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Evenings with Polish Reporters: A Painfully Close War

  • Where: Václav Havel Library, Ostrovní 13, Prague 110 00
  • When: January 23, 2018, 19:00 – 21:00

Slaughter taking place just a few hundred kilometres from the Czech border. Genocide playing out in the middle of Europe in the 1990s. Can we comprehend the brutal Yugoslav war? Or describe it? The Polish reporter Wojciech Tochman and the Czech journalist Jan Urban attempted to do so in their books of reportage.

Evening moderated by the translator Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová.

“There have been thousands of dispatches, reports, exhibitions, books, albums and documentary and feature films about the war in Bosnia. But as soon as the war ended reporters packed up their cameras and immediately set off for other conflicts,” writes Wojciech Tochman in the book Jako bys jedla kámen (As If You’d Eaten a Stone). Tochman returned repeatedly to Bosnia and spoke mainly to women, whose stories tell us more about the nature of the war than statistics or political analyses. The seasoned reporter is the author of numerous books of reporting from Poland, but also from impoverished areas in the Philippines and the Rwandan genocide. In 2015 he received an Amnesty International award for his work promoting and defending human rights. Tochman’s book from 2002 was published in Czech in 2017 on the Absynt imprint in a translation by Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová.

The journalist, dissident and Charter 77 signatory Jan Urban was a war correspondent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to where he also helped deliver humanitarian aid. Urban’s book Všem sráčům navzdory: válka, o které nechcete nic vědět) (Despite all the Bastards: The War You Don’t Want to Know Anything About) was first released in 1997 by the publishing house G plus G before being reissued in 2017 by Absynt.

“Sarajevo is for me the centre of the world. Its conscience and future,” Urban says in the book.


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Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter

„I am a child of the age of conceptual, rather than mystical, thought and therefore my god as well – if I am compelled to speak of him (which I do very unwillingly) – must appear as something terribly abstract, vague and unattractive. But it appears so only to someone I try to tell about him – the experience itself is quite vivid, intimate and particular, perhaps (…) more lively than for someone whose “normal” God is provided with all the appropriate attributes (which oddly enough can alienate more often than drawing one closer). And something else that is typical of my god: he is a master of waiting, and in doing so he frequently unnerves me. It is as though he set up various possibilities around me and then waited silently to see what I would do. (…) His Last Judgment is taking place now, continuously, always – and yet it is always the last: nothing that has happened can ever un-happen, everything remains in the “memory of Being” – and I too remain there – condemned to be with myself till the end of time – just as I am and just as I make myself.“

Václav Havel:
Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter, August 7, 1980

Daniel Cohn-Bendit à Bibliothèque Vaclav HavelThe Faces of Resistance