Pavel Kohout

Pavel Kohout was born in Prague in 1928. His career turns were not atypical for a creative intellectual of his generation: from an initial unconditional acceptance of the Stalinist regime, through disillusion and participation in reform in the 60s, to opposition in the 70s, ending in exile. During these "historical peripeties," he was in the front line, where he was one of the most active and most prominent participants.

The beginning of his career, however, was atypical: at 21 years old, he was the cultural attache in Moscow and from 22 to 24 (1950-52) he edited a cultural journal, all while finishing his university degree at the philosophical faculty of Charles University. Soon after graduation he published two collections of poetry and was a screen writer for a film, and wrote a verse comedy, "Good Song" (1952), which holds a place in the Golden Fund of Czech Stalinist literature.

Already in 1955, however, he began to criticize the divorce of the theory of Socialism from its practice in his country. At the Fourth Congress of Czech and Slovak Writers in 1967, his reading of Solzhenitsen's protest letter to the Congress of Soviet Writers was called the culminating symbolic transformation of the "literary revolution" in criticizing the regime.

His main vehicle of protest was the theatre. From 1952 to 1990, he wrote 45 plays. His plays written after 1968, however, could be produced only outside the country, where they became, along with Havel's, the most frequently produced Czech plays.
State Security, especially after his signing of Charter 77, of which he was a founder and one of the most active members, was exceptionally watchful of him and his wife, Jelena Masinova, to the point of almost open harassment. In 1978 he was denied re-admittance from Austria where he had been granted a year's stay at the Viennese Burgtheatr. From Vienna he became one of the best known and most faithful spokesmen of the opposition.

Currently, he divides his time between Vienna and Prague. Among his later cultural activity belongs his establishing the festival of German theatre in Prague, whose first anniversary was 1997. His later writings have included novels such as Katyne (1978), a morbid, erudite, and literarily refined argument against the death penalty; The Hour for Dance and Love (1989), set in the Jewish ghetto during Nazi times and a meditation on totalitarian ideology; The End of the Long Vacation (1991) about Czech emigration and I am Showing (1993), a political thriller about the conditions after the Velvet Revolution overthrowing Communism.


From Who Was Who in Our History in the Twentieth Century, Prague, 1998.

Return to Fire in the Basement home page