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1.Czech dramatist and statesman whose plays opposed totalitarianism and who served as president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 and president of the Czech Republic since 1993 (born in 1936)
auteur de théâtre (fr)[Classe]
politician; political schemer[Classe]
Vaclav Havel (n.)
|1st President of the Czech Republic|
2 February 1993 – 2 February 2003
|Prime Minister||Václav Klaus
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Václav Klaus|
|President of Czechoslovakia|
29 December 1989 – 20 July 1992
|Prime Minister||Marián Čalfa
|Preceded by||Marián Čalfa (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||Jan Stráský (Acting)|
5 October 1936|
(now Czech Republic)
|Died||18 December 2011
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|
Havel was the ninth 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. 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 of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, 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.
Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936 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, 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. In 1964, Havel married Olga Šplíchalová.
The intellectual tradition of his family was essential for Havel´s lifetime adherence to the humanitarian values of the Czech culture. 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 an employment in the theatre world of Prague as stagehand at Prague´s Theatre ABC – Divadlo ABC, and then at the Theatre On Balustrade – Divadlo Na zábradlí. Simultaneously, he was a student of dramatical 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 Theatre 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.
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. 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). 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. (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). 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, 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. 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."
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.
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.
Havel's popularity abroad surpassed his popularity at home, and he was often 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. 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.
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.
In December 1996, Havel who had been a chain smoker for a long time, was diagnosed with lung cancer. 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.
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.
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. 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 her admiration.
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. 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. 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).
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.
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.
Havel's first new play in almost two decades, Odcházení (Leaving), was published in November 2007, and was to have had its world premiere in June 2008 at the Prague theater Divadlo na Vinohradech, but the theater withdrew it in December as it felt it could not provide the technical support needed to mount the play. The play instead premiered on 22 May 2008 at the Archa Theatre to standing ovations. 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." 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.
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.
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.
A week before his death, he met with his longtime friend, the Dalai Lama, in Prague; Havel appeared in a wheelchair. 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.
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."
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. On 23 December 2011 the Václav Havel Tribute Concert was held in Prague's Palác Lucerna.
In contrast, Czech Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip stated that Havel was a very controversial person and that his words often conflicted with his deeds. He criticised Havel for having supported NATO's war against the former Yugoslavia, which Havel called a "humanitarian bombing". In response to his death, the Czech Young Communists wrote on their web page, "Nation celebrate! Václav Havel, a lackey of the United States, NATO, Sudeten Germans and Israel, has died. The biggest traitor of the Czech people has died! Václav Havel, an accomplice in the bombing of Yugoslavia, an accomplice in the murder of 2500 civilians, has died. Down with traitors!" The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) dissociated the party from these comments.
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. A rendition of the airport with the proposed Václav Havel's name in a form of his signature along with his typical heart symbol after it is included in a blog's article in support of renaming of the airport.
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."
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; 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. As a former Czech President, Havel was a member of the Club of Madrid. In 2009 he was awarded the Quadriga Award, but decided to return it in 2011 following the announcement of Vladimir Putin as one of the 2011 award recipients.
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."
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Václav Havel|
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|President of Czechoslovakia
|Position established||President of the Czech Republic