Václav Havel

(born Oct. 5, 1936, Prague, Czech.died Dec. 18, 2011, Hrdeek, Cz.Rep.) Czech playwright and dissident and the first president of the Czech Republic (19932003). He worked in a Prague theatre from 1959 and became resident playwright by 1968. His plays, including The Memorandum (1965), are absurdist, satirical examinations of bureaucratic routines that explore the moral compromises made by those living under totalitarianism. They were banned by the communist authorities, and Havel was repeatedly arrested in the 1970s and '80s; he was imprisoned 197983. During antigovernment demonstrations in 1989, he became the leading figure in the Civic Forum, a coalition of groups pressing for democratic reforms. The Communist Party capitulated (in the bloodless Velvet Revolution) and formed a coalition government with the Civic Forum, and Havel was elected interim president in 1989 and president in 1990. He was then elected president of the new Czech Republic in 1993 and reelected in 1998. Barred constitutionally from a third term, he stepped down in 2003.

For more information on Vclav Havel, visit Britannica.com.

(b. Prague, 5 Oct. 1936) Czech; President of Czechoslovakia 1989 – 93, President of the Czech Republic 1993 – 2003 Havel was born into a family of upper-middle-class origin — his grandfather had been a well-known architect. He was denied entry into university because of his "bourgeois" origins and attended evening classes at Prague Technical University while working as a laboratory assistant and taxi-driver. He started his career as a writer in 1961. In 1963 his first play was produced: The Garden Party was a satire on the Novotný regime. Havel graduated from the Prague theatrical academy in 1967. He worked in Prague for the "Theatre on the Balustrade" which flourished in the years 1967 – 8. He wrote plays for this theatre and worked as a stage-hand. In 1968, during the "Prague Sping" he became chairman of the Czechoslovak Writer's Union. Performance of his work was banned in 1969, but he continued to write and his plays were popular in the West. In April 1975 he wrote an Open Letter to President Husák criticizing the regime. He was a founder member of the human rights group Charter 77 whose programme was announced on 1 January 1977. He was gaoled from January to May 1977 and put under house arrest until 1979, when he was again imprisoned. He was released on grounds of health in 1983. In January 1989 he was sent back to gaol, despite an outcry in the West, and released in May 1989. In November 1989 during the "Velvet Revolution" he played a pivotal role in co-ordinating the popular rising against the Communist regime and in articulating an opposition programme. One month later he was elected President by the Czechoslovak Assembly after Husák's resignation and confirmed in office by popular vote in 1990. Havel regretted the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1992 but believed that there was no way to prevent it. In January 1993 he was elected President of the Czech Republic.

A world-renowned playwright and human rights activist, Vaclav Havel (born 1936) became the president of Czechoslovakia in December 1989, a unique position in European history. His literary brilliance, moral ascendancy, and political victories served to make him one of the most respected figures of the late 20th century and led his country to be one of the first Eastern European nations to be invited into NATO.

Vaclav Havel was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on October 5, 1936, to a wealthy and cultivated family. His father was a restaurateur, real estate developer, and friend of many writers and artists, and his uncle owned Czechoslovakia's major motion picture studio. The coming of World War II did not much disturb the Havels' lifestyle, and young Vaclav grew up amid the trappings of luxury, with servants, fancy cars, and elegant homes.

Deprived of High School Education

The 1948 Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia radically changed the Havels' lives. Their money and properties were confiscated, and Vaclav's parents had to take menial jobs. The worst deprivation for the family was that Vaclav and his brother were not allowed to attend high school. Fortunately he discovered a loophole in the system by which he could attend night school, and so for five years he combined a full-time job as a laboratory assistant with school. The busy teenager also enjoyed an active social life, which revolved around a group of friends who, like Vaclav, wrote poetry and essays, endlessly discussed philosophical matters, and sought out the company of writers and intellectuals. In the fall of 1956 he first attracted widespread attention when, at a government-sponsored conference for young writers, he appealed for official recognition of several banned poets, an act which earned him much criticism.

Became a Playwright

From 1957 to 1959 Havel served in the Czech army, where he helped found a regimental theater company. His experience in the army stimulated his interest in theater, and following his discharge he took a stagehand position at the avant-garde Theater on the Balustrade. The eager would-be playwright attracted the admiration of the theater's director and he progressed swiftly from manuscript reader to literary manager to, by 1968, resident playwright. It was while at the Theater on the Balustrade that Havel met and in 1964 married Olga Splichalova. Of working-class origin, his wife was, as Havel later said, "exactly what I needed. … All my life I've consulted her in everything I do … She's usually first to read whatever I write.…"

His wife did a great deal of reading as Havel's career took off. Heavily influenced by Theater of the Absurd playwrights, Havel's early plays were clever, rather depressing exposés of the relationship between language and thought. These plays, which included The Garden Party (1963), The Memorandum (1965), and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), were instant successes in Czechoslovakia and abroad, where they were translated and performed to critical and popular acclaim.

Human Rights Activities

The Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 brought an abrupt end to the cultural flowering of the "Prague Spring" and marked a watershed in Havel's life. He felt he could not remain silent, and so began his long career as a human rights activist with an underground radio broadcast asking Western intellectuals to condemn the invasion and to protest the human rights abuses of the new and repressive regime of Gustav Husak. The government responded by banning the publication and performance of Havel's works and by revoking his passport. Although he was forced to take a job in a brewery, he continued to write, and his works were distributed by clandestine, "samizdat" means - typewritten copies and illegal tapes, many of which were sent abroad for publication.

