Today we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of the first president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic after the fall of communisms – Václav Havel.
Vaclav Havel was born in October 1936 in Prague, into a family that was culturally influential in Czechoslovakia.
After taking power in 1948, the Communists restricted the family’s rights and Vaclav Havel was not allowed to pursue studies in the literature. Nevertheless, by the 1950s, he had established a circle of literary friends who were opposed to the totalitarian regime and wrote works despite being banned from publication.
Václav Havel wanted to become a film director, but due to his family’s background at the time of communism, when he was young, he could not study and humane sciences. In the 1960s he became a theatre dramaturge.
He became internationally renowned thanks to his plays The Garden Party (1963) and The Memo (1965); he was even allowed to travel abroad for the premiere of his works.
Following his involvement in the 1968 Prague Spring reform demands, he was banned from publishing and working in theater, which in return led him to become more politically active. With his fame, as well as the ideas he stood for, he became in the mid-1970s the unofficial leader of the Czech dissidence and underground.
After the Soviet occupation of our country, he was permanently watched by the secret police, especially after writing his pamphlet about human rights in the Czechoslovak Republic so-called Charta 77.
Havel’s arrest in January 1989 at another street protest and his subsequent trial generated anger at home and abroad. Pressure for change was so strong that the communists released him again in May.
That fall, communism began to collapse across Eastern Europe, and in November the Berlin Wall fell. Eight days later, communist police brutally broke up a demonstration by thousands of Prague students.
It was the signal that Havel and his country had awaited. Within 48 hours, a broad new opposition movement was founded, and a day later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets.
On November 23, 1989, Havel addressed a crowd of more than 300,000 on Prague’s Wenceslas Square. “We want to live in a free, democratic, and prosperous Czechoslovakia,” he said. “We want to return to Europe, and we shall never give up our ideals, regardless of whatever happens in the coming days.”
Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution had begun six days earlier, with a peaceful student protest that was broken up violently by police. In the following days, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations.
By the end of that year, Havel had been elected president of a free Czechoslovakia. Four decades of communism were over.
Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc and was president when it joined NATO in 1999.
“Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,” Havel famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by.
Havel was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and collected dozens of other accolades worldwide for his efforts as a global ambassador of conscience, defended the downtrodden from Darfur to Myanmar.
Václav Havel died on December 18, 2011, at his country house in the village of Hrádeček located in the northeast of Bohemia.