Biography:Václav Havel

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Short description: Czech statesman, playwright, and former dissident (1936–2011)
Václav Havel
Vaclav Havel.jpg
Havel in May 1997
President of the Czech Republic
In office
2 February 1993 – 2 February 2003
Prime MinisterVáclav Klaus
Josef Tošovský
Miloš Zeman
Vladimír Špidla
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byVáclav Klaus
President of Czechoslovakia
In office
29 December 1989 – 20 July 1992
Prime MinisterMarián Čalfa
Jan Stráský
Preceded byGustáv Husák
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
BornPrague, Czechoslovakia
Died18 December 2011(2011-12-18) (aged 75)
Vlčice, Czech Republic
Political partyOF (1989–1991)
  • Olga Šplíchalová
    (m. 1964; died 1996)
  • Dagmar Veškrnová
    (m. 1997)
Alma materCzech Technical University
Academy of Performing Arts

Václav Havel (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvaːtslav ˈɦavɛl] (About this soundlisten); 5 October 1936 – 18 December 2011) was a Czech statesman, author, poet, playwright, and former dissident.[1][2] Havel served as the last president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992 and then as the first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003 and was the first democratically elected president of either country after the fall of communism. As a writer of Czech literature, he is known for his plays, essays, and memoirs.

His educational opportunities having been limited by his bourgeois background, when freedoms were limited by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Havel first rose to prominence as a playwright. In works such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum, Havel used an absurdist style to criticize the Communist system. After participating in the Prague Spring and being blacklisted after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, he became more politically active and helped found several dissident initiatives, including Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted. His political activities brought him under the surveillance of the StB secret police, and he spent multiple periods as a political prisoner,[3] the longest of his imprisoned terms being nearly four years, between 1979 and 1983.

Havel's Civic Forum party played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist system in Czechoslovakia in 1989. He assumed the presidency shortly thereafter, and was re-elected in a landslide the following year and after Slovak independence in 1993. Havel was instrumental in dismantling the Warsaw Pact and enlargement of NATO membership eastward. Many of his stances and policies, such as his opposition to Slovak independence, condemnation of the treatment of Sudeten Germans, such as the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II, and granting of general amnesty to all those imprisoned under the Communist era, were very controversial domestically. By the end of his presidency, he 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,[4][5] 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.[2] 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.[6] He is considered by some to be one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.[7] The international airport in Prague was renamed to Václav Havel Airport Prague in 2012.

Early life

Havel in 1965

Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936[8] into a wealthy family celebrated in Czechoslovakia for its entrepreneurial and cultural accomplishments. His grandfather, Vácslav Havel, a real estate developer, built a landmark entertainment complex on Prague's Wenceslas Square. His father, Václav Maria Havel, was the real estate developer behind the suburban Barrandov Terraces, located on the highest point of Prague—next door to which his uncle, Miloš Havel, built one of the largest film studios in Europe.[9] Havel's mother, Božena Vavrečková,[10] also came from an influential family; her father was a Czechoslovak ambassador and a well-known journalist.

In the early 1950s, because of his class background, Havel entered into a four-year apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant and simultaneously took evening classes at a gymnasium. He completed his secondary education in 1954. For political reasons, he was not accepted into any post-secondary school with a humanities program; therefore, he opted for studies at the Faculty of Economics of the Czech Technical University in Prague but dropped out after two years.[11] On 9 July 1964, Havel married Olga Šplíchalová.[9]

Early theatre career

The Memorandum by the Ljubljana Drama Theatre in 1969

The intellectual tradition of his family was essential for Havel's lifetime adherence to the humanitarian values of the Czech culture.[12] After finishing his military service (1957–59), Havel had to bring his intellectual ambitions in line with the given circumstances, especially with the restrictions imposed on him as a descendant of a bourgeois family. He found employment in Prague's theatre world as a stagehand at Prague's Theatre ABC – Divadlo ABC, and then at the Theatre on Balustrade – Divadlo Na zábradlí. Simultaneously, he was a student of dramatic arts by correspondence at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU). His first own full-length play performed in public, besides various vaudeville collaborations, was The Garden Party (1963). Presented in a series of Theatre of the Absurd, at the Theatre on Balustrade, this play won him international acclaim. The play was soon followed by The Memorandum, one of his best known plays, and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, all at the Theatre on Balustrade. In 1968, The Memorandum was also brought to The Public Theater in New York, which helped to establish Havel's reputation in the United States. The Public Theater continued to produce his plays in the following years. After 1968, Havel's plays were banned from the theatre world in his own country, and he was unable to leave Czechoslovakia to see any foreign performances of his works.[13]

Political dissident

Havel embraces the former Communist leader Alexander Dubček at a meeting in the Laterna Magika theatre in Prague on 24 November 1989

During the first week of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Havel assisted the resistance by providing an on-air narrative via Radio Free Czechoslovakia station (at Liberec). Following the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, he was banned from the theatre and became more politically active.[14] He took a job at Krakonoš brewery in Trutnov, an experience he wrote about in his play Audience.[15] This play, along with two other "Vaněk" plays (so-called because of the recurring character Ferdinand Vaněk, a stand in for Havel), became distributed in samizdat form across Czechoslovakia, and greatly added to Havel's reputation of being a leading dissident (several other Czech writers later wrote their own plays featuring Vaněk).[16] This reputation was cemented with the publication of the Charter 77 manifesto, written partially in response to the imprisonment of members of the Czech psychedelic rock band The Plastic People of the Universe;[17] Havel had attended their trial, which centered on the group's non-conformity in having long hair, using obscenities in their music, and their overall involvement in the Prague underground movement.[18] Havel co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted in 1979. His political activities resulted in multiple imprisonments by the authorities, and constant government surveillance and questioning by the secret police (Státní bezpečnost). His longest period in prison, from May 1979 to February 1983,[18] is documented in letters to his wife that were later published as Letters to Olga.

