Václav Havel

Infobox President
name=Václav Havel

nationality = flagicon|CZE Czech Republic
office=President of the Czech Republic
term_start=February 2, 1993
term_end=February 2, 2003
primeminister=Václav Klaus, Josef Tošovský, Miloš Zeman, Vladimír Špidla
successor=Václav Klaus
office2=President of Czechoslovakia
term_start2=December 29, 1989
term_end2=July 20, 1992
primeminister2=Marián Čalfa, Jan Stráský
predecessor2= Gustáv Husák
successor2 = none elected, Dissolution of Czechoslovakia in progress
birth_date=birth date and age|1936|10|5
birth_place=Prague, Czechoslovakia
spouse = Olga Havlová
Dagmar Veškrnová
profession=Playwright, Writer, Politician
website = [http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/Index.php?&setln=2 www.vaclavhavel.cz] |

Václav Havel, GCB, CC, (IPAudio|Václav_Havel.ogg|ˈvaːtslaf ˈɦavel) (born October 5, 1936) is a Czech playwright writer and politician. He was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003). He has written over twenty plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally. He has received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, and the Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Beginning in the 1960s, his work turned to focus on the politics of Czechoslovakia. After the Prague Spring, he became increasingly active. In 1977, his involvement with the human rights manifesto "Charter 77" brought him international fame as the leader of the opposition in Czechoslovakia; it also led to his imprisonment. The 1989 "Velvet Revolution" launched Havel into the presidency. In this role he led Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic to multi-party democracy. His thirteen years in office saw radical change in his nation, including its split with Slovakia, which Havel opposed, its accession into NATO and start of the negotiations for membership in the European Union, which was completed in 2004.


Václav Havel was born in Prague. He grew up in a well-known and wealthy entrepreneurial and intellectual family, which was closely linked to the cultural and political events in Czechoslovakia from the 1920s to the 1940s. Because of these links, the Communist regime did not allow Havel to study formally after he had completed his required schooling in 1951. In the first part of the 1950s, the young Havel entered into a four-year apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant and simultaneously took evening classes to complete his secondary education (which he did in 1954). For political reasons, he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a humanities program; therefore, he opted to study at the Faculty of Economics of Czech Technical University in Prague. He dropped out after two years. [ [http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/index.php?sec=1&id=1 Vaclav Havel - Biography] . The official website of Vaclav Havel (accessed June 4, 2008)] In 1964, Havel married proletarian Olga Šplíchalová, which was much to the displeasure of his mother. [David Remnick, [http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030217fa_fact1 "Exit Havel"] , "The New Yorker" 10 February, 2003, accessed 29 April, 2007.]


The intellectual tradition of his family compelled Václav Havel to pursue the humanitarian values of Czech culture. After military service (1957–59) he worked as a stagehand in Prague (at the Theater On the Balustrade - "Divadlo Na zábradlí") and studied drama by correspondence at the Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU). His first publicly performed full-length play, besides various vaudeville collaborations, was "The Garden Party" (1963). Presented in a season of Theater of the Absurd, at the Balustrade, it won him international acclaim. It was soon followed by "The Memorandum", one of his best known plays, and the "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration", all at the Balustrade. In 1968, "The Memorandum" was also brought to The Public Theater in New York, which helped establish his reputation in the United States. The Public continued to produce his plays over the next years, although after 1968 his plays were banned in his own country and Havel was unable to leave Czechoslovakia to see any foreign performances.


During the first week of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Havel provided a commentary on the events on Radio Free Czechoslovakia in Liberec. Following the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 he was banned from the theatre and became more politically active. He was forced to take 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 revolutionary (several other Czech writers later wrote their own plays featuring Vaněk). [Goetz-Stankiewicz, Marketa, "The Vanӗk Plays", 1987, University of British Columbia Press] 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. [Richie Unterberger, [http://www.richieunterberger.com/ppu.html "The Plastic People of the Universe"] , "richieunterberger.com" 26 February, 2007, accessed 29 April, 2007.] He also co-founded the organization Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted in 1979. His political activities resulted in multiple stays in prison, the longest being four years, and also subjected him to constant government surveillance and harassment. His longest stay in prison, from June 1979 to January 1984, is documented in "Letters to Olga", his late wife.