Like many of his countrymen, and in particular many intellectuals and artists, Havel could have fled Czechoslovakia to the freedom of the West. He was offered several opportunities to leave, and the government encouraged him to do so. He declined, however, saying, "The solution of this human situation does not lie in leaving it. … " His courageous decision to remain and face what he termed the "interesting" future in his own country made him a hero to many Czechs.

Havel's human rights activities continued with April 1975's "Open Letter to Doctor Gustav Husak, " which decried the state of the country as a place which had lost all sense of values and in which people lived in fear and apathy. The "Letter, " disseminated through samizdat channels, attracted much notice and clearly put Havel at risk.

Jailed For Protest

In January 1977 hundreds of Czech intellectuals and artists, Marxists and anti-Communists alike, signed Charter 77, which protested Czechoslovakia's failure to comply with the Helsinki Agreement on human rights. Havel took an active part in the Charter movement and was elected one of its chief spokesmen. As such, he was arrested and jailed early in 1977, tried on charges of subversion, and given a 14-month suspended sentence. Havel was unrepentant: "The truth has to be spoken loudly and collectively, regardless of the results. … "

Havel and some other Charter 77 activists founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, or VONS, in 1978. The members of VONS were arrested, and in October 1978 Havel was tried, convicted, and sentenced to four and one-half years at hard labor. He served his sentence at a variety of prisons under arduous conditions, some of which are chronicled in his book Letters to Olga (1988), based on his prison letters to his wife. A severe illness resulted in his early release in March 1983.

Henceforth Havel was viewed both at home and abroad as a symbol of the Czech government's repression and the Czech people's irrepressible desire for freedom. He continued his dissident activities by writing a number of significant and powerful essays, many of which are collected in 1987's Vaclav Havel or Living in Truth. Highly critical of the totalitarian mind and regime while exalting the human conscience and humanistic values, the essays contain some splendid and moving passages. The government responded by tapping his telephone, refusing to let him accept literary prizes abroad, watching his movements, and even shooting his dog.

In January 1989 Havel was arrested again following a week of protests and was sentenced to jail for nine months. On November 19, 1989, amid growing dissatisfaction with the regime in Czechoslovakia and similar discontent throughout Eastern Europe, Havel announced the creation of the Civic Forum. Like Charter 77, a coalition of groups with various political affiliations and a common goal of nonviolent and nonpartisan solution, the forum was quickly molded by Havel and his colleagues into a responsive and effective organization.

The Collapse Of the Communist Regime

The week following the creation of the forum marked the beginning of the so-called "Velvet Revolution, " by which Czechoslovakia's Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards. With almost dizzying speed, a new, democratic republic was smoothly and bloodlessly established. Havel and the Civic Forum played a decisive role in this revolution, meeting with the government and applying pressure by mass demonstrations. On December 10, 1989, Husak resigned as president. On December 19, Parliament unanimously elected Havel to replace him. To the cheering throngs which greeted him after his election Havel said, "I promise you I will not betray your confidence. I will lead this country to free elections. … "

The new president was a new type of leader for Czechoslovakia. The long-persecuted but never silenced dissident was a modest, diffident intellectual, who, lacking a professional politician's self-conscious self-confidence, readily admitted his fears for the future and amazement at his success. In his first months in office he accomplished much. His very presence as president manifested Czech unity and freedom, and he retained his great personal popularity both at home and abroad. He was enthusiastically received in Germany and accorded respect in Moscow, where Premier Gorbachev agreed to withdraw Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia. He was deliriously applauded in the United States, where he addressed Congress, met with the president, and was lionized by celebrities. His government began the long, and, as he warned his people, often painful process of social and economic change to democracy and a free market economy. Most importantly, in June 1990 the promised free elections - the first since 1946 - were held, with Havel's Civic Forum's candidates winning large majorities in both houses of Parliament. On July 5, 1990, Parliament reelected an unopposed Havel as president for a two-year term.

Vaclav Havel as President

Havel's government had considerable success in its first year and managed to avoid some of the awkward adjustments faced by other Eastern European countries. Nonetheless, Havel and his country faced some weighty problems. The first of these was the resurgence of Slovakian nationalism, which was stayed by Havel's popularity and a constitution which ensures a Slovakian prime minister. Then there was Havel himself, who as a dissident criticized the government but did not have - and could not have had - a realistic program as an alternative. He therefore had to do a great deal of learning on the job, a process not without its hazards. When he released prisoners, for example, he crippled Czechoslovakia's main automobile factory, which depended on convict labor, causing severe though temporary economic dislocations.

More serious was the split of the Civic Forum between those wanting a complete and rapid transformation of the Czech economy to a free market system, led by Vaclav Klaus, and Havel's more cautious followers, who believed in a gradual approach. To the surprise of most observers, and of Havel himself, Klaus was elected chairman of the Civic Forum in October 1990, defeating Havel's candidate. Many viewed this as Havel's first serious political setback, and the split of the forum into two distinct factions did not bode well for its long-term survival as a political entity.

In August 1992, the Slovak parliament passed its own constitution, and Havel resigned as president. In December, parliament passed a law dividing Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a separation Havel had tried to prevent. However, Havel's political career was not yet over. In 1993 parliament elected him first president of the Czech Republic.

