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Vaclav Havel - from pensmith to president

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Vaclav Havel - from pensmith to president


Vaclav Havel, the man who was to become the symbol of the struggle against Soviet domination, was born into the Prague bourgoisie in 1936 just before German troops marched into the then Czechoslovakia.

The Nazi yoke was lifted in 1945 only for the so-called Soviet liberators to seize the country three years later. Deemed a “class enemy” the young Vaclav was denied a university education. But that did not stop him writing and by 1956 he was publishing poems and plays.

The Sixties began well for Vaclav. In 1964 he married Olga Splichalova, and went on to became writer-in-residence at a Prague theatre, riding a wave of liberalism that was sweeping the country.

But in 1968 Soviet tanks of the Warsaw Pact rolled in to crush a nascent reform movement. Havel’s plays were banned and he was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned.

Socialism with a Human face and its sponsor, Alexander Dubcek, were banished by the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. Czechoslovakia entered 21 years of totalitarianism.

But change was on its way. In 1989 Havel, by now one of the most famous Soviet bloc dissidents in the world, led his country in a Velvet Revolution to democracy.

The importance of his role was recognised as Havel was sworn in as president by the Communist parliament and then elected to the post by the people in the country’s first free vote.

In 1992 Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in an amical divorce. It was a move Havel had strongly opposed. He had no choice but to resign and leave it up to his ministers to sort out the details of partition.

But the public had other ideas and elected him president of the new Czech Republic. He returned the world stage, though his position on a number of issues led to clashes with his government at home.

Darker days were to follow. His wife, Olga, died of cancer in 1996, while he himself lost a lung to the disease in December of the same year.

Re-elected in 1998, Havel was determind to see his country move out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. This he achieved when the Czech Repbublic joined NATO in 1999.

Havel, by now married to his second wife the actress Dagmara Veskrona, completed his second term despite failing health.

He decided to pass the baton to former Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus, who became President in in 2003.

It was under his stewardship that the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union in 2004.

The country had finally closed the book on the Communist era. Havel remained a figurehead of resistance, appealing for solidarity with dissidents around the world on the 40th anniversery of the Prague Spring, urging people to make their voices heard against authoritarian regimes.

Vaclav Havel – the poet and dissident writer they could not silence will be remembered as the iconic leader of revolution in his own country, and an inspiration for others around the world.

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