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Václav Havel ( ) (born 5 October 1936 in Czechoslovakiamarker) is a Czech playwright, essayist, former dissident and politician. He was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakiamarker (1989–92) 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, the Order of Canada, and the Ambassador of Conscience Award. He was also voted 4th in Prospect Magazine's 2005 global poll of the world's top 100 intellectuals.

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 Slovakiamarker, which Havel opposed, its accession into NATOmarker and start of the negotiations for membership in the European Union, which was attained in 2004.

Biography

Václav Havel was born in Praguemarker, on 5 October 1936. He grew up in a well-known and wealthy entrepreneurial and intellectual family, which was closely linked to the cultural and political events in Czechoslovakiamarker from the 1920s to the 1940s. His father was the owner of the suburb Barrandov which was located on the highest point of Prague. Havel's mother came from a well known family; her father was an ambassador and well known journalist. Because of Havel's bourgeois history, 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; 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 to study at the Faculty of Economics of Czech Technical University in Prague but dropped out after two years. In 1964, Havel married proletarian Olga Šplíchalová, much to the displeasure of his mother.

Early theater career

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 Praguemarker (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 Praguemarker (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 Theatermarker 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, Havel was unable to leave Czechoslovakia to see any foreign performances.

Dissident

During the first week of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Havel provided a commentary on the events on Radio Free Czechoslovakia in Liberecmarker. 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). 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. He also co-founded the 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.

Presidency

Flag of the president of the Czech Republic
On 29 December 1989, while leader of the Civic Forum, he became president by a unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly. This was an ironic turn of fate for a man who had long insisted that he was uninterested in politics. He joined many dissidents of the period arguing that political change should happen through civic initiatives autonomous from the state, rather than through the state itself. He was awarded the Prize For Freedom of the Liberal International in 1990.

After the free elections of 1990 he retained the presidency. Despite increasing tensions, Havel supported the retention of the federation of the Czechs and the Slovaks during the breakup of Czechoslovakia. On 3 July 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 20 July. When the Czech Republic was created, he stood for election as president on 26 January 1993, and won.

Although Havel has been quite popular throughout his career, his popularity abroad surpassed his popularity at home , and he was 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. He had felt that decisions of a corrupt court of the previous regime could not be trusted, and that most in prison had not been fairly tried. Critics claimed that this amnesty raised the crime rate. According to Havel's memoir To the Castle and Back, most of those released had less than a year of their sentence to run. Statistics have not lent clear support to that allegation.

In an interview with Karel Hvížďala (also included in To the Castle and Back), Havel stated that he felt 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 Squaremarker, 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.

In December 1996 the chain smoking Havel was diagnosed as having lung cancer. 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.

The former political prisoner was instrumental in enabling the transition of NATOmarker 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.

Havel was re-elected president in 1998. He had to undergo a colostomy in Innsbruckmarker when his colon ruptured while 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 opponents, was elected his successor on 28 February 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.

Post-presidential career

In his post-presidency Havel has focused on European affairs
Since 1997, Havel has hosted a conference entitled Forum 2000. In 2005, the former President occupied the Kluge Chair for Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, where he continued his research in 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 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.

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.

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 its attaining international recognition and its membership in the European Theatrical Convention. 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, but the theater withdrew it in December. 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." In September, the play had its English language premiere at the Orange Tree Theatremarker in London. Currently, Havel is working on directing a film version of that play.

In 2008 Havel became Member of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, an NGO designed to monitor tolerance in Europe and prepare practical recommendations on fighting anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia on the continent.

Havel met with U. S. President Barack Obama at the European Union (EU) and United States (US) summit in Prague on 5 April 2009. He had written Obama a letter inviting the president to come to Prague.

Awards

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 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. In 2003 he was awarded 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. In 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 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. As a former Czech President, Havel is a member of the Club of Madrid. In 2009 he was awarded the Quadriga Award.

Havel has also received multiple honorary doctorates from various universities. He has also received multiple state decorations from multiple countries.

Works

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)


Plays



Non-fiction books



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.
  • 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 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.
  • Samuel Beckett's 1982 short play "Catastrophe" was dedicated to Havel while he was held as a political prisoner in Czechoslovakia.


