Vaclav Havel (Vaclav Havel)

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel

Václav Havel (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvaːt͡slav ˈɦavɛl] ( listen); 5 October 1936 – 18 December 2011) was a Czech writer, philosopher, dissident, and statesman. From 1989 to 1993, he served as the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia in 41 years. He then served as the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003) after the Czech-Slovak split. Within Czech literature, he is known for his plays, essays, and memoirs.  His educational opportunities limited by his bourgeois background, Havel first rose to prominence within the Prague theater world as a playwright. Havel used the absurdist style in works such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum to critique communism. After participating in Prague Spring and being blacklisted after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he became more politically active and helped found several dissident initiatives such as Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted. His political activities brought him under the surveillance of the secret police and he spent multiple stints in prison, the longest being nearly four years, between 1979 and 1983.

Havel’s Civic Forum party played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. He assumed the presidency shortly thereafter, and was reelected in a landslide the following year and after Slovak independence in 1993. Havel was instrumental in dismantling the Warsaw Pact and expanding NATO membership eastward. Many of his stances and policies, such as his opposition to Slovak independence, condemnation of the Czechoslovak treatment of Sudeten Germans after World War II, and granting of general amnesty to all those imprisoned under communism, were very controversial domestically. As such, he continually enjoyed greater popularity abroad than at home. Havel continued his life as a public intellectual after his presidency, launching several initiatives including the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism,the VIZE 97 Foundation, and the Forum 2000 annual conference.

Havel’s political philosophy was one of anti-consumerism, humanitarianism, environmentalism, civil activism, and direct democracy. He supported the Czech Green Party from 2004 until his death. He received numerous accolades during his lifetime including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the Four Freedoms Award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award and the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award. The 2012–2013 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour. He is considered by some to be one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.

Havel died on the morning of 18 December 2011, aged 75, at his country home in Hrádeček.  A week before his death, he met with his longtime friend, the Dalai Lama, in Prague; Havel appeared in a wheelchair. Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced a three-day mourning period from 21 to 23 December, the date announced by President Václav Klaus for the state funeral. The funeral Mass was held at Saint Vitus Cathedral, celebrated by the Archbishop of Prague Dominik Duka and Havel’s old friend Bishop Václav Malý. During the service, a 21 gun salute was fired in the former president’s honour, and as per the family’s request, a private ceremony followed at Prague’s Strašnice Crematorium. Havel’s ashes were placed in the family tomb in the Vinohrady Cemetery in Prague. On 23 December 2011 the Václav Havel Tribute Concert was held in Prague’s Palác Lucerna.

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  • October, 05, 1936
  • Prague, Czechoslovakia


  • December, 18, 2011
  • Vlčice, Czech Republic

Cause of Death

  • Respiratory failure


  • Vinohradsky Cemetery
  • Prague, Czech Republic

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