(b. 1936) Czech dramatist and statesman, President of Czechoslovakia 1989–92 and of the Czech Republic 1993–2003
(b. 6 Oct. 1936).
President of Czechoslovakia 1989–92; President of the Czech Republic 1993–2003
Born in Prague, he was refused a place at university on account of his ‘bourgeois descent’. Instead he worked as a laboratory assistant and a taxi‐driver, attending evening classes at Prague Technical University. He then obtained entry into a theatrical academy, qualifying in 1967 and becoming a stage‐hand and technician. He had already begun serious writing in 1961 with Hitch‐Hiking, followed by plays such as The Garden Party (1963), The Message (1965), and Difficult Understanding (1968). At this time, he openly called for a return to the liberal intellectual democratic traditions of interwar Czechoslovakia. Following his signature of Charter ‘77, as whose spokesman he acted intermittently, he spent several terms in prison, the last of which was in early 1989. By that time, he had become the leading spokesman for more human rights and political liberalization.
He was chosen President by the Czechoslovak Assembly when Husák resigned in December 1989, and elected by popular vote in 1990. However, he found it difficult to cope with the day‐to‐day administrative tasks of government. More importantly, in his concern for social justice he disagreed with his more energetic ministers led by Klaus over the speed of economic change and the introduction of capitalism. Refusing to preside over the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he resigned in 1992. He was elected President of the new Czech Republic on 26 January 1993. He continued to assume the role of moral and social conscience of a country experiencing radical economic liberalization. At home and abroad, he was respected for his efforts to bring reconciliation between Czechs and their neighbours. He was also influential in formulating a vision of the EU that placed the Czechs and other countries in central and eastern Europe in the mainstream of European culture. Havel was constitutionally barred from a renewal of his second term in office. Despite his poor health, he returned to writing after retirement.