Václav Havel grew up in a well-known intellectual family, closely linked to cultural and political events in Czechoslovakia from the 1920s to the 1940s. Because of these links the communists did not allow Havel to study formally after he completed his schooling in 1951.
Following his return from two years military service, he worked as a stage technician and, from 1962 until 1966, studied drama by correspondence at the Faculty of Theatre of the Academy of Musical Arts. From the age of 20, he published a number of studies and articles in various literary and theatrical periodicals. His play The Garden Party (1963) became a standard bearer for the Czech revivalist movement which culminated in the historic Prague Spring of 1968.
Following the suppression of the Prague Spring by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, Havel stood out against the political repression characterised by the years of the so-called communist “normalisation”. In 1975, he wrote an open letter to President Husak in which he warned of the growing unrest in Czechoslovak society.
The culmination of his activities resulted in Charter 77 which he co-founded. Published in January of 1977, the Charter represented the Czechoslovak people’s silentl protest against the communist government. Havel was imprisoned three times and spent nearly five years behind bars. During this time, the Czechoslovak authorities banned the publication of his work.
The social upheaval came to a climax with the collapse of communism in the eastern bloc and on 29 December 1989 Václav Havel, as the candidate of Civic Forum, was elected President by the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia. In his inaugural address, he promised to lead the nation to free elections and on 5 July 1990 was re-elected to the Czechoslovak Presidency.
During his second term in office, a rift between the Czech and Slovak representatives over the future of the state began to emerge. Václav Havel was a committed supporter of the Federation but after the July 1992 parliamentary elections the parties failed to agree on a model and he resigned the Presidency.
On 26 January 1993, the Chamber of Deputies elected Václav Havel as the first President of the independent Czech Republic. He was re-elected by both Chambers of Parliament in January 1998 and retired in February 2003.
Václav Havel has been awarded many state decorations, international awards and honorary doctorates for his literary and dramatic works and his lifelong championship of human rights.
Václav Havel died on 18 December 2011.
Read Václav Havel’s letter of support for Speakers’ Corner Trust.