Former Czech president, key cultural and political figure Vaclav Havel dies at 75

Newsroom 19/12/2011 | 14:52

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel, a key figure in the anti-communist Velvet Revolution in 1989, has died at 75.

Havel is said to have died in his sleep.

Vaclav was a playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician who played an important part in his country’s contemporary history.

He was born in 1936 in a very well-off capitalist family. He discovered his love for literature and writing at an early age.

After he completed his secondary education in 1954, he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a humanities program for political reasons. He then opted to study at the Faculty of Economics of Czech Technical University in Prague, but dropped out after two years.

In 1964, he married Olga Splichalova.

He studied drama by correspondence at the Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. His first publicly performed full-length play was published in 1963, called The Garden Party, which won him international acclaim.

Havel’s political activities during the communist period resulted in multiple stays in prison, and was kept under constant supervision.

He was a key figure in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the blood-less end to communism in Czecho-Slovakia. He was a supporter of non-violent resistance, a role in which he has been compared, by former US President Bill Clinton, to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1993, Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic.

In December 1996, Havel, who used to smoke a great deal, was diagnosed as having lung cancer. The disease reappeared two years later. The same year, Olga, his wife of 32 years, died of cancer. Havel remarried a year later to actress Dagmar Veskrnova.

In 1998, Havel was re-elected president.  He left office after his second term as Czech president ended on 2 February 2003. In his stead, Vaclav Klaus, one of his greatest political opponents, was elected his successor.

After the end of his term, Havel continued to write plays and got involved in the social and cultural life of his country.
Otilia Haraga

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