He was known for his essays, most particularly The Power of the Powerless (1978), in which he described a societal paradigm in which citizens were forced to "live within a lie" under the Communist regime.[19] In describing his role as a dissident, Havel wrote in 1979: "we never decided to become dissidents. We have been transformed into them, without quite knowing how, sometimes we have ended up in prison without precisely knowing how. We simply went ahead and did certain things that we felt we ought to do, and that seemed to us decent to do, nothing more nor less."[20]

Samuel Beckett's 1982 short play, Catastrophe, was dedicated to Havel while he was held as a political prisoner in Czechoslovakia.[21]


Václav Havel and Karol Sidon (left), his friend and later chief Czech rabbi
Flag of the President of the Czech Republic. The national motto "Truth Prevails" was part of the greater coat of arms of Czechoslovakia during the interwar period.

On 29 December 1989, while he was leader of the Civic Forum, Havel became President of Czechoslovakia by a unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly. He had long insisted that he was not interested in politics and had argued that political change in the country should be induced through autonomous civic initiatives rather than through the official institutions. In 1990, soon after his election, Havel was awarded the Prize For Freedom of the Liberal International.[22][23][24]

In 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first free elections in 44 years, resulting in a sweeping victory for Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence. Between them, they commanded strong majorities in both houses of the legislature, and tallied the highest popular vote share recorded for a free election in the country. Havel retained his presidency.

Despite increasing political tensions between the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1992, Havel supported the retention of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic prior to the dissolution of the country. Havel sought re-election in 1992. Although no other candidate filed, when the vote came on 3 July, he failed to get a majority due to a lack of support from Slovak deputies. The largest Czech political party, the Civic Democratic Party, let it be known that it would not support any other candidate. After the Slovaks issued their Declaration of Independence, he resigned as president on 20 July, saying that he would not preside over the country's breakup.[25]

However, when the Czech Republic was created as one of two successor states, he stood for election as its first president on 26 January 1993, and won. Although he was nominally the new country's chief executive, the framers of the Constitution of the Czech Republic intended to vest most of the real power in the prime minister. However, owing to his prestige, he still commanded great moral authority, and the presidency acquired a greater role than the framers intended. For instance, largely due to his influence, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), successor to the KSC's branch in the Czech Lands, was kept on the margins for most of his presidency. Havel suspected that the KSCM was still an unreformed Stalinist party.[26]

Havel's popularity abroad surpassed his popularity at home,[27] and he was often the object of controversy and criticism. During his time in office, Havel stated that the expulsion of the indigenous Sudeten German population after World War II was immoral, causing a great controversy at home. He also extended general amnesty as one of his first acts as president, in an attempt to lessen the pressure in overcrowded prisons as well as to release political prisoners and persons who may have been falsely imprisoned during the Communist era. Havel felt that many of the decisions by the previous regime's courts should not be trusted, and that most of those in prison had not received fair trials.[28] However, critics claimed that this amnesty led to a significant increase in the crime rate:[29] the total number of crimes doubled,[30] as did the number of murders.[31][32] Several of the worst crimes in the history of the Czech criminology were committed by criminals released in this amnesty.[33][34][35] Within four years of the Velvet revolution (and following another two amnesties declared by Havel), criminality had more than tripled since 1989.[30] According to Havel's memoir To the Castle and Back, most of those who were released had less than a year to serve before their sentences ended, but statistics contradict Havel's claims.

In an interview with Karel Hvížďala (included in To the Castle and Back), Havel expressed his feeling that it was his most important accomplishment as president to have contributed to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. According to his statement the dissolution was very complicated. The infrastructure created by the Warsaw Pact was part of the economies of all member states, and the Pact's dissolution necessitated restructuring that took many years to complete. Furthermore, it took time to dismantle the Warsaw Pact's institutions; for example, it took two years for Soviet troops to fully withdraw from Czechoslovakia.

Havel, along with Bill Clinton, King Juan Carlos I of Spain and Simone Veil in 2000

Following a legal dispute with his sister-in-law Dagmar Havlová (wife of his brother Ivan M. Havel), Havel decided to sell his 50% stake in the Lucerna Palace on Wenceslas Square in Prague, built from 1907 to 1921 by his grandfather, also named Václav Havel (spelled Vácslav,) one of the multifunctional "palaces" in the center of the once booming pre-World War I Prague. In a transaction arranged by Marián Čalfa, Havel sold the estate to Václav Junek, a former Communist spy in France and head of the soon-to-be bankrupt conglomerate Chemapol Group, who later openly admitted that he bribed politicians of the Czech Social Democratic Party.[36]

His near friend was Ivan Medek, who became the chief of the president office.[37]

In January 1996, Olga Havlová, his wife of 32 years, died of cancer at 62. In December 1996, Havel who had been a chain smoker for a long time, was diagnosed with lung cancer.[38] The disease reappeared two years later. He quit smoking. In 1997, he remarried, to actress Dagmar Veškrnová.[39]

Havel was among those influential politicians who contributed most to the transition of NATO from being an anti-Warsaw Pact alliance to its present form. Havel advocated vigorously for the inclusion of former-Warsaw Pact members, like the Czech Republic, into the Western alliance.[40][41]