See also



References

  1. Prospect Magazine Home Page http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/
  2. Vaclav Havel — Biography. The official website of Vaclav Havel . Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  3. David Remnick, "Exit Havel", The New Yorker 10 February 2003, accessed 29 April 2007., http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/vhavel.htm. Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008. 4 December 2008.
  4. Goetz-Stankiewicz, Marketa, The Vanӗk Plays, 1987, University of British Columbia Press
  5. Richie Unterberger, "The Plastic People of the Universe", richieunterberger.com 26 February 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  6. Vaclav Havel (1990)
  7. Stanger, Richard L. "Václav Havel: Heir to a Spiritual Legacy". The Christian Century (Christian Century Foundation), 11 April 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."]
  8. Tucker, Scott. "Capitalism with a Human Face?". The Humanist (American Humanist Association), 1 May 1994, "Our Queer World". Rpt. in High Beam Encyclopedia (an online encyclopedia). Accessed 21 December 2007. ["Vaclav Havel's philosophy and musings."]
  9. Havel's New Year's address
  10. Paul Berman, "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). Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  11. "Vaclav Havel: from 'bourgeois reactionary' to president", author not mentioned, Radio Prague (the international service of Czech radio)
  12. "Vaclav Havel: End of an era" by Richard Allen Greene, BBC News online, 9 October 2003
  13. Václav Havel, "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.
  14. Žižek, Slavoj. "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, 28 October 1999. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  15. Havel's Medical Condition Seems to Worsen, New York Times
  16. Welch, Matt. "Velvet President", Reason (May 2003). Rpt. in Reason Online. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  17. Václav Havel "Famous Czechs of the Past Century: Václav Havel" – English version of article featured on the official website of the Czech Republic.
  18. "A Revolutionary President" – Feature article on Prague tourism website, prague-life.com. ("Prague Czech Republic Travel Guide © Lifeboat Limited UK Registered Company No. 5351515.")
  19. Forum 2000 Foundation – Website of conference founded and hosted by Havel annually in Prague since 1997.
  20. Havel, Václav (May 24, 2005). Václav Havel: The Emperor Has No Clothes Library of Congress, John W. Kluge Center. Retrieved on September 3, 2009.
  21. Havel at Columbia; "Celebrating the Life and Art of Václav Havel: New York City, October through December 2006".
  22. Capps, Walter H. "Interpreting Václav Havel". Cross Currents (Association for Religion & Intellectual Life) 47.3 (Fall 1997). Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  23. Biography of Václav Havel hosted by Radio Prague.
  24. 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).
  25. "Honours: Order of Canada: Václav Havel" (Citation). gg.ca. Accessed 21 December 2007. (Search facility.)
  26. "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.
  27. (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.
  28. "Belarus Free Theatre Meet Vaclav Havel", press release, Belarus Free Theatre, 13 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  29. Michael Batiukov, "Belarus 'Free Theatre' is Under Attack by Militia in Minsk, Belarus", American Chronicle, 22 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  30. Adam Hetrick, "Václav Havel's Leaving May Arrive in American Theatres", Playbill, 19 November 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  31. Daniela Lazarová, "Will It Be Third Time Lucky for Václav Havel's 'Leaving'?", Radio Prague, 14 December 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  32. Havel's gift for Obama to be displayed in Prague gallery | Prague Monitor
  33. 1994 Speech Vaclav Havel - Liberty Medal, National Constitution Center
  34. Shipsey, Bill. "Václav Havel: Ambassador of Conscience 2003: From Prisoner to President – A Tribute". Amnesty International (October 2003). Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  35. United States "Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Vaclav Havel". The Official Site of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004). Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  36. A Different View, Issue 19, January 2008.
  37. The Club of Madrid
  38. Biographies and bibliographies, "Havel at Columbia: Bibliography: Human Rights Archive". Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  39. Sam Beckwith, "Václav Havel & Lou Reed", Prague.tv 24 January 2005, updated 27 January 2005. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  40. Samuel Beckett, "Catastrophe," in Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (New York: Grove P, 1994), 295–302, 295.


Further reading

Works by Václav Havel


Media interviews with Václav Havel


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, "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.
  • Symynkywicz, Jeffrey. Vaclav Havel and the Velvet Revolution. Parsippany, New Jersey: Dillon Press, 1995. ISBN 0875186076.


External links






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