He was also famous for his essays, most particularly for his articulation of “Post-Totalitarianism” ("Power of the Powerless"), a term used to describe the modern social and political order that enabled people to "live within a lie." A passionate supporter of non-violent resistance, a role in which he has been compared, by former US President Bill Clinton, to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, he became a leading figure in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the bloodless end to communism in Czechoslovakia.


On December 29, 1989, as leader of the Civic Forum, he became president by a unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly — an ironic turn of fate for a man who had long insisted that he was uninterested in politics. In this he joined many dissidents of the period, who argued that political change should happen through civic initiatives autonomous from the state, rather than through the state itself. In 1990, he was awarded [ [http://www.liberal-international.org/editorial.asp?ia_id=707 Vaclav Havel (1990)] ] the Prize For Freedom of the Liberal International. [Stanger, Richard L. [http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=767 "Václav Havel: Heir to a Spiritual Legacy"] . "The Christian Century" (Christian Century Foundation), April 11, 1990: 368–370. Rpt. in "religion-online.org" ("with permission"; "prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock"). ["Richard L. Stanger is senior minister at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York."] ] [Tucker, Scott. [http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-15388151.html "Capitalism with a Human Face?"] . "The Humanist" (American Humanist Association), May 1, 1994, "Our Queer World". Rpt. in "High Beam Encyclopedia" (an online encyclopedia). Accessed December 21, 2007. ["Vaclav Havel's philosophy and musings."] ]

After the free elections of 1990 he retained the presidency. Despite increasing tensions, Havel appeared to have supported the retention of the federation of the Czechs and the Slovaks during the breakup of Czechoslovakia. On July 3 1992 the federal parliament did not elect Havel — the only candidate — due to a lack of support from Slovak MPs. After the Slovaks issued their Declaration of Independence, he resigned as president on July 20. July 4, 1990 he hosted a conference in Prague organized by Martin Colman and The National Council To Support The Democracy Movements which brought together the representatives of the democracy movements in order to plan the final collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the countries it occupied. When the Czech Republic was created, he stood for election as president there on January 26, 1993, and won.

Although Havel has been quite popular throughout his career, his popularity abroad surpassed his popularity at home, and he has been no stranger to controversy and criticism. An extensive general pardon, one of his first acts as a president, was an attempt to both lessen the pressure in overcrowded prisons and release those who may have been falsely imprisoned during the Communist era. It was also based on his feeling that a corrupt court's decisions cannot be trusted, and that most in prison had not been fairly tried. [ [http://old.hrad.cz/president/Havel/speeches/1990/0101_uk.html Havel's New Year's address] ] Critics claimed that this amnesty raised the crime rate. However, according to Havel in his most recent memoir "To the Castle and Back", the statistics do not support that allegation, especially as most released would have been released within a year.

In an interview with Karel Hvížďala (also included in "To the Castle and Back"), Havel states that he feels his most important accomplishment as president was the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. This proved quite complicated, as the infrastructure created by the pact was so ingrained in the workings of the countries involved and indeed in their general consciousness. It took two years before the Soviet troops finally fully withdrew from Czechoslovakia. Following a legal dispute with his sister-in-law, Havel decided to sell his 50% stake in the Lucerna Palace on Wenceslas Square, a legendary dance hall built by his grandfather Václav Havel. In a transaction arranged by Marián Čalfa, Havel sold the estate to Václav Junek, a former communist spy in France and leader of soon-to-be-bankrupt conglomerate Chemapol Group, who later openly admitted he bribed politicians of Czech Social Democratic Party. [Paul Berman, [http://www.columbia.edu/~js322/nyl/1997/n5/havel.html "The Poet of Democracy and His Burdens"] , "The New York Times Magazine" 11 May, 1997 (original inc. cover photo), as rpt. in English translation at "Newyorske listy" (New York Herald)", accessed 29 April, 2007.]