Tumor Removed

In January 1995 a crisis occurred. Havel's wife of 32 years died of cancer. One year later, Havel married Czech actress Dagmar Veskrnova. In just a few months, Havel entered a clinic with what was thought to be pneumonia. While performing exploratory surgery, doctors found a tumor on his right lung. The tumor was removed on December 2, along with half the lung. During this time, his nation waited anxiously. Supporters called Havel the "chief stabilizing force in this country." Fortunately, Havel was released in good condition on December 27, and three days later was addressing the nation on Czech television.

Invitation to NATO

The positive changes in the former Soviet block country under Havel's leadership led to a landmark event. On July 8, 1997, NATO invited the Czech Republic, along with Poland and Hungary, to be the first Eastern European nation to become a part of the Western Alliance. According to the Associated Press, United States President Bill Clinton told his fellow leaders, some of whom were opposed to the expansion of NATO, that "they have met the highest standards of democratic and market reform. They have pursued those reforms long enough to give us confidence they are irreversible." NATO planned to admit the new members in April of 1999, the 50th anniversary of NATO. Havel called the invitation from NATO "the crowning achievement of enormous efforts by those countries to shed their communist pasts."

Of Havel's survival as a national figure there can be no doubt. It is impossible to predict if he will remain president after his term expires or if, as he often indicated, he will return to his writing career. Whatever his plans, he will leave a formidable legacy. His career demonstrated what he called "the power of the powerless" - of one courageous writer, unable to "live within a lie, " who inspired his countrymen to overturn the oppression of 40 years despite the obvious dangers and despite a natural fear of change. Havel also inspired others, and will continue to serve as a symbol for those whose revolutions are still in progress or have not yet begun.

Further Reading

Of his own works, Disturbing the Peace (1990), set in the form of answers to an interviewer's questions, presents a great deal of otherwise unavailable autobiographical information as well as an explanation of his philosophies. For the general reader, this is the most accessible of his works. Several of his plays, notably The Memorandum (1965) and Largo Desolato (1984), provide insight into Havel's beliefs. George Galt's "Gentle Revolutionary, " Saturday Night (September 1990), is a temperate but admiring review of Living in Truth, Letters to Olga, and Disturbing the Peace

The usually silent Olga Havel eloquently describes her situation in John Tagliabue's "Prague Playwright Is Jailed Again, " New York Times (February 5, 1989). For two fascinating accounts of reporters' visits with a harassed, pre-revolutionary Havel, see TIME (May 29, 1989), and John Keane's "Rebel With A Cause, " New Statesman and Society (December 8, 1989). "The Conscience of Prague, " TIME (December 11, 1989), and Mervyn Rothstein's "A Master of Irony and Humor, " New York Times (December 30, 1989), are excellent introductions to Havel's life and careers. A good overview of the revolution and Havel's part in it is in Newsweek (December 18, 1989).

For a look at Havel as the new president, see Craig R. Whitney's interview in the New York Times (January 12, 1990), which reveals the chaotic good humor with which the new regime was initiated. More sober are Michael Meyer's "End of the Affair, " Newsweek (April 30, 1990) and Richard Z. Chesnoff's "The Prisoner Who Took the Castle, " U.S. News and World Report (February 26, 1990) which provide cogent analyses of the problems facing the new government. Finally, an important and balanced profile of Havel is given in William A. Henry III's "Dissident to President, " TIME (January 8, 1990). See also Vaclav Havel: The Authorized Biography (St. Martin's Press, 1993); Alfred Horn, ed., Czech and Slovik Republics (Houghton Mifflin, 1993); Vaclav Havel, "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World, " The Futurist (July-August, 1995); Vaclav Havel, "The Hope for Europe, " The New York Review of Books (June 20, 1996); and "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" (June 22, 1995).

Havel, Václav (väts'läv hävĕl), 1936-2011, Czech dramatist and essayist, president of Czechoslovakia (1989-92) and the Czech Republic (1993-2003). The most original Czech dramatist to emerge in the 1960s, Havel soon antagonized the political power structure by focusing on the senselessness and absurdity of mechanized, totalitarian society in plays that implicitly criticized the government, such as The Garden Party (1963, tr. 1969) and The Memorandum (1965, tr. 1967), and in various essays of the 1960s and 70s. As an organizer (1977) and leading spokesman for the dissident group Charter 77, he was imprisoned (1979-83) by the Czechoslovak Communist regime, and his plays were banned.

Havel was a founder (1989) of the Civic Forum, a human rights and opposition group, and became its principal spokesman. When it succeeded in forcing (1989) the Communist party to share power, he became interim president of Czechoslovakia. He was elected president of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of Communism in 1990, but resigned in 1992 prior to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, to which he was opposed. He was elected president of the new Czech Republic in 1993 and reelected in 1998. As president he tended toward a social democratic approach to social and economic issues, strongly supporting civil liberties and human rights and an eastward-expanding NATO. He retired from the presidency in 2003. Havel's other works include Protocols (essays and poems, 1966), Letters to Olga (1983, tr. 1989), Three Vanek Plays (1990), Open Letters: Selected Writings 1965-1990 (1991), Summer Meditations (1991, tr. 1992), and Selected Plays, 1984-87 (1994).


