Václav Havel, dissident playwright turned statesman, born 85 years ago
From these dark prison cells, Havel also rose to prominence in international politics. He went from a kind of private asylum in his country house in Hrádeček to the most important presidential and royal palaces in the world. The once banned author has seen his plays and essays published by the world’s most influential publishing house. Such was the life of Václav Havel. We will commemorate the 85th anniversary of his birth on October 5, 2021.
Few people have lived a more varied life than Václav Havel. He was born into a privileged family in Prague. What might have been good fortune quickly turned into a burden. After the Communists came to power, inappropriate (ie “bourgeois”) origins became a major obstacle.
All his attempts to study the humanities at university failed: without the recommendation of the local Communist Party branch, it was impossible. He was eventually accepted to the Czech Technical University, where he studied economics. It was also a small miracle at the time (1955). He was not admitted to the Academy of Performing Arts (AMU) until 1962; for distance learning, which was considered less valuable.
Later a successful playwright, Havel began his theatrical career as a stagehand. The Communist regime proved to be a source of inspiration for his literary work. His first play, The Garden Party, is an excellent contribution to the theater of the absurd genre absurd. The text is made up of meaningless sentences taken from the speeches of the “initiators” and “liquidators”, which people listened to at the time in endless meetings with compulsory participation. The second set of The Memorandum concerns the introduction of the artificial language Ptydepe, which will become a means of bureaucratic control over society.
Václav Havel’s public engagement began in the 1960s. During the Prague Spring of 1968, he argued that it was not enough to reform the Communist Party and its style of government. Instead of simple democratization, he wanted real democracy. However, all of these hopes were dashed by the Soviet-led invasion and occupation that followed.
All those who actively supported the Prague Spring reforms a year later have been called “enemies of the people”, more precisely enemies of the new extremists in power. The first secret police interrogations and charges against Havel would soon arrive – although he was not prosecuted. While his works were banned in his country, they were published abroad and he could live on royalties from his books and plays.
Havel has become a leading figure in the Czechoslovak dissident movement. One of the co-authors of the Charter 77 declaration, around which the most influential human rights organization has been built. He was no longer spared a prison sentence – Havel was convicted in 1979 and was not released from prison until 1983. He was again arrested and convicted in 1989, but only spent a few days. months in prison. During that same pivotal year there would be a major change not only in his life but in Czechoslovak society. Communism is overthrown in the Velvet Revolution and Václav Havel becomes president of a newly democratic country.
He will also go down in history as the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Václav Havel appreciated and enjoys an unprecedented level of international attention for a Czech personality – first as a philosopher king, then as a global public intellectual and moral authority. Havel was president until 2003. He died of a long illness on December 18, 2011, at the age of 75.