Havel was re-elected president in 1998. He had to undergo a colostomy in Innsbruck when his colon ruptured while he was on holiday in Austria.[42] On 30 January 2003, Havel signed The letter of the eight supporting U.S. policy on Iraq.[43][44] Havel left office after his second term as Czech president ended on 2 February 2003. Václav Klaus, one of his greatest political adversaries, was elected his successor as president on 28 February 2003. Margaret Thatcher wrote of the two men in her foreign policy treatise Statecraft, reserving the greater respect for Havel. Havel's dedication to democracy and his steadfast opposition to communist ideology earned him admiration.[45][46][47]

Post-presidential career

In his post-presidency Havel focused on European affairs.
Václav Havel at Velvet Revolution Memorial (Národní Street, Prague) in November 2010

Beginning in 1997, Havel hosted Forum 2000, an annual conference to "identify the key issues facing civilisation and to explore ways to prevent the escalation of conflicts that have religion, culture or ethnicity as their primary components". In 2005, the former president occupied the Kluge Chair for Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center of the United States Library of Congress, where he continued his research on human rights.[48] In November and December 2006, Havel spent eight weeks as a visiting artist in residence at Columbia University. The stay was sponsored by the Columbia Arts Initiative and featured "performances, and panels centr[ing] on his life and ideas", including a public "conversation" with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Concurrently, the Untitled Theater Company No. 61 launched a Havel Festival, the first complete festival of his plays in various venues throughout New York City, including The Brick Theater and the Ohio Theatre, in celebration of his 70th birthday.[38][49][50][51][52][53][54] Havel was a member of the World Future Society and addressed the Society's members on 4 July 1994. His speech was later printed in THE FUTURIST magazine (July 1995).[55]

Havel remained an admired individual by Czech citizens. In The Greatest Czech TV show (the Czech spin-off of the BBC 100 Greatest Britons show) in 2005, Havel received the third biggest amount of voices, so he was elected to be third greatest Czech when he was still alive.

Havel's memoir of his experience as president, To the Castle and Back, was published in May 2007. The book mixes an interview in the style of Disturbing the Peace with actual memoranda he sent to his staff and modern diary entries and recollections.[56]

On 4 August 2007, Havel met with members of the Belarus Free Theatre at his summer cottage in the Czech Republic in a show of his continuing support, which has been instrumental in the theatre's attaining international recognition and membership in the European Theatrical Convention.[57][58]

Havel went on a hunger strike in 2007 to support Kurdish doctor and human rights activist Yekta Uzunoglu in his legal battle. A former president going on a hunger strike to support the legal battle of a foreigner in his country was a first in world history.[59][60]

Havel's first new play in almost two decades, Leaving, was published in November 2007, and was to have had its world premiere in June 2008 at the Prague theater Divadlo na Vinohradech,[61] but the theater withdrew it in December as it felt it could not provide the technical support needed to mount the play.[62] The play instead premiered on 22 May 2008 at the Archa Theatre to standing ovations.[63] Havel based the play on King Lear, by William Shakespeare, and on The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov; "Chancellor Vilém Rieger is the central character of Leaving, who faces a crisis after being removed from political power."[61] The play had its English language premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre in London and its American premiere at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. Havel subsequently directed a film version of the play, which premiered in the Czech Republic on 22 March 2011.[64]

Other works included the short sketch Pět Tet, a modern sequel to Unveiling, and The Pig, or Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig, which was premiered in Brno at Theatre Goose on a String and had its English language premiere at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York, in a production from Untitled Theater Company No. 61, in a production workshopped in the Ice Factory Festival in 2011[65][66] and later revived as a full production in 2014, becoming a The New York Times Critic's Pick.[67]

In 2008, Havel became a Member of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation. He met U.S. President Barack Obama in private before Obama's departure after the end of the European Union (EU) and United States (US) summit in Prague in April 2009.[68] Havel was the chair of the Human Rights Foundation's International Council and a member of the international advisory council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.[69]

Havel was a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations, and the creation of a more accountable international political system.[70] From the 1980s, Havel supported the green politics movement, partly due to his friendship with the co-founder of the German Alliance 90/The Greens party Milan Horáček.[71][72] From 2004 until his death, he supported the Czech Green Party.[73][74][75][76]


Memorial gathering of Václav Havel in Wenceslas Square in Prague on the day of his death on 18 December 2011

Havel died on the morning of 18 December 2011, at age 75, at his country home in Hrádeček.[77][78][79]

A week before his death, he met with his longtime friend, the Dalai Lama, in Prague;[80] Havel appeared in a wheelchair.[78] 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 in accordance with 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.[81] On 23 December 2011, the Václav Havel Tribute Concert was held in Prague's Palác Lucerna.[82]


A large tapestry of Václav Havel with the caption Havel Forever was unveiled on Wenceslas Square on 17 November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
The international airport in Prague was renamed to Václav Havel Airport Prague

Within hours Havel's death was met with numerous tributes, including from U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Polish President Lech Wałęsa. Merkel called Havel "a great European", while Wałęsa said he should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize.[78][83] The Russian Embassy sent an official condolence on behalf of the President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.[84] Slovakia declares December 23 a day of national mourning.[85]

