First president of democratic Czechoslovakia and later also president of the Czech Republic, playwright and poet, Václav Havel is one of the leading intellectual figures and an acknowledged moral authority in whole Europe.
He was born into a very rich family in Prague, his father owned the Barrandov suburb and was later accused of collaboration with the Nazis. Because of his “bourgeois” background, Václav wasn’t allowed to attend university and studied at a technical school. He was well known among the Czech literary circles, finding his inspiration in Franz Kafka’s absurd literature.
In 1964, he married Olga Šplíchalová, a young intellectual. Trying to escape the grim reality, they bought a small house in South Bohemia. At this time, he was resident writer for Prague’s Theatre on the Balustrade. He wrote articles for the literary magazine “Tvář” (Face), but it was banned by the Communist-controlled Writer’s Association. In 1969, Havel officially became a dissident. The regime didn’t like his metaphorical dramas, satirizing the system and his passport was confiscated.
During the Prague Spring period he wrote three plays, “Audience”, “Protest” and “Private View”, all revolving around the character Vaněk, a young playwright and dissident, who gets lost in the absurdness of the regime. Havel hoped for the best during the Prague Spring and was sadly disappointed in the 70s normalization. He was one of the founders of Charter 77, an organization emphasizing individual human rights. Due to his activities, he was arrested in 1979 and spent four years in prison.
Although his dramas weren’t played, they were published via samizdat, an illegal activity in which ordinary people were self-handedly copying banned books. He was repeatedly arrested during the 70s and 80s, refused to emigrate and became the leader of Czechoslovakian human rights initiative. After the Velvet Revolution, he and his party, Civic Forum headed the government and in 1989 was elected president.
In 1992, after the Velvet Divorce, Havel decided to resign, because he still felt the unity between Czechs and Slovaks. A year later, he was reelected president of the newly formed Czech Republic and started forming the new democracy. He supported Czech presence in all important international organizations and was America-oriented. His personal friendship with then president Bill Clinton and later support of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo put a strain on his reputation of a morally and politically balanced personality.
In 1997, only a year after his wife Olga died of cancer, Havel married Dagmar Veškrnová, a Czech actress. Many Czech citizens were appalled and Havel was widely criticized. Olga was very popular and the book “Letters to Olga” with their correspondence during Havel’s imprisonment made their relationship very special to the public. In 2003, after one mandate as president of Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and two presidential mandates in Czech Republic, Václav Havel left the political scene. His articles and interviews are still appreciated and despite the bad press, concerning his second marriage, he is one of the most respected Czech politicians and writers.