In December 1996 the chain smoking Havel was diagnosed as having lung cancer. [ [http://www.radio.cz/en/article/36022 "Vaclav Havel: from 'bourgeois reactionary' to president"] , author not mentioned, Radio Prague (the international service of Czech radio)] The disease reappeared two years later. He later quit smoking. In 1996, Olga, beloved by the Czech people and his wife of 32 years died of cancer. Less than a year later Havel remarried, to actress Dagmar Veškrnová. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2710977.stm "Vaclav Havel: End of an era"] by Richard Allen Greene, BBC News online, 9 October 2003]

The former political prisoner was instrumental in enabling the transition of NATO from being an anti-Warsaw Pact alliance to its present inclusion of former-Warsaw Pact members, like the Czech Republic. In the interests of his country, he advocated vigorously for the expansion of the military alliance into Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic.Václav Havel, [http://www.csdr.org/96Book/Havel.htm "NATO: The Safeguard of Stability and Peace In the Euro-Atlantic Region"] , in "European Security: Beginning a New Century", eds. General George A. Joulwan & Roger Weissinger-Baylon, papers from the "XIIIth NATO Workshop: On Political-Military Decision Making", Warsaw, Poland, 19-23 June 1996.] [Žižek, Slavoj. [http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n21/zize01_.html "Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism"] . Book review of "Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts", by John Keane. the "London Review of Books", October 28, 1999. Accessed December 21, 2007.]

Havel was re-elected president in 1998 and underwent a colostomy in Innsbruck when his colon ruptured while on holiday in Austria. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE6D9143BF936A3575BC0A96E958260 Havel's Medical Condition Seems to Worsen] , New York Times] Havel left office after his second term as Czech president ended on February 2, 2003; Václav Klaus, one of his greatest political opponents, was elected his successor on February 28, 2003. Margaret Thatcher writes of the two men in her foreign policy treatise, "Statecraft", reserving greater respect for Havel, whose dedication to democracy and defying the Communists earned her admiration. [Welch, Matt. [http://reason.com/0305/fe.mw.velvet.shtml "Velvet President"] , "Reason" (May 2003). Rpt. in "Reason Online". Accessed December 21, 2007.] [ [http://www.czech.cz/en/czech-republic/history/famous-czechs-of-the-past-century/vaclav-havel/ Václav Havel "Famous Czechs of the Past Century: Václav Havel"] – English version of article featured on the official website of the Czech Republic.] [ [http://www.prague-life.com/prague/vaclav-havel "A Revolutionary President"] – Feature article on Prague tourism website, "prague-life.com". ("Prague Czech Republic Travel Guide © Lifeboat Limited UK Registered Company No. 5351515.")]

Post-presidential career

Since 1997, Havel has hosted a conference entitled "Forum 2000". [" [http://www.forum2000.cz Forum 2000 Foundation] " – Website of conference founded and hosted by Havel annually in Prague since 1997.] In November and December 2006, Havel spent eight weeks as a visiting artist in residence at Columbia University. The stay was sponsored by the university's Arts Initiative, and featured "lectures, interviews, conversations, classes, performances, and panels center [ing] on his life and ideas", including a public "conversation" with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Concurrently, the Untitled Theater Company #61 launched a Havel Festival, the first complete festival of his plays in various venues throughout New York City, in celebration of his 70th birthday. [" [http://havel.columbia.edu/ Havel at Columbia] "; [http://www.untitledtheater.com/havel/havel.html "Celebrating the Life and Art of Václav Havel: New York City, October through December 2006"] .] [Capps, Walter H. [http://www.crosscurrents.org/capps.htm "Interpreting Václav Havel"] . "Cross Currents" (Association for Religion & Intellectual Life) 47.3 (Fall 1997). Accessed December 21, 2007] [ [http://www.radio.cz/en/article/36022 Biography] of Václav Havel hosted by Radio Prague.] [" [http://www.havel.columbia.edu Havel at Columbia: Václav Havel: The Artist, The Citizen, The Residency] " – Multi-media website developed for Havel's seven-week residency at Columbia University, in Fall 2006; features biographies; timelines; interviews; profiles; and bibliographies (See "References" above). ] [ [http://www.gg.ca/honours/search-recherche/honours-desc.asp?lang=e&TypeID=orc&id=9675 "Honours: Order of Canada: Václav Havel"] (Citation). "gg.ca". Accessed December 21, 2007. (Search facility.)] [ [http://www.untitledtheater.com/havel/havel.html "Celebrating the Life and Art of Václav Havel"] Biography and "timeline" – "The Havel Festival: Václav Havel", Untitled Theater Company ("untitledtheater.com"), in conjunction with the residency of Havel at Columbia.] [" [http://www.untitledtheater.com/havel/havel-festival.html (Václav) Havel Festival] : Celebrating the life and art of Václav Havel, New York City, October through December 2006" - Official website of this festival of all of Havel's works; includes descriptions of all of Havel's plays.]