At news of his death, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a native of Czechoslovakia, said, "He was one of the great figures of the 20th Century", while Czech expatriate novelist Milan Kundera said, "Václav Havel's most important work is his own life."[86] Communists took the opportunity to criticize Havel. Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia leader Vojtěch Filip stated that Havel was a very controversial person and that his words often conflicted with his deeds. He criticized Havel for having supported the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, repeating the charge that Havel had called the event a "humanitarian bombing",[87] although Havel had expressly and emphatically denied ever using such a phrase.[88]

An online petition organized by one of the best-known Czech and Slovak film directors, Fero Fenič, calling on the government and the Parliament to rename Prague Ruzyně Airport to Václav Havel International Airport attracted—in a week after 20 December 2011—support of over 80,000 Czech Republic and foreign signatories.[89] It was announced that the airport would be renamed the Václav Havel Airport Prague on 5 October 2012.[90][91]

Reviewing a new biography by Michael Žantovský, Yale historian Marci Shore summarized his challenges as president: "Havel's message, 'We are all responsible, we are all guilty,' was not popular. He enacted a general amnesty for all but the most serious criminals, apologized on behalf of Czechoslovakia for the post-World War II expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and resisted demands for a more draconian purge of secret police collaborators. These things were not popular either. And as the government undertook privatization and restitution, Havel confronted pyramid schemes, financial corruption and robber baron capitalism. He saw his country fall apart (if bloodlessly), becoming in 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia."[92]


Havel was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.[93] In 1986, Havel received the Erasmus Prize, in 1989 the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels, and in 1990, he received the Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize for his outstanding contributions to the well-being of the wider community. In the same year he received the Freedom medal.[94]

In 1993, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[95]

On 4 July 1994, Václav Havel was awarded the Philadelphia Liberty Medal. In his acceptance speech, he said: "The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. If it is to be more than just a slogan mocked by half the world, it cannot be expressed in the language of departing era, and it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith in a purely scientific relationship to the world."[96]

Havel was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1995.[97]

In 1997, Havel received ex aequo the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities[98] and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.[99]

In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[100]

In 2002, he was the third recipient of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award presented by the Prague Society for International Cooperation. In 2003, he was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize by the government of India for his outstanding contribution towards world peace and upholding human rights in most difficult situations through Gandhian means; he was the inaugural recipient of Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for his work in promoting human rights;[101] he received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom;[102] and he was appointed as an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada.[103]

Russian protesters hold portrait of Václav Havel during an anti-regime demonstration in Moscow, 24 December 2011

In 2008 he was also awarded the Giuseppe Motta Medal for support for peace and democracy.[104] As a former Czech President, Havel was a member of the Club of Madrid.[105] In 2009 he was awarded the Quadriga Award,[106] but decided to return it in 2011 following the announcement of Vladimir Putin as one of the 2011 award recipients.[107]

Havel also received multiple honorary doctorates from various universities such as the prestigious Institut d'études politiques de Paris in 2009,[108] and was a Foreign Associate Member of the France Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques from October 1992 until his death.[109]

On 10 October 2011, Havel was awarded by the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili with the St. George Victory Order.[110] In November 2014, he became only the fourth non-American honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol.[111]

State honours and awards


Country Honours[112] Medal Ribbon Date City
 Argentina Order of the Liberator San Martin Collar ARG Order of the Liberator San Martin - Grand Cross BAR.png September 1996 Buenos Aires
 Austria Decoration for Science and Art[113] Order of Honour for Science and Art Rib.png November 2005 Vienna
 Brazil Order of the Southern Cross Grand Collar BRA - Order of the Southern Cross - Grand Cross BAR.svg October 1990 Prague
Order of Rio Branco Grand Cross BRA Ordem de Rio Branco Gra-Cruz BAR.svg September 1996 Brasília
 Canada Order of Canada Honorary Companion CAN Order of Canada Companion ribbon.svg March 2004 Prague
 Czech Republic Order of the White Lion 1st Class (Civil Division) with Collar Chain CZE Rad Bileho Lva 1 tridy BAR.svg October 2003
Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1st Class CZE Rad T-G-Masaryka 1tr (1994) BAR.svg October 2003
 Estonia Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana The Collar of the Cross EST Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana - 1st Class BAR.png April 1996 Tallinn
 France Légion d'honneur Grand Cross Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg March 1990 Paris
Order of Arts and Letters Commander Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Commandeur ribbon.svg February 2001
 Georgia St. George's Order of Victory GEO St-George Victory Order BAR.svg October 2011 Prague
 Germany Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany Special class of the Grand Cross GER Bundesverdienstkreuz 9 Sond des Grosskreuzes.svg May 2000 Berlin
 Hungary Order of Merit of Hungary Grand Cross with Chain HUN Order of Merit of the Hungarian Rep 1class Collar BAR.svg September 2001 Prague
 Italy Order of Merit of the Italian Republic Grand Cross with Cordon ITA OMRI 2001 GC-GCord BAR.svg April 2002 Rome
 Jordan Order of al-Hussein bin Ali Collar JOR Al-Hussein ibn Ali Order BAR.svg September 1997 Amman
 Latvia Order of the Three Stars Commander Grand Cross with Chain LVA Order of the Three Stars - Grand Cross BAR.png August 1999 Prague
 Lithuania Order of Vytautas the Great Grand Cross Order of Vytautas Commanders Grand Cross Ribbon.jpg September 1999
 Poland Order of the White Eagle POL Order Orła Białego BAR.svg October 1993 Warsaw
 Portugal Order of Liberty Grand Collar PRT Order of Liberty - Grand Cross BAR.svg December 1990 Lisbon
 Taiwan Order of Brilliant Star with Special Grand Cordon TWN Order of Brilliant Star 1Class BAR.svg November 2004 Taipei
 Slovakia Order of the White Double Cross First Class SVK Rad Bieleho Dvojkriza 1 triedy BAR.svg January 2003 Bratislava
 Slovenia The Golden honorary Medal of Freedom Gold medal of freedom of slovenia rib.png November 1993 Ljubljana
 Spain Order of Isabella the Catholic Grand Cross with Collar Order of Isabella the Catholic - Sash of Collar.svg July 1995 Prague
 Turkey First Class of the Order of the State of Republic of Turkey Order of the State of Republic of Turkey.png October 2000 Ankara
 Ukraine Order of Yaroslav the Wise Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise 1st 2nd and 3rd Class of Ukraine.png October 2006 Prague
 United Kingdom Order of the Bath Knight Grand Cross (Civil Division) Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg March 1996
 United States Presidential Medal of Freedom Presidential Medal of Freedom (ribbon).svg July 2003 Washington, D.C.
 Uruguay Medal of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay Medal of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay - ribbon bar.gif September 1996 Montevideo


