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Vaclav Havel

havel.jpg (13407 bytes)Vaclav Havel, dramatist, politician and human rights activist, was born at Prague in 1936. In 1951, he completed his compulsory schooling. Being the offspring of a prominent Prague businessmen's family, he was barred from pursuing regular studies afterwards. For four years, while taking an apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory technician, he was attending evening classes at a grammar school. It was at the age of nineteen that he started publishing studies and articles in literary and theater magazines. Family tradition forced him to embrace the humanist values of Czech culture that were suppressed or destroyed in the 1950s. As he was not allowed, due to his family background, to study humanities, he went on to a Technical University where he spent two years. After completing his military service, he worked as a stagehand at the ABC Theater and later, from 1960, in the Theater on the Balustrade. The latter theater produced his first plays, most importantly The Garden Party (1963), a piece representing in an outstanding manner the strong regeneration tendencies prevailing in Czech culture and Czech society in the 1960s which culminated in the so-called Prague Spring of 1968. At that time Havel was taking part in public and cultural life as one of the standard-bearers of the democratic concepts of Czech culture and society. In the second half of the 1960s his next plays, The Memorandum (1965) and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), were performed.

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops, which put an end to the Prague Spring regeneration process, Havel did not abandon his convictions. Consequently, a lasting ban was imposed on publication of his plays in Czechoslovakia. (In 1974 he even worked as a laborer in a brewery.) It was then that Havel began to be known by the international public as a representative of the Czechoslovak intellectual opposition. As a citizen he protested against the extensive oppression marking the years of the so-called normalization. His open letter to Dr. Gustav Husak (the then President of Czechoslovakia) of 1975 in which he pointed out the critical condition of the society and the responsibility of the then ruling regime for that condition became widely known. In 1977 he became one of the co-founders of, and one of the first three spokesmen for, the Charter77 initiative. He was also a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted which was founded by a group of Charter 77 signatories. His activity brought him to prison three times; altogether he spent in prison nearly five years. Of extraordinary importance at that time was his essay The Power of the Powerless (1978) in which he analyzed the essence of Communist totalitarian oppression and described the means and mechanisms used by the Communist regime in its effort to create a powerless, resigned society consisting of timid and morally corrupt individuals. Against the background of that analysis, he demonstrated the strength of moral resistance - of life in truth. The impact of the essay reached beyond the scope of the Czechoslovak dissent, influencing also the opposition movements in other then "socialist" countries.

In November 1989, Havel was one of the leading initiators of the founding of the Civic Forum, an association uniting opposition civic movements and democratic initiatives. Since the very first days of its existence he was the head of the Civic Forum, becoming a key figure of the "Velvet Revolution." In December 1989 Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia for a term ending after parliamentary elections were held in the country. The freely elected Parliament re-elected him to the presidency in July 1990 for a term of two years. As President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, he met nearly all European Heads of State, as well as the Presidents of the United States, the Soviet Union and a number of other countries. His activity in the area of foreign policy has laid the foundations of Czechoslovakia's new external relations. In domestic policy Havel has been a leading initiator of democratic changes in the administration of the country and of the advancement of democracy in society. He has been respected as a nonpartisan President and as an essential integrating authority on the political scene and also in matters relating to the Czech-Slovak relationship. From the position of President of the Czechoslovak Republic Havel resigned on July 20 -- he accounted for the abdication by explaining that he could no longer fulfill commitments necessitated by the oath of allegiance to the Czech and Slovak Republic in a way that would harmonize with his convictions, dispositions and consciousness. After his resignation he left public life for two months. In September 1992 he agreed with government's suggestion that first, President is to be elected by both chambers of Parliament, second, President cannot be recalled by Parliament and third, the President has right to dissolve Parliament. Moreover, he agreed with so-called right of suspensive veto (it is the right of President to return laws to Parliament). On January 1993, Havel was elected the first President of the Czech Republic.

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copyright 2001 Steven Kreis
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