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An International Conference

Haek a vejk - Humor of the Millennium

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

          Marking the 120th anniversary of the most famous Czech writer Jaroslav Haek's birth, The Jaroslav Haek Society held an international conference at the Czech Crown Inn at Lipnice on the Szava 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 vejk 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 Haek'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 Haek's concept of the irony of history which is the key to realizing  the significance of vejk whose humor is often aimed even at the current state of the world. The Patriarch of the Czechoslovak Hussite 

© Lubo Gbl      

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

Church, Jan Schwarz, reminded us that Haek'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 Haek's vejk 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. Ji ek confirmed the humourous nature of the conference by reading several satirical poems from his new book.

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

In the afternoon the conference participants visited the Jaroslav Haek 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 Haek, 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 vejk 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 Haek under the title The Pork Story.

The conference continued Wednesday, April 30 with discussions of translations of Haek'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 Haek and Karel Čapek, the author of R.U.R. and other novels. It was the very work of Jaroslav Haek 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 vejk staged in Czech theaters since 1945 so far. She made an interesting point that while in Germany a vejk musical has been created this particular art form has not yet inspired Czech artists to write one. Monika Zgustov pointed out the connection between Haek's writing and the work of Bohumil Hrabal, his so-called "pben" which became the starting point for her translation of the Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier vejk into Catalan. The Finish translator Eero Balk spoke of the fact that the translations of Haek's vejk 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 vejk differing from the previous translation by Cecil Parrott. Lszlo Kovcz, a translator from Budapest reminded the audience of the continuing lively reception of Haek's work in Hungary.

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

The program included musical performances by Milan Karpek's vejk Band from Pilsen accompanied by Pemysl Kubita as vejk. Another refreshing feature was the screening of Karel Lama 1926 film about vejk 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 Haek, as well as their staff.

esk verze/Czech version