Václav Havel Was Born 85 Years Ago

Vaclav Havel waves to wellwishers shortly after he took the oath as president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989.

Note legal paragraphs, sabres that curl,
pay heed dear Havel, dear Havel, muse well!
Note legal paragraphs, sabres that curl,
pay heed dear Havel, dear Havel, muse well!

This chorus from a song by Jaroslav Hutka used to get sung around Prague with an air of mystery. That was before the Velvet Revolution of 1989. At that time Václav Havel’s name was far less known than it is today.

Back then, Václav Havel was ‘merely’ a persecuted Czech dissident, a co-writer of the Charter 77 protest in Czechoslovakia, an author of little-known plays, which were only ever performed abroad. It didn’t take long, and the life story of Václav Havel changed immensely.

Today, Václav Havel is a world-renowned persona. Yet few of those arriving from abroad have any inkling about his life and family background. Havel’s family history is a rather interesting perspective on the 20th century, however.

October 5th marks the 85th birthday of Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia (from 1989 to 1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (from 1993 to 2003).

Aside from that, Havel was a poet, playwright and filmmaker.

His absurdist plays, which were critical of communism, led him to be blacklisted after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion, and his works could not be performed domestically.

He was one of the authors of Charter 77, a protest petition for human rights, and a founder of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted.

When massive antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Prague in November 1989, Havel became the leading figure in the Civic Forum, a new coalition of non-communist opposition groups pressing for democratic reforms.

In early December the Communist Party capitulated and formed a coalition government with the Civic Forum. As a result of an agreement between the partners in this bloodless “Velvet Revolution,” Havel was elected to the post of interim president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989, and he was re-elected to the presidency in July 1990, becoming the country’s first non-communist leader since 1948.

As president, he tried to promote culture in the newly independent country with theater festivals and music. He counted the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed among his friends, as well as human rights activists like the Dalai Lama.

He continued his human rights activism after his presidency by starting Forum 2000, an annual series of lectures, panels and related events.

He continued to write, and his play Leaving premiered in 2008. He directed a film version in 2011.

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