See his memoir, To the Castle and Back (2007); interview ed. by P. Wilson (tr. 1990); biography by M. Simmons (1991); collections of essays on Havel, ed. by J. Vladislav (1986) and M. Goetz-Stankiewicz and P. Carey (1999); study by J. Keane (2000).

Václav Havel
1st President of the Czech Republic
In office
2 February 1993 – 2 February 2003
Prime Minister Václav Klaus
Josef Tošovský
Miloš Zeman
Vladimír Špidla
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Václav Klaus
9th President of Czechoslovakia
In office
29 December 1989 – 20 July 1992
Prime Minister Marián Čalfa
Jan Stráský
Preceded by Marián Čalfa (Acting)
Succeeded by Jan Stráský (Acting)
Personal details
Born (1936-10-05)5 October 1936
Prague, Czechoslovakia
(now Czech Republic)
Died 18 December 2011(2011-12-18) (aged 75)
Vlčice, Czech Republic
Political party Civic Forum (1989–1993)
Green Party supporter (2004–2011) (from 1980s supporter of green politics)
Spouse(s) Olga Šplíchalová (1964–1996)
Dagmar Veškrnová (1997–2011)
Alma mater Technical University, Prague
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]
Website www.vaclavhavel.cz

Václav Havel (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvaːt͡slav ˈɦavɛl] ( listen); 5 October 1936 – 18 December 2011) was a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician.

Havel was the ninth[2] and last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). He wrote more than 20 plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally.

Havel was voted 4th in Prospect magazine's 2005 global poll of the world's top 100 intellectuals.[3] At the time of his death he was Chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. He was the founder of the VIZE 97 Foundation and the principal organizer of the Forum 2000 annual global conference.

Havel was one of the signatories of the Charter 77 manifesto, a founding signatory, together with Joachim Gauck, of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism (launching the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism),[4][5] and a council member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Havel received many recognitions, including the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the freedom medal of the Four Freedoms Award, and the Ambassador of Conscience Award. The 2012–2013 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour.[6]



Early life

Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936[7] and grew up in a well-known, wealthy entrepreneurial and intellectual family, which was closely linked to the cultural and political events in Czechoslovakia from the 1920s to the 1940s.

His father, Václav Maria Havel, was the owner of the suburban Barrandov Terraces, located on the highest point of Prague, and of the large Barrandov Film Studios. Havel's mother, Božena Vavrečková,[8] came also from an influential family; her father was a Czechoslovak ambassador and a well-known journalist. In the early 1950s, the young Havel entered into a four-year apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant and simultaneously took evening classes; he completed his secondary education in 1954. For political reasons, he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a humanities program; therefore, he opted for studies at the Faculty of Economics of the Czech Technical University in Prague but dropped out after two years.[9] In 1964, Havel married Olga Šplíchalová.

Early theatre career

The intellectual tradition of his family was essential for Havel´s lifetime adherence to the humanitarian values of the Czech culture.[10] After finishing his military service (1957–59), Havel had to bring his intellectual ambitions in line with the given circumstances, especially with the restrictions imposed on him as a descendant of former bourgeois family. He found employment in Prague's theatre world as a stagehand at Prague's Theatre ABC – Divadlo ABC, and then at the Theatre On Balustrade – Divadlo Na zábradlí. Simultaneously, he was a student of dramatic arts by correspondence at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU). His first own full-length play performed in public, besides various vaudeville collaborations, was The Garden Party (1963). Presented in a series of Theatre of the Absurd, at the Theatre on Balustrade, this play won him international acclaim. The play was soon followed by The Memorandum, one of his best known plays, and the The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, all at the Theatre on Balustrade. In 1968, The Memorandum was also brought to The Public Theater in New York, which helped to establish Havel's reputation in the United States. The Public Theater continued to produce his plays in the following years. After 1968, Havel's plays were banned from the theatre world in his own country, and he was unable to leave Czechoslovakia to see any foreign performances of his works.[11]


During the first week of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Havel assisted the resistance by providing an on-air narrative via Radio Free Czechoslovakia station (at Liberec). Following the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, he was banned from the theatre and became more politically active.[12] Short of money, he took a job in a brewery, an experience he wrote about in his play Audience. This play, along with two other "Vaněk" plays (so-called because of the recurring character Ferdinand Vaněk, a stand in for Havel), became distributed in samizdat form across Czechoslovakia, and greatly added to Havel's reputation of being a leading dissident (several other Czech writers later wrote their own plays featuring Vaněk).[13] This reputation was cemented with the publication of the Charter 77 manifesto, written partially in response to the imprisonment of members of the Czech psychedelic band The Plastic People of the Universe.[14] (Havel had attended their trial, which centered on the group's non-conformity in having long hair, using obscenities in their music, and their overall involvement in the Czech underground).[15] Havel co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted in 1979. His political activities resulted in multiple stays in prison, and constant government surveillance and questioning by the secret police, (Státní bezpečnost). His longest stay in prison, from May 1979 to February 1983,[16] is documented in letters to his wife that were later published as Letters to Olga.

He was known for his essays, most particularly The Power of the Powerless, in which he described a societal paradigm in which citizens were forced to "live within a lie" under the communist regime.[17] In describing his role as a dissident, Havel wrote in 1979: "...we never decided to become dissidents. We have been transformed into them, without quite knowing how, sometimes we have ended up in prison without precisely knowing how. We simply went ahead and did certain things that we felt we ought to do, and that seemed to us decent to do, nothing more nor less."[18]


Václav Havel and Karol Sidon (left), his friend and later chief Czech rabbi
Flag of the President of the Czech Republic. The national motto "Truth Prevails" was part of the greater coat of arms of Czechoslovakia during the interwar period.

