This past week, the College hosted the Havel and Our Crisis conference. On the Havel Conference website, it is described as a “international conference of scholars and leaders”. Visiting Assistant Professor Milan Babík hosted the event. Babík grew up in Šumperk, Czechoslovakia and was educated at Colby College, London School of Economics, and Oxford. He has been a Visiting Professor at the College since 2017. His interests include narratology, Central Europe, political religions, historical theory, anc critical international relations. The conference revolves around Václav Havel, a Czech author, poet, writer, and statesman. He is referred to by Professor Babík as “one of the 20th century’s greatest champions of freedom, democracy, human rights, European integration, and transatlantic cooperation.”
He left behind a legacy of values, language, kindness, and truth, which were all themes of the conference. The conference was a response to troubled times, including but not limited to the “COVID-19 pandemic, inequality and fragmentation, disinformation and fake news … attacks on democratic institutions, and growing radical tendencies,” as stated by Professor Babík on the Havel Conference website.
Through the lens of Václav Havel, these recent international and domestic events were interpreted with truth, kindness, and understanding. The conference was well-attended by the College’s students and Waterville residents, and many attendees expressed their enthusiasm for the College’s hosting of the conference.
Guests at the conference included scholars Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University, Timothy Snyder, spotlight lecturer and Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University, and Vladimir Tismăneanu, Professor of Politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and Wilson Center Global Fellow. Additionally, there were creators and artists such as Paul Wilson, a Canadian writer, editor, journalist, and translator, and James Le Sueur, an award-winning cinematographer, filmmaker, and historian. The event was put on with the help of the Václav Havel Library, the Goldfarb Center, and the Czech Center of New York as well as other organizations.
There were four round tables: “The Crisis of Values,” “The Crisis of Language,” “The Crisis of Truth,” and “The Crisis of Kindness.” Many guests spoke about the Russo-Ukrainian War and its moral and international implications. Another common theme was the rise of far-right and nationalist movements in the United States and Europe. The film The Art of Dissent was also screened, alongside a performance of Václav Havel’s Audience by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater Company.
Overall, the conference was a success and promoted important discussions on international and domestic politics. Many guests walked out with a more well-versed and “Havel-centric” understanding of the rising conflicts around the world. The conference inspired many to build tolerance and truth in a rising polarized world.
~ Haydn Sage `25