Press Release

Česká verze/Czech version

An International Conference

Hasek and Svejk - Humor of the Millennium

Lipnice on the Sázava River, The Czech Republic,
 April 28-30, 2003

Marking the 120th anniversary of the most famous Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek's birth, Jaroslav Hasek Society held an international conference at the Czech Crown Inn at Lipnice on the Sázava in the Czech Republic. It is here where during the years 1921-22 three of the four volumes of his unfinished novel The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War were written.

At a gathering on the eve of the conference the Czech Senate Speaker Petr Pithart emphasized the significance of Hasek's work in connection with the anticipated entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union.

Among the participants of the conference were also translators and writers from several countries: Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Finland, Spain, Germany and the United States.

Literary historian Radko Pytlik in the opening presentation highlighted Hasek's concept of the irony of history which is the key to realizing  the significance of Svejk whose humor is often aimed even at the current state of the world. The Patriarch of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Jan Schwarz, reminded us that Hasek's satire is not an attack on faith in God, but merely a critique of the abuses and shortcomings accumulated within the Church over a millennium. Literary scholar Milan Jankovič analyzed some epic advances of Hasek's Svejk and demonstrated the meaningfulness of his laughter's content. Poet and humorist Eugen Brikcius pointed out in a clever way various types of mystification as avenues to uncovering the truth. Jiří Žáček confirmed the humourous nature of the conference by reading several satirical poems from his new book.

A remarkable feature was the attendance of Alois Vocásek, born in 1896. This, perhaps last eyewitness of the historical WWI battle near Zborov met Jaroslav Hasek when they were both members of the Czecho-Slovak Legions there.

Photo © Lubos Göbl      

Petr Pithart, the Speaker of the Czech Senate (right) and translator Z. K. Sadlon.

In the afternoon the conference participants visited the Jaroslav Hasek Memorial in Lipnice and then remembered the 120th anniversary of the author's birthday by his grave side at the Lipnice Old Cemetery.

Josef Kobra-Kučera, the co-chairman of the current incarnation of the political parody party founded by Hasek, The Party of Mild Progress Within the Limits of the Law recalled the political cartoon tradition which has a number of its top-level practitioners in Bohemia who have won praise and prizes at international festivals, but still don't have a facility to host political cartoon and caricature exhibitions. A humorously styled fake letter from Josef Svejk was read by Alexandr Drbal who was born in Lviv in the Ukraine. To cap the first day of the conference, actor Ivo Niederle read the newly discovered story written by Jaroslav Hasek under the title The Pork Story.

The conference continued Wednesday, April 30 with discussions of translations of Hasek's work into other languages. (So far it's been translated into 58 languages.)

Professor Oleg Malevich from St. Petersburg in Russia pointed out the connection between Jaroslav Hasek and Karel Čapek, the author of R.U.R. and other novels. It was the very work of Jaroslav Hasek which caused Malevich to become a Czechophile, a student of all things Czech. Editor Radmila Hrdinová analyzed the main features of the fifty theatrical versions of Svejk staged in Czech theaters since 1945 so far. She made an interesting point that while in Germany a Svejk musical has been created this particular art form has not yet inspired Czech artists to write one. Monika Zgustová pointed out the connection between Hasek's writing and the work of Bohumil Hrabal, his so-called "pábení" which became the starting point for her translation of the Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk into Catalan. The Finish translator Eero Balk spoke of the fact that the translations of Hasek's Svejk opened the gates for Czech literature in Finland. Zenny Sadlon in a remarkably lively presentation expressed the difficulties of creating a new English translation of Svejk differing from the previous translation by Cecil Parrott. Lászlo Kovácz, a translator from Budapest reminded the audience of the continuing lively reception of Hasek's work in Hungary.

The next section was devoted to the individual aspects of Hasek's life and work. Frantisek Cinger spoke of Hasek's activity within the Czecho-Slovak Legions and the revolutionary Russia, which is still a hotly debated issue on the way to recognizing Hasek's work at present time. Film director Antonín Kachlík pointed out the historical background of Hasek's stay in Russia and the problems associated with that. The former Lipnice teacher Frantisek Drasner in an interesting way pointed out the details of Hasek's stay in Lipnice and reminded the audience of the pub phenomenon and the bohemian gatherings in Hasek's work.

The program included musical performances by Milan Karpísek's Svejk Band from Pilsen accompanied by Přemysl Kubista as Svejk. Another refreshing feature was the screening of Karel Lamač 1926 film about Svejk with Karel Noll in the title role.

In closing, the participants expressed their thanks to all who were responsible for the smooth course of the conference by securing all the material provisions, i.e. above all the Czech Crown Inn and Pension proprietors, Richard and Zdena Hasek, as well as their staff.

Česká verze/Czech version