Forum 2000 closing sparks controversy

An evening to discuss Havel's legacy and a new play became heated

The closing ceremony of Forum 2000 hit a bit of a controversial note. Belgian playwright and performer Pieter De Buysser was scheduled to present some excerpts from The After Party, a work in progress about the late Václav Havel. Instead, he used some ideas from Havel's writings to illustrate a lecture of the shortcomings of liberal democracy. The event took place at Divadlo Archa, where De Buysser has performed previously and where Havel also presented some of his work.

“They asked me to think about the legacy of Havel and present The After Party,” De Buysser said.

De Buysser began by discussion Havel's legacy and how various politicians in other countries try to claim it. One example he gave was Senator John McCain in the US, who actually has very little in common with Havel's ideas.

Havel is famous for the phrase “living in truth” in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” but De Buysser maintains that we now live in a post-truth society where in politics the truth no longer matters. He illustrated this by the recent Brexit campaign in the UK, and the misinformation about weapons of mass destruction that led to Iraq War in 2003.

He went on to claim that voting actually hurts democracy because it creates a politician class, and that politicians should be chosen by lottery instead. The idea is not his own, and it actually has some backing.

Many delegates and guests of Forum 2000 walked out once the talk turned from discussing Havel's legacy to criticizing the shortcomings of democracy. The executive director of Forum 2000, Jan Klepal, eventually told De Buysser that his talk was inappropriate and asked him to stop. The remaining crowd, though, asked for the talk to continue, as those who objected had already left, and people were still free to leave if they didn't want to hear it.

The discussion afterward was also heated, with some people saying that De Buysser didn't understand the struggles for democracy currently taking place in some countries, and others appreciating his use of free speech to examine shortcomings of democracy and look for ways to improve it.

“I didn't expect it would go like this. I know the sensitivities, I knew there were people from entirely different backgrounds and political views were sitting together. The exercise of a forum like this is exactly to gather different people, different opinions. But it was quite something. That the head of Forum 2000 walks onstage and says 'Now you have to stop,' this is like blatant censorship. I was really surprised that it came actually from him,” De Buysser said after the show.

Theater should get a reaction, he maintains. “I have to do what I have to do. To me it worked well because something really happened in the audience. People were walking out, people started to shout. Even the head walked on stage and said stop it, it is fantastic,” he said.

But he defended his work as accurate. “I don't see anything bizarre. I just applied Václav Havel on today's lies,” he said, adding that the people he quoted were mostly Nobel Prize winners such as economist Joseph Stiglitz and playwright Harold Pinter.

De Buysser's play After Party, which will premiere at Divadlo Archa in March, will be a more standard evening. The play will have two characters, a servant of Havel and a European politician. “It is a dialogue between two people. It will be something completely different, sort of a poetic fairy tale,” he said.

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