Article by Simon Renwick. Edited and Researched by Mike Edwardson.
The systemic breakdown of the U.S.S.R (United States of Soviet Russia) is by far one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century, and a key moment in history for both international and European political relations. However, whilst many people will remember or know of seminal moments in the process, such as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and its symbolic wall, there is a less well remembered aspect to such a historic turn of events.
In many of the countries that were once part of U.S.S.R, the breakdown of said empire was brought about by mass protests throughout the region. The ‘Velvet Revolution’, which took place in the now Czech Republic, was one of the most significant of these protests, with students and demonstrators peacefully bringing to an end the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This protest was led in
primacy by Vaclav Havel.
Havel was born in 1936, and grew up in a wealthy family based in Prague who, through the latter
period of the first half of the 20th century, was closely related to political events in Czechoslovakia.
He attended the Czech Technical University, studying Economics, in Prague – however, he failed to
finish his degree, leaving after two years instead.
After Havel dropped out of university, he followed in traditional value of his family, and served in the
military, before becoming a part time playwright and working in a theatre. However, Havel began to rise to prominence in 1968, when he aired a dissident radio show for the resistance throughout the
invasion of Czechoslovakia under the Warsaw Pact.
Havel continued throughout the occupation of Czechoslovakia to play a role in the rebellion, using his time in playwriting to use literature and theatre as a medium to express discontent with the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, producing works such as Charter 77 Manifesto.
In 1979 Havel became more politically engaged than he had previously been, becoming a co-founder of the ‘Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted’; a subject Havel was already involved with, with the aforementioned play being written due to the unjust imprisonment of a Czech band due to their long hair and prominence in underground scenes.
Havel’s watershed moment though came in 1989, with the Velvet Revolution. Now engaged highly in political dissidence, and having received multiple stays in prison as a result of his rebellion to the Communist regime, Havel led a peaceful revolution through Czechoslovakia that lasted 12 days which pressed for democratic reform to the regime and the state, culminating in the collapse of the
one party system that Havel and others believed had plagued the political system for decades.
Here, Vaclav Havel had been one of the main propagators of an incredibly successful, and importantly non-violent, protest, that led to significant political gain and abolishment of dictatorial regime in Czechoslovakia. As a fore-frontier of the democratic reform movement, Havel was placed as interim President of Czechoslovakia soon after the fall of the Communist party, and was elected
fully President the following year, in July of 1990.
As President of Czechoslovakia he opposed the division of the union in 1992, and so stood down from his post. However, with the creation of the Czech Republic with the breaking up of the Czechoslovakian state, Havel stood for and once again won the Presidential position of the state.
His power was largely constrained by the Prime Minister of the time though, Vaclav Klaus, who held
a lot of the political power in the Czech Republic at the time. One of the major achievements Havel
is still accredited for is the entrance of the Czech Republic into NATO in 1999, seen as a further move
towards integration with Western democracies.
Due to constitutional restraints, Havel was unable to stand for a 3rd term, and stood down in 2003.
Post-Presidential career, Havel wrote began to write plays again for the first time in almost two
decades. Outside of the arts, Havel set up ‘Forum 2000’, an annual conference looking at conflict due to cultural factors such as religion and ethnicity, and find ways to stop such occurrences. As well as this, Havel tirelessly worked on research and understanding of human rights, and ways to apply such humanism, shown through his chairing of the Human Right’s Foundations International Council.
Vaclav Havel died on the 18th December, 2011. He was 75.
Vaclav Havel was, by many standards for people across the globe, and in particular his home country, an outstanding and remarkable person and servant of his people. He was at the head of the movement away from oppressive government, symbolised aptly by a peaceful revolution, and then through political power guided his country for 10 years as its president. Outside of this, he
contributed vastly to the zeitgeist of Czech culture with his plays and readings, and aside from this he was a huge humanitarian, who dedicated the latter acts of his life to searching for ways to resolve conflict.
OCCUPATION: World Leader, Playwright
BIRTH DATE: October 05, 1936
DEATH DATE: December 18, 2011
PLACE OF BIRTH: Prague, Czech Republic