On 29 December 1989, while he was leader of the Civic Forum, Havel became President of Czechoslovakia by a unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly. He had long insisted that he was not interested in politics and had argued that political change in the country should be induced through autonomous civic initiatives rather than through the official institutions. In 1990, soon after his election, Havel was awarded the Prize For Freedom of the Liberal International.[19][20][21]

Following the first free elections in Czechoslovakia in 1990, Havel retained his presidency. Despite increasing political tensions between the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1992, Havel supported the retention of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic prior to the dissolution of the country. On 3 July 1992, the Federal Parliament did not elect Havel, who was the only candidate, due to a lack of support from Slovak deputies. The largest Czech political party, the Civic Democratic Party, let it be known that it would not support any other candidate. After the Slovaks issued their Declaration of Independence, he resigned as President on 20 July, saying that he would not preside over the country's breakup.

However, when the Czech Republic was created as one of two successor states, he stood for election as its first president on 26 January 1993, and won. He did not have nearly the power that he had as president of Czechoslovakia. Although he was nominally the new country's chief executive, the Constitution of the Czech Republic intended to vest most of the real power in the prime minister. However, owing to his prestige, he still commanded a good deal of moral authority, and the presidency acquired a greater role than the framers intended. For instance, largely due to his influence, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, successor to the KSC's branch in the Czech Lands, was kept on the margins for most of his presidency, as Havel suspected it was still an unreformed Stalinist party.[22]

Havel's popularity abroad surpassed his popularity at home,[23] and he was often the object of controversy and criticism. During his time in office, Havel stated that the expulsion of the indigenous Sudeten German population after World War II was immoral, causing a great controversy at home. His extensive general amnesty was one of his first acts as President. It was an attempt to lessen the pressure in overcrowded prisons as well as to release political prisoners and persons who may have been falsely imprisoned during the Communist era. He had felt that many of the decisions of the previous regime's courts should not be trusted, and that most of those in prison had not received fair trials.[24] On the other hand, his critics claimed that this amnesty led to a significant increase in the crime rate. According to Havel's memoir To the Castle and Back, most of those who were released had less than a year to serve before their sentences ended. Statistics have not lent clear support to either claim.

In an interview with Karel Hvížďala (included in To the Castle and Back), Havel expressed his feeling that it was his most important accomplishment as President to have contributed to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. According to his statement the dissolution was very complicated. The infrastructure created by the Warsaw Pact was part of the economies of all member states, so that it took for example two years for Soviet troops to fully withdraw from Czechoslovakia.[citation needed]

Following a legal dispute with his sister-in-law Dagmar Havlová (wife of his brother Ivan M. Havel), Havel decided to sell his 50% stake in the Lucerna Palace on Wenceslas Square in Prague, built from 1907 to 1921 by his grandfather, also named Václav Havel (spelled Vácslav,) one of the multifunctional "palaces" in the center of the once booming pre-World War I Prague. In a transaction arranged by Marián Čalfa, Havel sold the estate to Václav Junek, a former communist spy in France and leader of the soon-to-be-bankrupt conglomerate Chemapol Group, who later openly admitted that he bribed politicians of the Czech Social Democratic Party.[25]

In December 1996, Havel who had been a chain smoker for a long time, was diagnosed with lung cancer.[26] The disease reappeared two years later. He quit smoking. In 1996, Olga Havlová, his wife of 32 years, died of cancer at 63. In 1997, he remarried, to actress Dagmar Veškrnová.[27]

Havel was among those influential politicians who contributed most to the transition of NATO from being an anti-Warsaw Pact alliance to its present form. Havel advocated vigorously for the inclusion of former-Warsaw Pact members, like the Czech Republic, into the Western alliance.[28][29]

Havel was re-elected president in 1998. He had to undergo a colostomy in Innsbruck when his colon ruptured while he was on holiday in Austria.[30] Havel left office after his second term as Czech president ended on 2 February 2003. Václav Klaus, one of his greatest political adversaries, was elected his successor as President on 28 February 2003. Margaret Thatcher wrote of the two men in her foreign policy treatise Statecraft, reserving the greater respect for Havel. Havel´s dedication to democracy and his steadfast opposition to the Communist ideology earned him admiration.[31][32][33]

Post-presidential career

In his post-presidency Havel focused on European affairs

Beginning in 1997, Havel hosted Forum 2000, an annual conference to "identify the key issues facing civilisation and to explore ways to prevent the escalation of conflicts that have religion, culture or ethnicity as their primary components". In 2005, the former President occupied the Kluge Chair for Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center of the United States Library of Congress, where he continued his research on human rights.[34] In November and December 2006, Havel spent eight weeks as a visiting artist in residence at Columbia University. The stay was sponsored by the Columbia Arts Initiative and featured "performances, and panels centr[ing] on his life and ideas", including a public "conversation" with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Concurrently, the Untitled Theater Company No. 61 launched a Havel Festival, the first complete festival of his plays in various venues throughout New York City, including The Brick Theater and the Ohio Theatre, in celebration of his 70th birthday.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41] Havel was a member of the World Future Society and addressed the Society's members on 4 July 1994. His speech was later printed in THE FUTURIST magazine (July 1995).[42]

Havel remained to be generally positive viewed from Czech citizens. In The Greatest Czech TV show (the Czech spin-off of the BBC 100 Greatest Britons show) in 2005, Havel received the third biggest amount of voices, so he was elected to be third greatest Czech when he was still alive.