  •  Netherlands: Geuzenpenning (1995), Vlaardingen
  •  India: Indira Gandhi Peace Prize (1993), New Delhi[114]
  •  India: Gandhi Peace Prize (08/2003), Delhi


Václav Havel Square in Prague, 2016

Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent

In April 2012, Havel's widow, Dagmar Havlová, authorized the creation of the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. The prize was created by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and is awarded at the annual Oslo Freedom Forum. The prize "will celebrate those who engage in creative dissent, exhibiting courage and creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth".[115]

Václav Havel Library

The Václav Havel Library, located in Prague, is a charitable organization founded by Dagmar Havlová, Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloslav Petrusek on 26 July 2004. It maintains a collection of pictorial, audio and written materials and other artefacts linked to Václav Havel.[116][117] The institution gathers these materials for the purpose of digitisation, documentation and research and to promote his ideas. It organises lectures,[118] holds conferences and social and cultural events that introduce the public to the work of Václav Havel and club discussion meetings on current social issues. It runs educational activities for second-level students. It is also involved in the issuing of publications. The library makes accessible Václav Havel's literary, philosophical and political writings, and provides a digital reading room for researchers and students in the Czech Republic and elsewhere.

In May 2012, the library opened a branch in New York City named the Václav Havel Library Foundation. In 2014, the Václav Havel Library moved to larger premises at Ostrovni 13, in the centre of Prague.[119]

Václav Havel Building of the European Parliament

In July 2017, the European Parliament opened a new building on its official Strasbourg site. The building was named after Havel and decorated with a bust of the former Czech president.[120][121]

Václav Havel Memory in Zagreb

On 4 October 2016, the day before what would have been the 80th birthday of Václav Havel, his photograph was presented on the fountain in Croatian capital Zagreb. Croatian-Czech Society proposed the Václav Havel Street in Zagreb.[122]

Václav Havel photograph on the fountain in Zagreb, Croatia

Václav Havel Boulevard and memorial plaque in Kyiv

In November 2016, Václav Havel Boulevard was opened in Kyiv, Ukraine . The new name has replaced the one given during Soviet era when boulevard was named in honor of the Communist politician Jānis Lepse. In December, First Deputy Chairman Iryna Herashchenko along with Minister of Culture of Czech Republic Daniel Herman and Minister of Culture of Ukraine Yevhen Nyshchuk opened memorial plaque in honor of Václav Havel.

Václav Havel Bench

The Václav Havel Bench (Havel's Place) is an artistic and urban utility project, created by Czech architect and designer Bořek Šípek.[123] It is composed of two wooden garden chairs connected by a round table, which has a hole inside. A linden, the Czech national tree, is growing through this hole. These benches can be found in many Czech towns as well as in some foreign locations such as Washington, D.C., Dublin, Lisbon, and Barcelona.

Sculptures and busts

On 19 November 2014, a bust of Havel, created by Czech-American artist Lubomír Janečka, was unveiled at the U.S. Congress, commemorating the 25-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Havel is the fourth European ever to be honored by having a bust of himself in the U.S. Congress, after Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg and Lajos Kossuth.[124] Another sculpture of Havel is placed in a boardroom of Leinster House in Dublin, the historical seat of the Oireachtas, the Irish National Parliament.[125]

On 22 June 2017 a statue of Václav Havel created by Georgian sculptor Jumber Jikia was unveiled in Tbilisi, Georgia.[126]

The Václav Havel Library Foundation donated a bust of Havel to Columbia University in New York City. This bust was unveiled on 27 September 2018 while Havel was being honored by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.[127]


Collections of poetry

  • Čtyři rané básně (Four Early Poems)
  • Záchvěvy I & II, 1954 (Quivers I & II)
  • První úpisy, 1955 (First promissory notes)
  • Prostory a časy, 1956 (Spaces and times)
  • Na okraji jara (cyklus básní), 1956 (At the edge of spring (poetry cycle))
  • Antikódy, 1964 (Anticodes)


