Sunday, 18 December 2011
At the road’s end: Václav Havel (1936-2011), dramatist, dissident and president
Born in Prague on 5 October 1936, Havel first became known as a dramatist, essayist and poet. His works often had a political message and he became one of the country’s leading dissidents following the Soviet invasion of 1968. He was among the founders of the opposition group known as Charter 77 (from their human rights manifesto) and was consequently imprisoned on a number of occasions.
This only increased his stature as a leading dissident and in 1989 Havel was at the front of the so-called Velvet Revolution, the peaceful demonstrations centering on Wenceslas Square in Prague, which brought down the Communist regime. On 29 December 1989 Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Assembly.
As President he presided over free election in the summer of 1990 and the establishment of multi-party democracy. He opposed the break-up of the country, which came into effect on 1 January 1993, but was elected President of the new republic on 26 January 1993. He was reelected for a second five-year term in 1998.
Havel was an enthusiastic advocate of the eastwards expansion of NATO and saw his country join the alliance during his presidency. Negotiations for EU membership also began during his presidency and the Czech Republic joined the union in 2004, a year after Havel had left office. He was succeeded by his political opponent Václav Klaus.
Despite health problems Havel remained active as a politician as well as an artist in the years following his resignation.
The photo is by courtesy of Martin Kozák/Wikipedia.