RANGOON — With Burmese translations of childhood classics from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales to “The Arabian Nights,” Hans Christian Andersen stories and the Harry Potter series, kids in Burma are no strangers to international literature.
Still, as a result of a decades-long military dictatorship and heavy handed censorship that lasted until just two years ago, they probably haven’t had a chance to read any translated stories about politics that were intentionally written for children.
Now, with a translation of “The Pizh’duks,” written by former Czech President Václav Havel about the absurdities of communism, Burmese children have a chance to broaden their literary horizons.
In a project spearheaded by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Rangoon, three parts of the five-part fairytale have been translated to Burmese, with the Burmese version of the storybook launched at an event on Wednesday.
The book includes illustrations and a forward by Burma’s most prominent student leader, Min Ko Naing, who is famous for his interest in the arts and literature, apart from his lifelong involvement in the country’s democracy movement.
“In this art project, Václav Havel, the former political prisoner, meets another former political prisoner form Burma, Min Ko Naing, in the world of children,” said Michal Svoboda, the charge d’affairs of the embassy, during the book launch ceremony.
“It is also to encourage all former political prisoners, to show them they can always find a whole new era of engagement such as by writing or drawing for children,” he added.
He explained that the former Czech president wrote more than 20 plays as well as numerous non-fiction works that were translated internationally. But he wrote only one book for children in 1975, “The Pizh’duks.”
“The book is Havel’s criticism of self-seeking people, usually politicians. The pizh’duks are kind of creatures that humans become when they live under oppression and without freedom. It’s very true about this book that when it is read for the first time and then later on, years later, it might give the reader a different understanding of the content,” the charge d’ affairs said.
The book is the second book of Havel after “The Power of the Powerless” to be translated into Burmese.
Since the 1990s, Burma has been a priority in Czech foreign policy. Havel was a strong supporter of the country’s democracy movement.
Min Ko Naing said he was happy he could contribute his love of the arts to a project by someone whom he called “a good friend of Burma.”
“Among outsiders who support our country’s democracy movement, Mr. Václav Havel is the most prominent one, and the encouragement from the Czech Republic for us is the strongest,” he said during the book launch.
Talking about his expectations for the reception of Burmese readers to the book, Svobada of the embassy referred to Havel’s own words, in the introduction to the fairytale.
The former president, who died in 2011, wrote, “Dear children, I don’t usually write for children, and that is why I don’t know if this tale of mine about the Pizh’duks is going to make sense to you, and if you are going to like it. If not, don’t throw it away—wait and see how it is when you are older!”