  • Life Ahead/You Have Your Whole Life Ahead of You, 1959, (Život před sebou) with Karel Brynda
  • Motomorphosis/Motormorphosis, 1960/1961, (Motomorfóza), a sketch from Autostop
  • Ela, Hela, and the Hitch, 1960/1961, (Ela, Hela a stop), a sketch for Autostop; discarded from the play, lost; found in 2009; published in 2011
  • An Evening with the Family, 1960, (Rodinný večer)
  • The Best Years of Missis Hermanová, 1962, (Nejlepší rocky paní Hermanové) with Miloš Macourek
  • The Garden Party (Zahradní slavnost), 1963
  • The Memorandum (or The Memo), 1965, (Vyrozumění)
  • The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1968, (Ztížená možnost soustředění)
  • Butterfly on the Antenna, 1968, (Motýl na anténě)
  • Guardian Angel, 1968, (Anděl strážný)
  • Conspirators, 1971, (Spiklenci)
  • The Beggar's Opera, 1975, (Žebrácká opera)
  • Audience, 1975, (Audience) – a Vanӗk play
  • Unveiling, 1975, (Vernisáž) – a Vanӗk play
  • Mountain Hotel 1976, (Horský hotel)
  • Protest, 1978, (Protest) – a Vanӗk play
  • Mistake, 1983, (Chyba
  • Largo desolato 1984, (Largo desolato)
  • Temptation, 1985, (Pokoušení)
  • Redevelopment, 1987, (Asanace)
  • The Pig, or Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig (Prase, aneb Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig), 1987; published in 2010; premiered in 2010, co-authored by Vladimír Morávek
  • Tomorrow, 1988, (Zítra to spustíme)
  • Leaving (Odcházení), 2007
  • Dozens of Cousins (Pět Tet), 2010, a Vanӗk play, a short sketch/sequel to Unveiling

Nonfiction books

  • The Power of the Powerless (1985) [Includes 1978 titular essay. Online]
  • Living in Truth (1986)
  • Letters to Olga (Dopisy Olze) (1988)
  • Disturbing the Peace (1991)
  • Open Letters (1991)
  • Summer Meditations (Letní přemítání) (1992/93)
  • Toward a Civil Society (1994)
  • The Art of the Impossible (1998)
  • To the Castle and Back (2007)

Fiction books for children

  • Pizh'duks


  • Odcházení, 2011


  • Havel was a major supporter of The Plastic People of the Universe, and close friend of its leader, Milan Hlavsa, its manager, Ivan Martin Jirous, and its guitarist/vocalist, Paul Wilson (who later became Havel's English translator and biographer) and a great fan of the rock band The Velvet Underground, sharing mutual respect with the principal singer-songwriter Lou Reed, and was also a lifelong Frank Zappa fan.[128][129]
  • Havel was also a great supporter and fan of jazz and frequented such Prague clubs as Radost FX and the Reduta Jazz Club, where U.S. President Bill Clinton played the saxophone when Havel brought him there.[128]

Cultural references

Václav Havel has been portrayed, as himself or a character based on him, in a number of feature and television films:

  • Czech Century is a 2013 historical television series chronicling Czech history from 1989. Havel is portrayed by Marek Daniel.
    • Marek Daniel also portrayed Havel in a satirical web series, Kancelář Blaník.
  • Havel is a 2020 historical film about Havel's (Viktor Dvořák) life before 1989.
  • The Prog-related Art-rock band, Toy Matinee, recorded a song about Havel, entitled "Remember My Name" from their 1990 eponymous album released by Reprise Records.
  • Havel is mentioned in the song La Vie Bohème from the 1996 musical Rent.

See also

  • Civil resistance
  • Hrad (politics)
  • List of peace activists
  • Nonviolent resistance
  • Mlýny, Czech comedy play
  • Václav Havel Human Rights Prize


