VŠCLAV HAVEL Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » v 225;clav havel


VŠclav Havel grew up in a well-known entrepreneurial and intellectual family,           
which was closely linked to the cultural and political events in Czechoslovakia         
from the 1920s to the 1940's. Because of these links the communists did not             
allow Havel to study formally after having completed required schooling in 1951.       
In the first part of the 1950s, a young V√°clav Havel entered into a four-year         
apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant and simultaneously took               
evening classes to complete his secondary education (which he achieved in 1954).       
For political reasons he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a         
humanities program; he therefore opted to study at the Faculty of Economics of         
the Czech Technical University. He left this program after two years.                   
The intellectual tradition of his family compelled V√°clav Havel to pursue the         
humanitarian values of Czech culture, which were heavily suppressed in the 1950's.     
After his return from two years of military service, he worked as a stage               
technician - first at Divadlo ABC, and then, in 1960, at Divadlo Na zabradli.           
From 1962 until 1966, he studied drama by correspondence at the Faculty of             
Theatre of the Academy of Musical Arts, and completed his studies with a               
commentary on the play "Eduard", which became the basis of his own "The                 
Increased Difficulty of Concentration".                                                 
From the age of twenty, V√°clav Havel published a number of studies and articles       
in various literary and theatrical periodicals. His first works were presented         
at the Divadlo Na zabradli; amongst these was the play "The Garden Party" (1963)       
which soon became a component of the revivalist tendencies of Czechoslovak             
society in the 1960's. This civic self-awareness culminated in the historic             
Prague Spring of 1968. During this time Havel not only produced other plays,           
such as "The Memorandum" (1965) and "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration"         
(1968), but was also the chair of the Club of Independent Writers and a member         
of the Club of [Politically] Engaged Non-Partisans. From 1965, he worked at the         
non-Marxist monthly Tvar.                                                               
In 1956, he became acquainted with Olga Splichalova, and their diverse family           
backgrounds attracted each to the other. After an eight-year acquaintance, they         
married. From that point on, Olga would accompany V√°clav through the most             
difficult experiences of their lives. The future President would later refer to         
her as his indispensable source of support.                                             
Following the suppression of the Prague Spring by the invasion of the armies of         
the Warsaw Pact, Havel stood against the political repression characterized by         
the years of the so-called communist "normalization". In 1975, he wrote an open         
letter to President Husak, in which he warned of the accumulated antagonism in         
Czechoslovak society. His activities culminated in the creation of Charter 77.         
Published in January of 1977, it embodied the character of the Czechoslovak             
population which silently protested against the communist government and               
resultant oppression, as well as providing a name for the movement. V√°clav Havel       
was one of the founders of this initiative, and one of its first three spokesmen.       
In April, 1979, he became a co-founder of the Committee for the Defense of the         
Unjustly Oppressed. He was imprisoned three times for his civic views, and spent       
nearly five years behind bars.                                                         
During this time, Czechoslovak authorities made it impossible to publish any of         
Havel's texts. Under the guidance of Havel's former literary agent, Klaus               
Juncker, the German publishing company Rowohlt, based in Reinbek near Hamburg,         
compliled a nearly complete publication of Havel's works.                               
In the second half of the 1980's, at a time of increasing dialogue between the         
Soviet Union and the Western Democracies, there was an perceptible increase in         
open dissatisfaction with the government in Czechoslovak society. The citizens         
became less willing to accept the repressive policies of the communist regime,         
which was seen in the willingness to sign the petition of "A Few Sentences", of         
which Havel was one of the authors. Whereas Charter 77 had only a few hundred           
signatories, ten thousand Czechoslovaks signed the Petition.                           
The beginning of social change began with a peaceful demonstration of students         
on November 17, 1989, on the occasion of the closure of Czechoslovak post-secondary     
schools by the occupying Nazis. The communist regime's police force brutally           
suppressed this demonstration on Narodni Trida in Prague. Students and Artists         
came to the forefront of subsequent civic uprisings. The meeting of the Drama           
Club of November 19th gave rise to Civic Forum, which became an umbrella group         
for organizations and individuals who demanded fundamental changes in the               
Czechoslovak political system. From its inception, V√°clav Havel became its             
leading figure. The social upheaval came to a climax on December 29th, 1989,           
when V√°clav 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, which he fulfilled in the summer of 1990. He         
was elected to the Czechoslovak Presidency a second time by the Federal Assembly       
on the 5th of July the same year.                                                       
Due to his unyielding political stance through the years of communist totality,         
V√°clav Havel became a recognized moral authority. The depth of his perception of       
the problems of civilization and his contemplation of their formulation enabled         
him to become very well- respected, even in the framework of his new function as       
Head of State, and outstanding amongst politicians.                                     
During the course of his second term in office as President of the Czech and           
Slovak Federation, however, a rift between the Czech and Slovak political               
representatives over the future organization of the state began to emerge.             
V√°clav Havel was a determined supporter of a common Federation of Czechs and           
Slovaks, and always used his political influence to promote it. After the July         
1992 parliamentary elections, the strongest contingents failed to agree on a           
functional model of the Federation and, as a direct result of this, the rift           
between Czech and Slovak political factions widened and failed to provide Havel         
with the required number of votes in the presidential elections of July 3, 1992.       
According to Czechoslovak law, he was able to remain President for a period of         
time, which stretched to July 20, when, due to his inability to fulfill his oath       
of loyalty to the Republic in such a manner to be in line with his conviction,         
disposition, and conscience, he resigned the Presidency.                               
After leaving office, Havel retired from public life for a while. In mid-November       
1992, during a time when the onset of an independent Czech state was imminent,         
he confirmed that he would be seeking the Presidency. The official nomination of       
his candidacy was submitted on January 18, 1993 by four political parties of the       
ruling coalition government. On January 26, 1993, the Chamber of Deputies               
elected V√°clav Havel to be the first President of the independent Czech Republic.     
Olga Havlova dedicated her time primarily to charitable activities. Inspired by         
the work of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Oppressed, she founded       
the Goodwill Foundation in 1990, whose activities were directed at helping the         
mentally and physically handicapped. She died in 1996 after a severe, prolonged         
The end of 1996 dealt Havel another blow - a serious medical condition in his           
lungs. Early detection and quick, radical action on the part of his physicians         
were decisive in a successful recovery. His source of support in this time of           
trouble took the form of his friend Dagmar Veskrnova, whom the President married       
shortly after his release from hospital in January 1997.                               
Under difficult political circumstances, he was re-elected to the Presidency by         
both Chambers of Parliament on January 20, 1998.                                       
For his literary and dramatic works, for his lifelong efforts and opinions, and         
for his position on the upholding of human rights, V√°clav Havel is the recipient       
of a number of state decorations, international awards and honorary doctorates.