doc. PhDr. Milan Uhde
* 28 July 1936
The Czech writer, playwright, screenwriter and politician Milan Uhde was the first-born of four children in a Brno-based family of lawyers. He finished grammar school in Brno – Královo Pole in 1953 and studied Czech, Russian and Literature at the Philosophical Faculty of J. A. Purkyně University in Brno. During this time he sympathised with the communist regime, but his mind was quickly changed after the 1956 events in Hungary. Although an A student, he tended to act rebelliously and frequently challenged his teachers. He was not interested in joining their ranks and so he left after his Master’s studies, and in 1958 became a trainee at the Brno journal “Host do domu”. He re-joined in 1960 after an 18-month military service and worked alongside more senior poets and writers Oldřich Mikulášek, Jaromír Tomeček, Ludvík Kundera, Jan Skácel, or the literary and art critic Oleg Sus. Milan considered Sus and Mikulášek his mentors. He wrote poetry, stories, articles and columns for other publications, such as “Literární noviny”, “Mladý svět”, “Kulturní tvorba” etc., and wrote plays, critiques and drama columns for “Tvář” or “Divadlo” magazines. In the 1960s he started writing songs, mostly for Brno theatres.
In 1962 Uhde published his debut collection of poems under the title “Lidí z přízemí”. In 1964 he wrote a political satire, a musical play called “Král Vávra” which was shown the Evening Brno Theatre and was well received – some still consider it Uhde’s best work. Shortly after, he published a book of short stories “Hrách na stěnu” and adapted one of them into a script for the film “Souhvězdí Panny” (1965), directed by Zbyněk Brynych. In 1967 Uhde published a book of song lyrics titled “Obloha samej cvok” and a fiction under the name “Záhadná věž v B”, revisiting old myths via fictitious documents (such as the Battle of Thermopylae or Joanne of Arc). During the 1960s he also wrote several plays for the radio: “Komedie s Lotem” (1963), absurd dramas “Svědkové” (1965) and “Výběrčí” (1966), “Ten, který přichází” (1968), or “Parta” (1969). His unpublished works include his screenplay “Šach-mat, Vaše Výsosti” (1969) or play “Vraždění ve Veracruz” (1970).
The 1968 Soviet occupation and normalization forced Uhde to retreat to the underground art scene. In 1970 “Host do domu” was taken off the shelves and Uhde lost his job. In 1971 he was forced to leave the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts where he had been teaching since 1967.
These events culminated in Uhde becoming a prohibited author and denied the right to work in 1972. He lived off his wife’s salary and used the time to write plays. They would sometimes be put on (for example in the Na Provázku theatre) under the names of his friends-playwrights, such as Zdeněk Pospíšil, Petr Oslzlý and Peter Scherhaufer. He followed the advice of dissident Pavel Kohout and sold some of his plays in the West, and published in foreign journals, including Rozmluvy (London), Listy (Rome), Svědectví (Paris) etc. In the state he was only able to publish in the form of samizdat, mostly in the Padlock Editions, where he presented his play “Hra na holuba” (1974) or his radio play “Zubařovo pokušení” (1976). He had two children during this difficult time – Michal and Jana, three years apart.
1975 was the year of Uhde’s most famous play A Ballad for a Bandit, which he wrote for Na Provázku Theatre under the name of his friend Zdeněk Pospíšil. It was a musical dramatization of Ivan Olbracht’s novel about the legendary Carpathian bandit Nikola Šohaj and was made into a successful film by Vladimír Sís in 1978. In 1976 Uhde adapted Mrštík’s play “Pohádka máje”, combining the characters of the forester and of Dr. Zvonek Burke from Smočka’s “Podivné odpoledne”. This adaptation was performed under the name “Poslední leč” and was also adapted to the screen by Vladimír Sís in 1981. Some of Uhde’s other plays, like the absurd comedy “Hodina obrany” (1977), or “Pán plamínků” (1977), portraying the abuse of psychiatry on dissidents, were adapted to television after the communist regime ended.
Uhde signed Charter 77 in 1976 which earned him countless interrogations at the StB office. To this day he is grateful for his dissident friends’ support, Ludvík Vaculík, Václav Havel and Jaroslav Šabata. Thanks to them he was able to write more radio and theatre plays, including “Modrý anděl” (1979), “Velice tiché Ave” (1981), “Zvěstování aneb Bedřichu, jsi anděl” (1986) and “Prodaný a prodaná” (1987), which were only published as samizdat. In 1988 Uhde joined the Civil Freedom Movement. He worked as an editor at Lidové noviny (People’s Newspaper), then illegal, in 1988–1989.
In 1989 Milan joined the Brno publishing collective Atlantis, along with other prohibited authors including Václav Havel, who made Uhde editor-in-chief. After November 1989 the collective became Atlantis publishing house, managed by Uhde’s wife Jitka. Uhde worked as a lecturer of modern and prohibited literature at Masaryk University and became associate professor at Janáček Academy of Performing Arts where he wrote his book “Desítka her”. He also wrote texts, critiques, and commentaries in various newspapers: Mosty, Lidové noviny, Literární noviny, Proglas, Reflexy and others.
He became active in politics, first as member of the Civic Forum collegium, then at the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). He was appointed Minister of Culture for 1990–1992, then MP, and from 1993 he held the post of the first Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies of the newly established Czech Republic. During this time he had stopped lecturing at the Brno university – he was fired in 1995 and he never fully came to peace with it. He continued his parliamentary work for ODS despite disagreeing with its then-leader Václav Klaus. His work prevented him from spending time with his family, writing books, and being active in the arts, and so he finally decided to step down in the late 1990s, after an exhaustion collapse.
Afterwards, he started teaching at the Prague Literary Academy (2001–2006) and joined several public media committees – first in the Czech Radio in 1999–2006, then in Czech TV from 2008, including a period of presidency between 2011 and 2014. He wrote the television play “Na rozchodnou” (2003, televised in 2008), theatre play “Zázrak v černém dome” (2004), which was performed at Na Zábradlí Theatre, and a musical theatre adaptation of Zola’s novel Nana in 2005. In 2013 he published an autobiography titled “Rozpomínky. Co na sebe vím”.
Milan Uhde has received a number of awards. During his dissident years he was awarded the exile literary Prize of Egon Hostovský (1980) and Tom Stoppard prize for his play “Pán plamínků” in 1987. In 2000 he received the Medal of Merit from President Václav Havel and in 2007 the Alfréd Radok Award and Theatre News Award for his play “Zázrak v černém dome”.