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  6. "Opening Ceremony, Bruges Campus". 
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  9. 9.0 9.1 Zantovsky, Michael (2014). Havel: A Life. New York: Grove Press. pp. 16 (family accomplishments), 55 (marriage). ISBN 9780802123152. 
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  18. 18.0 18.1 Eda Kriseová (1993). Václav Havel: The Authorized Biography. St. Martins Press. pp. 98–99, 168, 202. ISBN 0-88687-739-3. 
  19. Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, in: Václav Havel, et al The power of the powerless. Citizen against the state in central-eastern Europe, Abingdon, 2010 pp. 10–60 ISBN:978-0-87332-761-9
  20. Keane, John (2000). Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts. Basic Books. p. 264. ISBN 0-465-03719-4. 
  21. 'Catastrophe', Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (New York: Grove P, 1994) pp. 295–302 ISBN:0-8021-5055-1.
  22. "Václav Havel (1990)". 
  23. Stanger, Richard L. "Václav Havel: Heir to a Spiritual Legacy" . The Christian Century (Christian Century Foundation), 11 April 1990: pp. 368–70. Rpt. in ("with permission"; "prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock"). ["Richard L. Stanger is senior minister at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York".]
  24. Tucker, Scott. "Capitalism with a Human Face?". The Humanist (American Humanist Association), 1 May 1994, "Our Queer World". Rpt. in High Beam Encyclopedia (an online encyclopedia). Retrieved 21 December 2007. ["Václav Havel's philosophy and musings."]
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  31. Analýza trendů kriminality v roce 2010. Praha: Institut pro kriminologii a sociální prevenci. 2011. p. 129. ISBN 978-80-7338-117-2. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  32. "Počet vražd v České republice". Český statistický úřad. 
  33. Jedlička, Miloslav. "Jozef Slovák: pětinásobný vrah". 
  34. Jedlička, Miloslav. "Roman Kučerovský". 
  35. Jedlička, Miloslav (2008-09-20). "Vraha tří žen našli kriminalisté po třinácti letech. Díky DNA". 
  36. Berman, Paul (11 May 1997). "The Poet of Democracy and His Burdens". The New York Times Magazine.  (original inc. cover photo), as rpt. in English translation at Newyorske listy (New York Herald). Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  37. PRECLÍK, Vratislav. Masaryk a legie (Masaryk and legions), váz. kniha, 219 pages, first issue - vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karvina, CZ) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (Masaryk democratic movement, Prague), 2019, ISBN:978-80-87173-47-3, str. 24-25, s. 151, s. 157, s. 169, s. 184, s. 185
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  39. Richard Allen Greene "Václav Havel: End of an era", BBC News, 9 October 2003
  40. Václav Havel, "NATO: The Safeguard of Stability and Peace In the Euro-Atlantic Region", in European Security: Beginning a New Century, eds. General George A. Joulwan & Roger Weissinger-Baylon, papers from the XIIIth NATO Workshop: On Political-Military Decision Making, Warsaw, Poland, 19–23 June 1996.
  41. Žižek, Slavoj (28 October 1999). "Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism. Book review of Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts, by John Keane". London Review of Books. 
  42. Havel's Medical Condition Seems to Worsen, The New York Times . 5 August 1998.
  43. "Vaclav Havel among 'European Eight' backing George W. Bush in US stance on Iraq". Radio Prague International. 31 January 2003. 
  44. "Full text of letter written by eight European leaders". The Irish Times. 30 January 2003. 
  45. Welch, Matt. "Velvet President", Reason (May 2003). Rpt. in Reason Online. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  46. Václav Havel "Famous Czechs of the Past Century: Václav Havel" – English version of article featured on the official website of the Czech Republic.
  47. "Václav Havel". Prague Life. 
  48. "Václav Havel: The Emperor Has No Clothes Webcast (Library of Congress)". 
  49. Havel at Columbia; "Celebrating the Life and Art of Václav Havel: New York City, October through December 2006" .
  50. Capps, Walter H. "Interpreting Václav Havel". Cross Currents (Association for Religion & Intellectual Life) 47.3 (Fall 1997). Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  51. Havel at Columbia: Václav Havel: The Artist, The Citizen, The Residency , a multi-media website developed for Havel's seven-week residency at Columbia University, in Fall 2006; features biographies, timelines, interviews, profile and bibliographies (see "References" above).
  52. "Honours: Order of Canada: Václav Havel". 
  53. "The Havel Festival : Václav Havel". 
  54. "The Havel Festival". 
  55. "Václav Havel on Transcendence | World Future Society". 
  56. Pinder, Ian (16 August 2008). "Czechout". The Guardian (UK). 
  57. "Belarus Free Theatre Meet Václav Havel", press release, Belarus Free Theatre, 13 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  58. Michael Batiukov, "Belarus 'Free Theatre' is Under Attack by Militia in Minsk, Belarus" , American Chronicle, 22 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  59. "Vaclav Havel to hold symbolic hunger strike" (in en). 2007-03-22. 
  60. ČTK (2007-03-23). "Havel symbolicky hladověl za Uzunoglua" (in cs). 
  61. 61.0 61.1 Adam Hetrick, "Václav Havel's Leaving May Arrive in American Theatres", Playbill, 19 November 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  62. Daniela Lazarová, "Will It Be Third Time Lucky for Václav Havel's 'Leaving'?", Radio Prague, 14 December 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  63. "Everyone loves Havel's Leaving". 
  64. Feifer, Gregory (23 March 2011). "Havel Film Premieres in Prague". 
  65. "DIVADLO.CZ: Of Pigs and Dissidents". 29 June 2010. 
  66. Callahan, Dan (11 May 2011). "Summer Preview: Performance | Theater Reviews | The L Magazine – New York City's Local Event and Arts & Culture Guide". The L Magazine. 
  67. "A Song-And-Dance Survival Strategy". 12 March 2014. 
  68. "Havel's gift for Obama to be displayed in Prague gallery | Prague Monitor". 
  69. "International Advisory Council". Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. 
  70. "Supporters" (in en-US). Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. 
  71. "Václav Havel byl součástí odvěkého lidského snažení o lepší svět". 2011-12-19. 