In May 2007, Havel's memoir of his experiences as President, "To the Castle and Back", was published. The book mixes an interview in the style of "Disturbing the Peace" with actual memos he sent to his staff with modern diary entries and recollections.cite news|url= http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/16/biography1|title=Czechout|last=Pinder|first=Ian| date=2008-08-16|work=The Guardian|accessdate=2008-08-28]

On August 4, 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 its attaining international recognition and its membership in the European Theatrical Convention. [http://www.dramaturg.org/?lang=en&menu=expand_article&article_id=9786366144 "Belarus Free Theatre Meet Vaclav Havel] ", press release, " [http://www.dramaturg.org Belarus Free Theatre] ", August 13, 2007, accessed August 31, 2007.] Michael Batiukov, [http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=35833 "Belarus 'Free Theatre' is Under Attack by Militia in Minsk, Belarus"] , "American Chronicle", August 22, 2007, accessed August 31, 2007.] Havel's first new play in over 18 years, "Leaving" ("Odcházení"), was published in November 2007, to have its world premiere in June 2008 at the Prague theater Divadlo na Vinohradech,Adam Hetrick, [http://www.playbill.com/news/article/112899.html "Václav Havel's "Leaving" May Arrive in American Theatres"] , "Playbill", November 19, 2007, accessed December 21, 2007] but the theater withdrew it in December.Daniela Lazarová, [http://www.radio.cz/en/article/98709 "Will It Be Third Time Lucky for Václav Havel's 'Leaving'?"] , "Radio Prague", December 14, 2007, accessed December 21, 2007] The play instead premiered on 22 May 2008 at the Archa Theatre to standing ovations. [cite news|url=http://www.praguemonitor.com/en/344/arts_in_prague/23308|title=Everyone loves Havel's Leaving|work=Prague Daily Monitor|date=2008-05-28|accessdate=2008-08-28] 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." In September, the play had its English language premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre in London.


On July 4, 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." [ [http://www.constitutioncenter.org/libertymedal/recipient_1994_speech.html 1994 Speech Vaclav Havel - Liberty Medal] , National Constitution Center] In 1997 he was the recipient of 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. He was awarded in 2003 the International Gandhi Peace Prize, named after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by the government of India for his outstanding contribution towards world peace and upholding human rights in most difficult situations through Gandhian means. In 2003, Havel was the inaugural recipient of Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for his work in promoting human rights. [Shipsey, Bill. [http://www.artforamnesty.org/aoc/biog_havel.html "Václav Havel: Ambassador of Conscience 2003: From Prisoner to President – A Tribute"] . "Amnesty International" (October 2003). Accessed December 21, 2007.] In 2004, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. [ [http://www.medaloffreedom.com/VaclavHavel.htm United States "Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Vaclav Havel"] . "The Official Site of the Presidential Medal of Freedom" (2004). Accessed December 21, 2007.] [Dempsey, Judy. [http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/10/21/news/havel.php# "Havel, His Memories and the World"] , "International Herald Tribune" 22 October 2004. Accessed December 21, 2007.] In January 2008, the Europe-based "A Different View" cited Havel to be one of the 15 Champions of World Democracy. Other champions mentioned were Nelson Mandela, Lech Wałęsa, and Corazon Aquino. ["A Different View", Issue 19, January 2008.] As a former Czech President, Havel is a member of the Club of Madrid. [ [http://www.clubmadrid.org The Club of Madrid] ]


Collections of poetry

* Čtyři rané básně
* Záchvěvy I & II, 1954
* První úpisy, 1955
* Prostory a časy (poesie), 1956
* Na okraji jara (cyklus básní), 1956
* Anticodes, ("Antikódy")


