Václav Havel - Czech Writer and President

Václav Havel - Czech Writer and President
Václav Havel - Czech Writer and President

Václav Havel is a Czech dramatist, journalist, essayist, and former president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). Havel was born in Prague in 1936 to a prosperous family.

As a member of a former bourgeois family in a communist regime, Havel was denied privileges, including education. In order to finish high school he had to enroll in night school while supporting himself as a lab assistant. Afterward he was not permitted to enroll in a university.

He trained for a short time at a technical institution and later completed his theater degree as a part-time student at the Academy of Arts. After his mandatory military service Havel worked first at the ABC Theater and then at the Theater on the Ballustrade, well known for experimental theater.

Here, in the 1960s, Havel gained acclaim as a leader in the theater of the absurd in Czechoslovakia. Many of Havel’s plays were highly critical of the totalitarian state’s oppression of individual liberties.

During the Prague Spring, a 1968 reform movement led by Alexander Dubˇcek, Havel played an important role. His outspoken support for human rights during the period earned him the antagonism of the communist government.

When Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Havel was prohibited from involvement in public affairs, and his plays were banned from performance or publication. In spite of this Havel continued to write, and his plays and books were published to acclaim in other countries.

Continuing his work for human rights, Havel was arrested and imprisoned a number of times. He was placed under house arrest from 1977 to 1979. Havel tirelessly took up his protest work again. In 1989 he participated in a commemoration of the 1969 death of Czech student Jan Palach and was again imprisoned for several months.

In the same year the Civic Forum, which Havel had helped establish, began a series of protests that overthrew the communist government in what has become known as the Velvet Revolution. In December a heavily Communist parliament chose Havel as the new interim president of Czechoslovakia.

After national elections the new Federal Assembly reelected him in June 1990. In 1993–98 Havel was elected president of the Czech Republic. During his 13 years as leader of postcommunist Czechoslovakia, Havel brought his country back into the mainstream of European politics.

Havel negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops and forged friendships with the United States and European nations. The Czech Republic became a member of the Council of Europe, NATO, and the European Union.