  72. "Český rozhlas Plus (archiv – Portréty)". 2011-12-18. 
  73. "Zelené podpořil Havel, vymezují se proti TOP 09 –". 
  74. "Zelení představili své sympatizanty – Havla, Schwarzenberga a Holubovou". 
  75. "Havel podpořil zelené. Srovnal továrny s koncentráky". 
  76. "Aktuální zpravodajství | Václav Havel vyzývá občany k volbě Strany zelených |". 
  77. Dan Bilefsky; Jane Perlez (18 December 2011). "Václav Havel, Former Czech President, Dies at 75". The New York Times. 
  78. 78.0 78.1 78.2 "Václav Havel, Czech statesman and playwright, dies at 75". BBC. 18 December 2011. 
  79. Paul Wilson (9 February 2012). "Václav Havel (1936–2011)". The New York Review of Books 59 (2). Retrieved 21 January 2012. 
  80. "Dalai Lama pays 'friendly' visit to Prague". The Prague Post. 
  81. "Václav Havel to be given state funeral and highest military honors". Radio Praha. 
  82. "Hudebníky napěchovaná Lucerna vzdala hold Havlovi, zazpívala i Vega a Král". 23 December 2011. 
  83. "World Reacts To Václav Havel's Death". Radio Free Europe. 
  84. "Russian embassy says condolence on Václav Havel's death was sent to President Klaus". Radio Prague. 
  85. "Slovakia declares December 23 as official day of mourning for Václav Havel". 20 December 2011. 
  86. "A Continent Mourns the Passing of Vaclav Havel". Radio Free Europe.,1518,804614,00.html. 
  87. "Czech politicians express sorrow over Václav Havel's death" Prague Daily Monitor, 19 December 2011
  88. Václav Havel, K Falbrově lži, Mladá fronta DNES 24 May 2004: Obskurní pojem "humanitární bombardování" jsem samozřejmě nejen nevymyslel, ale nikdy ani nepoužil a použít nemohl, neboť mám – troufám si tvrdit – vkus.
  89. "Petition to name the Prague – Ruzyne airport Václav Havel International Airport". 
  90. "Government renames airport after Havel, but botches translation". Prague 22 March 2012. 
  91. "Letiště Václava Havla". 
  92. Marci Shore, "Havel: A Life, by Michael Zantovsky," New York Times Sunday Book Review (27 December 2014)
  93. "Richard J. Havel". 
  94. Four Freedoms Award#Freedom Medal
  95. "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. 
  96. 1994 Speech Václav Havel – Liberty Medal, National Constitution Center
  97. "APS Member History". 
  98. "Havel y la CNN comparten el Príncipe de Asturias de Comunicación y Humanidades" (in es). El País. 1997-04-12. ISSN 1134-6582. 
  99. "Prix mondial" (in fr). 2014-04-11. 
  100. "Vaclav Havel" (in en). 
  101. Shipsey, Bill. "Václav Havel: Ambassador of Conscience 2003: From Prisoner to President – A Tribute" He also received Seoul Peace Prize in 2004.. Amnesty International (October 2003). Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  102. "Havel to receive U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom" (in en). 23 July 2003. 
  103. "Vaclav Havel associated values with Canada: Johnston" (in en). 2011-12-23. 
  104. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}".!medal-winners-2008/cypa. 
  105. "The Club of Madrid". 
  106. "Havel receives Quadriga prestigious German award". Prague Daily Monitor (original source: Czech Press Agency. 
  107. "German Group Cancels Prize to Putin After Outcry", The New York Times , 16 July 2011.
  108. "Honorary Doctorates". 
  109. "Installation de M. Vaclav Havel comme membre associé étranger au fauteuil laissé vacant par le décès de Ugo Papi". 27 October 1992. 
  110. ვაცლავ ჰაველის დაჯილდოება on YouTube
  111. Gershman, Carl (16 November 2014). "Are Czechs giving up on moral responsibility?". The Washington Post. 
  112. "State Decorations". 
  113. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (in de). p. 1711. 
  114. Havel's Acceptance Speech accessed 4 November 2006.
  115. "The Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent". Human Rights Foundation. 11 April 2012. 
  116. Miloslav Rechcígl (2008). On Behalf of Their Homeland: Fifty Years of SVU : an Eyewitness Account of the History of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU). East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-88033-630-7. 
  117. "Havel’s Letter to Husák: still an inspiration 40 years on". Radio Prague, 4 November 2015 | Azadeh Mohammadi, David Vaughan
  118. "Taiwanese disappointed at Zeman's view of Taiwan". Prague Daily Monitor 24 March 2015
  119. "New venue doubles capacity for Václav Havel Library events". Radio Prague, 10 January 2014 | Ian Willoughby
  120. "Václav Havel: Parliament dedicates building to former Czech president". News / European Parliament. 7 June 2017. 
  121. "Official opening of the Havel Building". European Parliament / The President. 
  122. "Lik Vaclava Havela na fontanama u povodu 80. godišnjice rođenja". 
  123. "The Václav Havel Bench". 
  124. "Pocta Havlovi. Jako čtvrtý Evropan má v americkém Kongresu bustu | Svět". 2014-11-19. 
  125. "Havel má jako první cizinec bustu v irském parlamentu. Byl výjimečnou osobností, říká politik" (in cs). 
  126. "Statue of Vaclav Havel Erected in Tbilisi". 
  127. "Madeleine Albright Remembers Vaclav Havel | Columbia SIPA". 
  128. 128.0 128.1 Biographies and bibliographies, "Havel at Columbia: Bibliography: Human Rights Archive". Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  129. Sam Beckwith, "Václav Havel & Lou Reed", 24 January 2005, updated 27 January 2005. Retrieved 26 April 2007.

Primary sources

Works by Václav Havel

Media interviews with Václav Havel


  • Keane, John. Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts. New York: Basic Books, 2000. ISBN:0-465-03719-4. (A sample chapter [in HTML and PDF formats] is linked on the author's website, "Books" .)
  • Kriseová, Eda. Václav Havel. Trans. Caleb Crain. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. ISBN:0-312-10317-4.
  • Pontuso, James F. Václav Havel: Civic Responsibility in the Postmodern Age. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. ISBN:0-7425-2256-3.
  • Rocamora, Carol. Acts of Courage. New York: Smith & Kraus, 2004. ISBN:1-57525-344-5.
  • Symynkywicz, Jeffrey. Václav Havel and the Velvet Revolution. Parsippany, New Jersey: Dillon Press, 1995. ISBN:0-87518-607-6.
  • Williams, Kieran. Václav Havel. London: Reaktion Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-78023-665-0.
  • Zantovsky, Michael (2014). Havel: A Life. ISBN 978-0802123152. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Marián Čalfa
President of Czechoslovakia
Office abolished
New office President of the Czech Republic
Succeeded by
Václav Klaus