* Motormorphosis 1960
* An Evening with the Family, 1960, ("Rodinný večer")
* "The Garden Party" ("Zahradní slavnost"), 1963
* The Memorandum, 1965, ("Vyrozumění")
* The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1968, ("Ztížená možnost soustředění")
* Butterfly on the Antenna, 1968, ("Motýl na anténě")
* Guardian Angel, 1968, ("Strážný anděl")
* Conspirators, 1971, ("Spiklenci")
* The Beggar's Opera, 1975, ("Žebrácká opera")
* Unveiling, 1975, ("Vernisáž")
* Audience, 1975, ("Audience") - a Vanӗk play
* Mountain Hotel 1976, ("Horský hotel")
* Protest, 1978, ("Protest") - a Vanӗk play
* Mistake, 1983, ("Chyba") - a Vanӗk play
* Largo desolato 1984, ("Largo desolato")
* Temptation, 1985, ("Pokoušení")
* Redevelopment, 1987, ("Asanace")
* Tomorrow, 1988, ("Zítra to spustíme")
* "Leaving" ("Odcházení"), 2007

Non-fiction books

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

Cultural allusions and interests

*Havel was a major supporter of The Plastic People of the Universe, becoming a close friend of its members, such as its manager Ivan Martin Jirous and 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 is also a lifelong Frank Zappa fan.Biographies and bibliographies, [http://havel.columbia.edu/biblio_humanrights.html "Havel at Columbia: Bibliography: Human Rights Archive"] , accessed April 29, 2007.] [Sam Beckwith, [http://prague.tv/articles/art-and-culture/vaclav-havel-and-lou-reed "Václav Havel & Lou Reed"] , "Prague.tv" 24 January, 2005, updated 27 January, 2005, accessed 26 April, 2007.]
*Havel is also a great supporter and fan of jazz and frequented such Prague clubs as Radost FX and the Reduta Jazz Club, where President Bill Clinton played the saxophone when Havel brought him there.
*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 Czech-born English playwright Tom Stoppard. One of the characters in the play is called Ferdinand, in honor of Ferdinand Vanӗk, 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.


Further reading

;Works by Václav Havel
* [http://www.project-syndicate.org/contributor/31 Commentaries and Op-eds by Václav Havel] and in conjunction between [http://www.project-syndicate.org/contributor/864 Václav Havel and other renowned world leaders] for "Project Syndicate".
* [http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165havel.html "Excerpts from "The Power of the Powerless" (1978)"] , by Václav Havel. ["Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text provided by Bob Moeller, of the University of California, Irvine."]
* [http://www.worldtrans.org/whole/havelspeech.html "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World"] (Speech). "worldtrans.org" n.d. Accessed December 21, 2007.
* [http://www.czech.cz/en/zpravy/news_detail.aspx?id=19993-Vaclav-Havel%3a-%u201eJsme-na-pocatku-vaznych-zmen Václav Havel: 'We are at the beginning of momentous changes'] . "czech.cz" (Official website of the Czech Republic), September 10, 2007. Accessed December 21, 2007. [On personal responsibility, freedom and ecological problems] .

;Media interviews with Václav Havel
*Warner, Margaret. [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/europe/jan-june97/havel_5-16a.html Online Focus: Newsmaker: Václav Havel"] . "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer". PBS, broadcast May 16, 1997. Accessed December 21, 2007. (NewsHour transcript.)

;Books (Biographies)
*Keane, John. "Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts". New York: Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0465037194. (A sample chapter [in HTML and PDF formats] is linked on the author's website, [http://www.johnkeane.net/books/havel/havel.htm "Books"] .)
*Kriseová, Eda. "Vaclav Havel". Trans. Caleb Crain. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. ISBN 0312103174.
*Pontuso, James F. "Vaclav Havel: Civic Responsibility in the Postmodern Age". New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. ISBN 0-7425-2256-3.
*Rocamora, Carol. "Acts of Courage". New York: Smith & Kraus, 2004. ISBN 1575253445.

ee also

* Ptydepe
* Humanitarian bombing, a term ascribed to Havel

External links

* [http://www.vaclavhavel.cz Václav Havel] Official website
* [http://www.nybooks.com/authors/207 Václav Havel archive] from "The New York Review of Books"
* [http://havel.columbia.edu/biblio_humanrights.html "Havel at Columbia: Bibliography: Human Rights Archive]
* [http://www.untitledtheater.com/havel/havel-festival.html Havel Festival]

NAME= Havel, Václav
SHORT DESCRIPTION= President of the Czech Republic
DATE OF BIRTH=October 5 1936
PLACE OF BIRTH=Prague, (former) Czechoslovakia

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