Havel's memoir of his experience as President, To the Castle and Back, was published in May 2007. The book mixes an interview in the style of Disturbing the Peace with actual memoranda he sent to his staff with modern diary entries and recollections.[43]

On 4 August 2007, Havel met with members of the Belarus Free Theatre at his summer cottage in the Czech Republic in a show of his continuing support, which has been instrumental in the theatre's attaining international recognition and membership in the European Theatrical Convention.[44][45]

Havel's first new play in almost two decades, Leaving, was published in November 2007, and was to have had its world premiere in June 2008 at the Prague theater Divadlo na Vinohradech,[46] but the theater withdrew it in December as it felt it could not provide the technical support needed to mount the play.[47] The play instead premiered on 22 May 2008 at the Archa Theatre to standing ovations.[48] Havel based the play on King Lear, by William Shakespeare, and on The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov; "Chancellor Vilém Rieger is the central character of Leaving, who faces a crisis after being removed from political power."[46] The play had its English language premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre in London and its American premiere at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. Havel subsequently directed a film version of the play, which premiered in the Czech Republic on 22 March 2011.[49]

Other works included the short sketch Pět Tet, a modern sequel to Unveiling, and The Pig, or Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig, which was premiered in Brno at Theatre Goose on a String and had its English language premiere in June 2011 at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York, in a production from Untitled Theater Company no. 61.[50][51]

In 2008, Havel became Member of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation. He met U.S. President Barack Obama in private before Obama´s departure after the end of the European Union (EU) and United States (US) summit in Prague in April 2009.[52]

Havel was the chair of the Human Rights Foundation's International Council and a member of the international advisory council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.[53]

Václav Havel at Velvet Revolution Memorial (Národní Street, Prague) in 2010

From the 1980s Havel supported the green politics movement (partly due to his friendship with the co-founder of the German Die Grünen party Milan Horáček).[54][55]).

From 2004 until his death he supported the Czech Green Party.[56][57][58][59]


Havel died on 18 December 2011, aged 75, at his country home in Hrádeček.[60][61][62]

A week before his death, he met with his longtime friend, the Dalai Lama, in Prague;[63] Havel appeared in a wheelchair.[61] Within hours Havel's death was met with numerous tributes, including from U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Polish President Lech Wałęsa. Merkel called Havel "a great European", while Wałęsa said he should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize.[61][64]

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a native of Czechoslovakia, said, "He was one of the great figures of the 20th Century", while Czech expatriate novelist Milan Kundera said, "Václav Havel's most important work is his own life."[65]

Memorial gathering of Václav Havel in Wenceslas Square in Prague on the day of his death on 18 December 2011

Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced a three-day mourning period from 21 to 23 December, the date announced by President Václav Klaus for the state funeral. The funeral Mass was held at Saint Vitus Cathedral, celebrated by the Archbishop of Prague Dominik Duka and Havel’s old friend Bishop Václav Malý. During the service, a 21 gun salute was fired in the former president’s honour, and as per the family’s request, a private ceremony followed at the crematorium in Strašnice, Prague. Havel’s ashes were placed in the family tomb in the Vinohrady Cemetery in Prague.[66] On 23 December 2011 the Václav Havel Tribute Concert was held in Prague's Palác Lucerna.

Communists took the opportunity to criticize Havel. Czech Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip stated that Havel was a very controversial person and that his words often conflicted with his deeds. He criticized Havel for having supported NATO's war against the former Yugoslavia, repeating the charge that Havel had called the event a "humanitarian bombing,"[67] despite the fact that Havel had expressly and emphatically denied ever having used such a phrase.[68]

An online petition organized by one of the best-known Czech and Slovak film directors, Fero Fenič, calling on the government and the Parliament to rename Prague Ruzyně Airport to Václav Havel International Airport attracted - in a week after 20 December 2011 - a support of over 80,000 signatories both within and outside of the Czech Republic.[69] It was announced that the airport would be renamed the Václav Havel Airport Prague on 5 October 2012.[70][71]


In 1990, Havel received the Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize for his outstanding contributions to the well-being of the wider community.

On 4 July 1994, Václav Havel was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal. In his acceptance speech, he said: "The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. If it is to be more than just a slogan mocked by half the world, it cannot be expressed in the language of departing era, and it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith in a purely scientific relationship to the world."[72]

In 1997, Havel received the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

In 2002, he was the third recipient of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award presented by the Prague Society for International Cooperation. In 2003, he was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize by the government of India for his outstanding contribution towards world peace and upholding human rights in most difficult situations through Gandhian means; he was the inaugural recipient of Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for his work in promoting human rights;[73] he received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom; and he was appointed as an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada.

In January 2008, the Europe-based A Different View cited Havel to be one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy.[74] As a former Czech President, Havel was a member of the Club of Madrid.[75] In 2009 he was awarded the Quadriga Award,[76] but decided to return it in 2011 following the announcement of Vladimir Putin as one of the 2011 award recipients.[77]

Havel also received multiple honorary doctorates from various universities such as the prestigious Institut d'études politiques de Paris in 2009,[78] and was a member of the French Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.

