Václav Havel

Former President of the Czech Republic and Co-Founder of the Forum 2000 Foundation

“When I became President I began, for understandable reasons, to travel all around the globe. According to the constitution the President represents the state abroad. I have traveled through fifty, perhaps eighty countries on every continent and in all of these countries I have met the new faces of today's civilization, and all the problems that I knew from literature and wise books unexpectedly opened to me as if in a new, multi-dimensional life time. I have said again and again that it would be good if intelligent people, not only from the various ends of the earth, different continents, different cultures, from civilization's religious circles, but also from different disciplines of Human knowledge could come together somewhere in calm discussion...”
— Václav Havel —

Biography of Václav Havel

Václav Havel was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on October 5, 1936, to a well-known entrepreneurial and intellectual family, which was closely linked to the cultural and political events in Czechoslovakia from the 1920s to the 1940s. Because of these links the communists, who took power in 1948, did not allow Havel to study formally after having completed required schooling in 1951. In the first part of the 1950s, a young Václav Havel entered into a four-year apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant and simultaneously took evening classes to complete his secondary education (which he achieved in 1954). For political reasons he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a humanities program; he therefore opted to study at the Faculty of Economics of the Czech Technical University. He left this program after two years.

The intellectual tradition of his family compelled Václav Havel to pursue the humanitarian values of Czech culture, which were heavily suppressed in the 1950s. After his return from two years of military service, he worked as a stage technician - first at Divadlo ABC, and then, in 1960, at Divadlo Na zábradlí. From 1962 until 1966, he studied drama by correspondence at the Faculty of Theatre of the Academy of Musical Arts, and completed his studies with a commentary on the play "Eduard", which became the basis of his own "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration".

From the age of twenty, Václav Havel published a number of studies and articles in various literary and theatrical periodicals. His first works were presented at the Divadlo Na zábradlí; amongst these was the play "The Garden Party" (1963) which soon became a component of the revivalist tendencies of Czechoslovak society in the 1960s. This civic self-awareness culminated in the historic Prague Spring of 1968. During this time Havel not only produced other plays, such as "The Memorandum" (1965) and "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration" (1968), but was also the chair of the Club of Independent Writers and a member of the Club of [Politically] Engaged Non-Partisans. From 1965, he worked at the non-Marxist monthly Tvar.

In 1956, he became acquainted with Olga Šplíchalová, and their diverse family backgrounds attracted each to the other. After an eight-year acquaintance, they married. From that point on, Olga would accompany Václav through the most difficult experiences of their lives. The future President would later refer to her as his indispensable source of support.

Following the suppression of the Prague Spring by the invasion of the armies of the Warsaw Pact, Havel stood against the political repression characterized by the years of the so-called communist "normalization". In 1975, he wrote an open letter to President Husák, in which he warned of the accumulated antagonism in Czechoslovak society. His activities culminated in the creation of Charter 77. Published in January of 1977, it embodied the character of the Czechoslovak population which silently protested against the communist government and resultant oppression, as well as providing a name for the movement. Václav Havel was one of the founders of this initiative, and one of its first three spokesmen. In April, 1979, he became a co-founder of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Oppressed. He was imprisoned three times for his civic views, and spent nearly five years behind bars.

During this time, Czechoslovak authorities made it impossible to publish any of Havel's texts. Under the guidance of Havel's former literary agent, Klaus Juncker, the German publishing company Rowohlt, based in Reinbek near Hamburg, compliled a nearly complete publication of Havel's works.

In the second half of the 1980's, at a time of increasing dialogue between the Soviet Union and the Western Democracies, there was an perceptible increase in open dissatisfaction with the government in Czechoslovak society. The citizens became less willing to accept the repressive policies of the communist regime, which was seen in the willingness to sign the petition of "A Few Sentences", of which Havel was one of the authors. Whereas Charter 77 had only a few hundred signatories, ten thousand Czechoslovaks signed the Petition.

