George Kovtun (1927-2014)

Jiri KovtunWe are saddened by the sudden death of one of our most productive SVU members- George (Jiří) Kovtun – which took place in Prague on September 8, 2014. He was born in Horincevo, which was then part of the Czechoslovak province of Subcarpathian Ruthenia, on April 23, 1927. He originally studied law at Charles Univ. (1946-48), while also working for Vývoj (Development) magazine.

In 1948 he left Czechoslovakia and initially resided in West Germany and in Norway, where he worked as a social worker. In 1951-73 he was an editor at Radio Free Europe in Munich and in 1976-77 he worked as an editor at Voice of America in Washington, DC. Having earned his degree in library science at Pratt Institute in New York, led to his employment in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, as an area specialist, starting in 1977.

While in exile, he published several collections of poetry (Blahoslavení, 1953; Tu-Fuův žal, 1954; Hřbet velryby, 1995) and prepared several translations from Russian (B. Pasternak, Alexandr Solženicyn, Osip Mandelstam, Josif Brodskij). He also wrote a novel Pražská ekloga (1973) and a novelette Zpráva z Lisabonu (1979). Subsequently he wrote several studies about T.G. Masaryk, i.e., Slovo má poslanec Masaryk (1985), Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence (1985), Masaryků triumf: Příběh konce světové války (1987), Masaryk and America: Testimony of a Relationship (1988), Republika v nebezpečném světě: Éra prezidenta Masaryka 1918–1935 (2005). In addition he authored Tajuplná vražda: Případ Leopolda Hilsnera (1994).

While working in the Library of Congress he prepared several important bibliographies, i.e., Thomas G. Masaryk (1850-1937: A Selective List of Reading Materials in English (1981), Czech and Slovak History: An American Bibliography (1996) and Czech and Slovak Literature in English (1988).

His passing away is a great loss to SVU and to the Czech community abroad, as well as to the Czech Republic.