Vaclav Havel

President of the Czech Republic

Curriculum vitae

Vaclav Havel is one of the best known citizens of the Czech Republic. He became famous as a representative of the Czechoslovak intellectual opposition, he was one of the leaders in the so called Velvet Revolution, and in December 1989 he was elected President of the Czechoslovakia and later on of the Czech Republic. He was awarded numerous international prizes and honorary doctorates.

Vaclav Havel was born in Prague on October 5, 1936. In 1951 he completed his compulsory schooling. Being the offspring of a prominent Praguebusinessmen's family, he was barred from pursuing regular studies afterwards. For fouryears, while taking an apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory technician, he was attendingevening 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 hasled him toward embracing the humanist values of Czech culture that were suppressed or destroyedin 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 stagehandat the ABC Theater and later, from 1960, in the Theater on the Balustrade. The lattertheater 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 Vaclav Havel was taking part in public and cultural life as one of the standard-bearersof the democratic concepts of Czech culture and society. In thesecond half of the 1960s his next plays, The Memorandum (1965) and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), were performed.

Vaclav Havel - a representative of the Czechoslovak intellectual opposition

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops, which put an end to the Prague Spring regeneration process, Vaclav Havel did not abandon his convictions. Consequently, a lasting ban was imposed on publicationof his plays in Czechoslovakia. (In 1974 he even worked as a laborer in a brewery.) It was then that Vaclav 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-callednormalization. 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 1977he 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 andmechanisms 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 essayreached beyond the scope of the Czechoslovak dissent, influencingalso the opposition movements in other then "socialist" countries.

1989 Velvet Revolution

In November 1989 Vaclav Havel was one of the leading initiators of the founding of the Civic Forum, an association uniting opposition civic movementsand democratic initiatives. Since the very first days of its existence he wasthe head of the Civic Forum, becoming a key figure of the "Velvet Revolution".

Vaclav Havel - President

In December 1989 Vaclav 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 Vaclav Havel has been a leading initiator of democratic changes in the administrationof the country and of the advancement of democracy in society. He has been respectedas a nonpartisan President and as an essential integrating authority on the political scene and also inmatters relating to the Czecho-Slovak relationship. From the position of President of the Czechoslovak Republic VaclavHavel resigned on July 20, at 6 pm. On July 17 he accounted for the abdication by explaining that he could no longer fulfill commitments necessitated by the oath of allegiance to the Czech and Slovac Republic in a way that would harmonize with his convictions,dispositions and consciousness.

After his resignation he left public life for 2 months. In September 1992 he agreed with goverment's suggestion that first, President is to be elected by both chambers of Parliament, second, President cannot be recalled by Parliamentand 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 Vaclav Havel was elected the first President of the Czech Republic.

During Vaclav Havel's presidency two more books have come in to being - Projevy (only in Czech, 1990) and Letni premitani (1991).

International awards

For his literary work and civic activities, especially as a human rights champion, Vaclav Havel was awarded numerous prestigious international prizes. They include:

  • The Erasmus Prize (1986),
  • The Olof Palme Prize (1989),
  • The Simon Bolivar Prize,
  • UNESCO (1990),
  • The UNESCO Prize for the Teaching of Human Rights (1990),
  • The Chalemagne Prize (1991),
  • The Sonning Prize
  • (1991),
  • Theodor Heuss Prize (1993) etc.He was also awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Legionof Honor (1990).

    Vaclav Havel is also a holder of honorary doctorates of the following universities:

    • York University, Toronto, Canada,
    • Le Mirail University, Toulouse, France (both 1982),
    • Columbia University, New York, USA,
    • Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel,
    • Frantisek Palacky University, Olomouc, Czechoslovakia,
    • Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia,
    • Comenius University, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (all 1990),
    • The Free University of Brussels, Belgium,
    • St. Gallen University (both 1991).

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