The beginning of social change began with a peaceful demonstration of students on November 17, 1989, on the occasion of the closure of Czechoslovak post-secondary schools by the occupying Nazis. The communist regime's police force brutally suppressed this demonstration on Národní třída in Prague. Students and Artists came to the forefront of subsequent civic uprisings. The meeting of the Drama Club of November 19th gave rise to Civic Forum, which became an umbrella group for organizations and individuals who demanded fundamental changes in the Czechoslovak political system. From its inception, Václav Havel became its leading figure. The social upheaval came to a climax on December 29th, 1989, when Václav Havel, as the candidate of Civic Forum, was elected President by the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia. In his inaugural address, he promised to lead the nation to free elections, which he fulfilled in the summer of 1990. He was elected to the Czechoslovak Presidency a second time by the Federal Assembly on the 5th of July the same year.

Due to his unyielding political stance through the years of communist totality, Václav Havel became a recognized moral authority. The depth of his perception of the problems of civilization and his contemplation of their formulation enabled him to become very well- respected, even in the framework of his new function as Head of State, and outstanding amongst politicians.

During the course of his second term in office as President of the Czech and Slovak Federation, however, a rift between the Czech and Slovak political representatives over the future organization of the state began to emerge. Václav Havel was a determined supporter of a common Federation of Czechs and Slovaks, and always used his political influence to promote it. After the July 1992 parliamentary elections, the strongest contingents failed to agree on a functional model of the Federation and, as a direct result of this, the rift between Czech and Slovak political factions widened and failed to provide Havel with the required number of votes in the presidential elections of July 3, 1992. According to Czechoslovak law, he was able to remain President for a period of time, which stretched to July 20, when, due to his inability to fulfill his oath of loyalty to the Republic in such a manner to be in line with his conviction, disposition, and conscience, he resigned the Presidency.

After leaving office, Havel retired from public life for a while. In mid-November 1992, during a time when the onset of an independent Czech state was imminent, he confirmed that he would be seeking the Presidency. The official nomination of his candidacy was submitted on January 18, 1993 by four political parties of the ruling coalition government. On January 26, 1993, the Chamber of Deputies elected Václav Havel to be the first President of the independent Czech Republic.

Olga Havlová dedicated her time primarily to charitable activities. Inspired by the work of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Oppressed, she founded the Goodwill Foundation in 1990, whose activities were directed at helping the mentally and physically handicapped. She died in 1996 after a severe, prolonged illness.

The end of 1996 dealt Havel another blow - a serious medical condition in his lungs. Early detection and quick, radical action on the part of his physicians were decisive in a successful recovery. His source of support in this time of trouble took the form of his friend Dagmar Veškrnová, whom the President married shortly after his release from hospital in January 1997. 

In September 1997, Václav Havel, together with his friend, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, and Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, convened the first Forum 2000 Conference titled "Concerns and Hopes on the Threshold of the New Millennium". Since then, the Forum 2000 evolved into a successful and widely recognized global platform, where distinguished and diverse community discusses the future of democracy, challenges to the international rules based order, situation of human rights, and other crucial topics.

A few months later, under challenging political circumstances, Václav Havel was re-elected to the Presidency by both Chambers of Parliament on January 20, 1998. Under his administration, the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. Havel's presidential term ended on 2 February, 2003.

Václav Havel’s first new play in more than two decades—Odcházení (Leaving)— was a tragicomedy that draws on his experiences as president and presents a chancellor leaving his post while grappling with a political enemy. The play premiered in 2008 and Havel subsequently directed its film adaptation (2011).

For his literary and dramatic works, for his exceptional background as a world leader, for his lifelong efforts and opinions, and for his position on the upholding of democracy and human rights, Václav Havel is the recipient of a number of state decorations, international awards and honorary doctorates. Even after his presidency, Havel was still a highly active participant in the civil society sector and remained influential in the international freedom movement.

Václav Havel died on December 18, 2011. His leadership, works, and ideas continue to inspire and move minds and hearts around the world. We at Forum 2000 are committed to celebrating and preserving his memory and legacy, ensuring that his life and service to humanity is never forgotten.