On 10 October 2011 Havel was awarded by the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili with the St. George Victory Order.[79]

In 1993, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[80]

State awards

Country Awards[81] Date Place
Argentina Order of the Liberator San Martin Collar 09/1996 Buenos Aires
Austria Decoration for Science and Art[82] 11/2005 Vienna
Brazil Order of the Southern Cross Grand Collar
Order of Rio Branco Grand Cross
Canada Order of Canada Honorary Companion 03/2004 Prague
Czech Republic Order of the White Lion 1st Class (Civil Division) with Collar Chain
Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1st Class
10/2003 Prague
Estonia Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana The Collar of the Cross 04/1996 Tallinn
France Légion d'honneur Grand Cross
Order of Arts and Letters Commander
Georgia Saint George's Victory Order 10/2011 Prague
Germany Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany Special class of the Grand Cross 05/2000 Berlin
Hungary Order of Merit of Hungary Grand Cross with Chain 09/2001 Prague
India Gandhi Peace Prize 08/2003 Delhi
Italy Order of Merit of the Italian Republic Grand Cross with Cordon 04/2002 Rome
Jordan Order of al-Hussein bin Ali Collar 09/1997 Amman
Latvia Order of the Three Stars Commander Grand Cross with Chain 08/1999 Prague
Lithuania Order of Vytautas the Great Grand Cross 09/1999 Prague
Poland Order of the White Eagle 10/1993 Warsaw
Portugal Order of Liberty Grand Collar 12/1990 Lisbon
Republic of China (Taiwan) Order of Brilliant Star with Special Grand Cordon 11/2004 Taipei
Slovakia Order of the White Double Cross 01/2003 Bratislava
Slovenia The Golden honorary Medal of Freedom 11/1993 Ljubljana
Spain Order of Isabella the Catholic Grand Cross with Collar 07/1995 Prague
Turkey National Decoration of Republic of Turkey 10/2000 Ankara
Ukraine Order of Yaroslav the Wise 10/2006 Prague
United Kingdom Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross (Civil Division) 03/1996 Prague
United States Presidential Medal of Freedom 07/2003 Washington D.C.
Uruguay Medal of the Republic 09/1996 Montevideo

Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent

In April 2011, Havel's widow, Dagmar Havlová, authorized the creation of the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. The prize was created by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and is awarded at the annual Oslo Freedom Forum. The prize "will celebrate those who engage in creative dissent, exhibiting courage and creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth."[83]


Collections of poetry

  • Čtyři rané básně (Four Early Poems)
  • Záchvěvy I & II, 1954 (Quivers I & II)
  • První úpisy, 1955 (First promissory notes)
  • Prostory a časy, 1956 (Spaces and times)
  • Na okraji jara (cyklus básní), 1956 (At the edge of spring (poetry cycle))
  • Antikódy, 1964 (Anticodes)


  • Life Ahead/You Have Your Whole Life Ahead of You, 1959, (Život před sebou) with Karel Brynda
  • Motomorphosis/Motormorphosis, 1960/1961, (Motomorfóza), a sketch from Autostop
  • Ela, Hela, and the Hitch, 1960/1961, (Ela, Hela a stop), a sketch for Autostop; discarded from the play, lost; found in 2009; published in 2011
  • An Evening with the Family, 1960, (Rodinný večer)
  • Hitchhiking, 1961, (Autostop), with Ivan Vyskočil
  • The Best Years of Missis Hermanová, 1962, (Nejlepší rocky paní Hermanové) with Miloš Macourek
  • The Garden Party (Zahradní slavnost), 1963
  • The Memorandum (or The Memo), 1965, (Vyrozumění)
  • The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1968, (Ztížená možnost soustředění)
  • Butterfly on the Antenna, 1968, (Motýl na anténě)
  • Guardian Angel, 1968, (Anděl strážný)
  • Conspirators, 1971, (Spiklenci)
  • The Beggar's Opera, 1975, (Žebrácká opera)
  • Unveiling, 1975, (Vernisáž)- a Vanӗk play
  • Audience, 1975, (Audice) – a Vanӗk play
  • Mountain Hotel 1976, (Horský hotel)
  • Protest, 1978, (Protest) – a Vanӗk play
  • Mistake, 1983, (Chyba
  • Largo desolato 1984, (Largo desolato)
  • Temptation, 1985, (Pokoušení)
  • Redevelopment, 1987, (Asanace)
  • The Pig, or Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig (Prase, aneb Václav Havel´s Hunt for a Pig), 1987; published in 2010; premiered in 2010, co-authored by Vladimír Morávek
  • Tomorrow, 1988, (Zítra to spustíme)
  • Leaving (Odcházení), 2007
  • Dozens of Cousins (Pět Tet), 2010, a Vanӗk play, a short sketch/sequel to Unveiling

Non-fiction books

  • The Power of the Powerless (1985) [Includes 1978 titular essay. Online
  • Living in Truth (1986)
  • Letters to Olga (Dopisy Olze) (1988)
  • Disturbing the Peace (1991)
  • Open Letters (1991)
  • Summer Meditations (Letní přemítání) (1992/93)
  • Towards a Civil Society (1994)
  • The Art of the Impossible (1998)
  • To the Castle and Back (2007)

