Form and Content
On May 29, 1979, Czechoslovakia’s State Security police jailed ten members of the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Prosecuted, known by its Czech acronym of VONS. Havel was one of those arrested. VONS had been organized to monitor the cases of persons imprisoned for expressing their beliefs or people otherwise victimized by the police and the court system. The arrest was Havel’s fourth. In January, 1977, he had been imprisoned for five months because of his membership in Charter 77, the Czechoslovak human rights movement. In October, 1977, he had been sentenced to fourteen months for “subversions,” but the term was conditionally suspended for three years. In January, 1978, he had been arrested but was released in March without official charges filed against him. A vicious campaign of harassment followed, aimed at forcing Havel either to cease his dissident activities or to emigrate. He did neither.
The VONS trial was held in October, 1979, with five of the group’s members given prison terms; Havel’s was for four and one-half years. After three years, he developed pneumonia and was hospitalized, and on February 7, 1983, the government suspended the remainder of his sentence because of his ill health. On regaining his freedom, he resumed both his Charter 77 work and his playwriting.
Between June 4, 1979, and September 4, 1982, Havel addressed 144 letters to his wife, Olga. While the original Czech edition (published first through...
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