jail in March 1978; he once more acted as the spokesman of the Charter 77 group between the autumn of 1978 and February 1979. He has recently been kept under tight surveillance by the political police.

It was midnight one Sunday and we—two friends and I—were looking for a place where we could get a glass of wine. Surprisingly enough, we found one; not only was it open, but it would stay open for another hour. As often happens, the door was locked, so we rang the bell. Nothing. An instant later we rang again. Still nothing. After another minute we decided to knock lightly. Again nothing. Then, just as we were about to leave, the door opened—not for us, but so that the waiter could let out one of his friends. We took advantage of the opportunity to ask very politely if there wasn’t room inside for us. The waiter didn’t even bother to answer—that the place was full, that he didn’t want clients, that he was only admitting friends, or anything else. He said nothing. He made no sign, didn’t even look at us. Then he slammed the door in our faces.

Until that moment there had been nothing surprising about the incident; similar things happen every night in Prague in front of the few restaurants and bars that are still open to ordinary citizens.

The strange thing happened then: I became suddenly furious. If I say strange, it’s because I’m not at all an angry man. Sudden crises of rage of this sort—which distort my vision and render me capable of doing things that I never do and that aren’t characteristic of me—happen to me only very exceptionally, I would say once every seven to ten years. Typically the most important events (as, for example, when someone slanders me in public, or they confiscate my apartment, etc.) do not arouse my fury; but mere trifles do. When I was in the army, a soldier named Ulver once tried to trip me, and I turned on him to beat him up. It is in this sense that the crisis that night in front of the bar was in keeping with my personal history.

This is not to say that the trifle that makes me furious is not…


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