Fiction books

  • Pizh'duks


Cultural allusions and interests

  • Havel was a major supporter of The Plastic People of the Universe, and close friend of its leader, Milan Hlavsa, its manager, Ivan Martin Jirous, and its guitarist/vocalist, Paul Wilson (who later became Havel's English translator and biographer) and a great fan of the rock band The Velvet Underground, sharing mutual respect with the principal singer-songwriter Lou Reed, and was also a lifelong Frank Zappa fan.[84][85]
  • Havel was also a great supporter and fan of jazz and frequented such Prague clubs as Radost FX and the Reduta Jazz Club, where U.S. President Bill Clinton played the saxophone when Havel brought him there.[84]
  • The period involving Havel's role in the Velvet Revolution and his ascendancy to the presidency is dramatized in part in the play Rock 'n' Roll, by Czechoslovakia-born English playwright Tom Stoppard. One of the characters in the play is called Ferdinand, in honor of Ferdinand Vaněk, the protagonist of three of Havel's plays and a Havel stand-in.
  • In 1996, due to his contributions to the arts, he was honorably mentioned in the rock opera Rent during the song "La Vie Boheme", though his name was mispronounced on the original soundtrack.
  • Samuel Beckett's 1982 short play, Catastrophe, was dedicated to Havel while he was held as a political prisoner in Czechoslovakia.[86]
  • In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, a genetic slave turned freedom fighter (and later Prime Minister of a planet of freed slaves) names himself "W.E.B. du Havel" in honor of his two favorite writers on the subject of freedom, W. E. B. du Bois and Havel.

See also


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  8. ^ "Havel, Vaclav, Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series". Encyclopedia.com. http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-3416000082/havel-vaclav-1936.html. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  9. ^ Václav Havel – Biography. The official website of Václav Havel. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
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  12. ^ Havel, V. (1975). "Letter to Dr. Husak"
  13. ^ Goetz-Stankiewicz, Marketa. The Vanӗk Plays, 1987, University of British Columbia Press
  14. ^ Richie Unterberger, "The Plastic People of the Universe", richieunterberger.com 26 February 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  15. ^ Eda Kriseová (1993). Václav Havel: The Authorized Biography. St. Martins Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 0-88687-739-3.
  16. ^ Eda Kriseová (1993). Václav Havel: The Authorized Biography. St. Martins Press. pp. 168, 195. ISBN 0-88687-739-3.
  17. ^ Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, in: Václav Havel, et al The power of the powerless. Citizen against the state in central-eastern Europe, Abingdon, 2010 pp. 10–60 ISBN 978-0-87332-761-9
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  27. ^ Richard Allen Greene "Václav Havel: End of an era", BBC News, 9 October 2003
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  33. ^ "A Revolutionary President"
  34. ^ Havel, Václav (24 May 2005). Václav Havel: The Emperor Has No Clothes Library of Congress, John W. Kluge Center. Retrieved on 3 September 2009.
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  39. ^ "Honours: Order of Canada: Václav Havel". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070930043719/http://www.gg.ca/honours/search-recherche/honours-desc.asp?lang=e&TypeID=orc&id=9675. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  40. ^ "Celebrating the Life and Art of Václav Havel"
  41. ^ (Václav) Havel Festival: Celebrating the life and art of Václav Havel, New York City, October through December 2006
  42. ^ "Václav Havel on Transcendence"
  43. ^ Pinder, Ian (16 August 2008). "Czechout". The Guardian (UK). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/16/biography1. Retrieved 28 August 2008.
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  45. ^ Michael Batiukov, "Belarus 'Free Theatre' is Under Attack by Militia in Minsk, Belarus", American Chronicle, 22 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  46. ^ a b Adam Hetrick, "Václav Havel's Leaving May Arrive in American Theatres", Playbill, 19 November 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
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  54. ^ Komentář k Havlovu úmrtí od Jakuba Patočky
  55. ^ Portréty, Český rozhlas 18 December 2011 20:10, Václav Havel. Pořad k 20. výročí listopadové revoluce. (Repríza z 15. listopadu 2009)
  56. ^ Zelené podpořil Havel, vymezují se proti TOP 09. Novinky.cz. 6 September 2009. Retrieved on 19 December 2011.
  57. ^ Zelení představili své sympatizanty – Havla, Schwarzenberga a Holubovou. Novinky.cz. 18 May 2009. Retrieved on 19 December 2011.
  58. ^ Havel podpořil zelené. Srovnal továrny s koncentráky. Tn.nova.cz. 18 May 2009. Retrieved on 19 December 2011.
  59. ^ „Jinými slovy: volme zelené!" (Dopis Václava Havla Straně zelených). zpravy.tiscali.cz. 6 September 2009
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  74. ^ A Different View, Issue 19, January 2008.
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  77. ^ "German Group Cancels Prize to Putin After Outcry", The New York Times, 16 July 2011.
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  79. ^ ვაცლავ ჰაველის დაჯილდოება on YouTube
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  86. ^ 'Catastrophe', Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (New York: Grove P, 1994) pp. 295–302 ISBN 0-8021-5055-1.

Further reading

Works by Václav Havel
Media interviews with Václav Havel
Books (Biographies)

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Marián Čalfa
President of Czechoslovakia
Jan Stráský
Position established President of the Czech Republic
Succeeded by
Václav Klaus

Category:Grand Crosses of the Order of Vytautas the Great

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