Jiří Gruša : Positive fatalist
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Týden – Jan Schejbal
Philosopher, poet, essayist, dissident, emigré, diplomat, director – Jiří Gruša has had a full life. Now, after years spent in diplomacy, he’s drawing on his ambassadorial experience as the director of the diplomatic Academy in Vienna, from where he also directs the international PEN club.
“A PERSON HAS TO DO what comes his way in life. And he should try to do it well,” insists Gruša, for whom this approach to life has paid off many times. Without his positive attitude he might not have survived the past regime, because whatever he reached for, the communists forbade. Whether it was the literary magazine Face or Notebooks, or the weekly Tomorrow, the ’60s didn’t favor him, and the ’70s were no better. In 1970 he was banned from literary activity and wound up as a construction laborer. But he didn’t settle for peace and quiet. He signed Charter 77 and continued writing. After publishing his first book, Questionnaire, which was translated into many languages, in 1980 he was forced to emigrate from Czechoslovakia, also losing his citizenship. He settled in West Germany, where he worked as a writer. After the regime change in Czecho-
slovakia he got his retribution, becoming the Czech ambassador to Germany. In 1997 Václav Klaus named him education minister, but a year later he was an ambassador again, this time to Austria. He ended his mission prematurely, because his fellow writers elected him president of the PEN club. This organization, which has 136 centers all around the world, defends freedom of speech and fights the oppression and imprisonment of writers in totalitarian countries. “The presidency of the PEN club is an honorary and unpaid position, but it’s significant. I see my election as a great honor,” says Gruša, who this year also became the director of the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, the oldest school of its type in Europe. “We prepare diplomats, managers of large companies, and editors for their careers,” explains Gruša. This quintessential man of letters, who has dozens of publications to his credit, couldn’t get along without writing despite his heavy schedule. Besides essays and newspaper commentaries, he is currently engaged in preparing a book, The Power of the Powerful, which will explore the phenomenon of power in today’s society. “It’s hard to concentrate right now,” says Gruša. “I’m always half-way on the road between Prague and Vienna. My wife and I are packing our suitcases, and we may soon settle down,” he confides in closing.