Václav Havel Biography

(The Last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) & the First President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003))

Birthday: October 5, 1936 (Libra)

Born In: Prague, Czech Republic

Czech playwright, author, poet, dissident, and politician Václav Havel served as the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and then as the first president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003). Although born into an affluent family of real-estate developers, Havel was denied proper education by the Communist government because of his bourgeois background. He later began a career as a playwright and penned socially relevant works such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum. In the wake of the Prague Spring in the late 1960s, he became a prominent opposition leader. He later penned the human rights manifesto Charter 77. Jailed for his activism and then released, he joined the Civic Forum, a coalition of democratic groups, which eventually replaced the Communist government through the Velvet Revolution. Later, as the president of his nation, he witnessed the Czech Republic join the NATO. He also won countless honors and awards, such as the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 75


Spouse/Ex-: Dagmar Havlová (m. 1997–2011), Olga Havlová (m. 1964–1996)

father: Václav Maria Havel

mother: Božena Vavrečková

Born Country: Czech Republic

Presidents Czech Men

Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Males

political ideology: Civic Forum, Green Party

Died on: December 18, 2011

place of death: Vlčice, Czech Republic

Notable Alumni: Academy Of Performing Arts, Czech Technical University In Prague

More Facts

education: Czech Technical University, Academy Of Performing Arts In Prague

Childhood, Early Life & Education

Václav Havel was born in on October 5, 1936, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to an affluent real-estate developer, Václav Maria Havel, who built the Barrandov Terraces. While Havel’s uncle, Miloš Havel, built one of Europe’s biggest film studios, Havel’s grandfather, Vácslav Havel, built an iconic entertainment center at Prague's Wenceslas Square. Havel's mother, Božena Vavrečková, was the daughter of a Czechoslovak ambassador and journalist.

In 1948, his father’s family property was confiscated by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia. Havel was not allowed to continue his education for being the son of bourgeois parents.

Havel thus joined a 4-year apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant, while attending evening classes at a gymnasium. In 1954, he somehow completed his secondary education.

None of the post-secondary institutes with humanities programs accepted him, for purely political reasons. He thus joined the Czech Technical University in Prague, studying economics. However, he dropped out 2 years later.

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Career as a Playwright

In 1959, Václav Havel started his career as a stagehand in a Prague theater company. He soon started writing plays with renowned Czech playwright and actor Ivan Vyskočil.

By 1968, Havel had become the resident playwright of the Theater of the Balustrade. In 1963, Havel released his first solo play, Zahradní slavnost (The Garden Party), which became a classic later. It was an absurdist, satirical look at the bureaucratic ways and their effects.

In 1965, he penned his best-known play, Vyrozumění (The Memorandum), in which he showed how human relationships deteriorate when an artificial language is imposed on a bureaucratic system. In these works, Havel threw light on life under a totalitarian system.

Havel wrote plays consistently till the late 1980s. Some of his most popular plays were Ztížená možnost soustředění (The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1968); Spiklenci (The Conspirators, 1971); the one-act plays Audience (1975), Vernisáž (Private View, 1975), and Protest (1978); Largo Desolato (1985); and Zítra to Spustíme (Tomorrow,1988).

By the end of his career, he was considered one of Czechoslovakia’s greatest playwrights, with over 20 plays and several works of non-fiction and poetry under his belt. He continued to write under constant state repression of the Communist rule.

As a Political Dissident

Since the late 1960s, Václav Havel switched his focus to the politics of Czechoslovakia. With the onset of the liberal movement, or the Prague Spring, in 1968, Havel became increasingly active in the politics of his nation.

After the Soviet Communists succeeded in suppressing Czechoslovakia that year, Havel’s plays were banned. His passport, too, was confiscated.

He slowly grew to be a prominent leader of the opposition. In 1977, he wrote the human rights manifesto Charter 77 and shot to international fame. Additionally, The Power of the Powerless, which he penned in 1978, is still considered one of the most impactful political essays ever written.

In 1979, his human rights activism led to his arrest. He was later sentenced to 4 and half years of hard labor.

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While in prison, from May 1979 to February 1983, he penned several letters to his wife, which were compiled and released later as Letters to Olga (1988), another of his iconic works. Following his release, he remained in his country.

As the President

In November 1989, Prague witnessed huge anti-government demonstrations. Soon, Václav Havel became one of the leaders of the Civic Forum, a coalition of opposition groups that wanted democratic reforms.

In early December that year, the Communist Party created a coalition government along with the Civic Forum. In late 1989, during the non-violent transition of power, known as the Velvet Revolution, the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia finally ended.

A democratic parliamentary republic was established in the country, and on December 29, 1989, Havel was elected to the position of the interim president of Czechoslovakia. In July 1990, Havel was re-elected to the presidency, thus scripting history as the nation’s first non-Communist leader since 1948.

In 1992, the Czechoslovak union was in the process of being dissolved. Havel, however, was against the division and thus resigned from office.

In 1993, Havel was elected president of the new Czech Republic, which also made him the 10th and last president of the previous Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, his political role was limited, as Prime Minister Václav Klaus (1993-1997) held most of the political power.

Havel was re-elected by a narrow margin in 1998. The following year, under Havel’s presidency, the Czech Republic became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

As he was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, Havel stepped down from his presidency in 2003. In his 13 years of presidency, Havel led Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic to a democratic political set-up, with multiple political parties. The Czech Republic also began negotiating its membership in the European Union (EU) and formally became a EU member in 2004.

Havel also signed the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism and became one of the first people to sign it. It was a declaration that called for widespread condemnation of and awareness of the crimes of Communism in Europe.

Personal Life

On July 9, 1964, Havel married Czech dissident and activist Olga Šplíchalová. She died of cancer in January 1996, after 32 years of marriage, at age 62.

In December 1996, Havel was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been a chain smoker for almost his entire life. Though he recovered, the cancer reappeared later. Havel soon quit smoking.

In 1997, he married Czech actor Dagmar Veškrnová. She already had a daughter from a previous marriage.


Among his countless honors were the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the International Gandhi Peace Prize from India, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Freedom Medal of the Four Freedoms Award, and the Order of Canada.

He also received Amnesty International’s first Ambassador of Conscience Award for his efforts in promoting human rights. In 2005, he was placed 4th in Prospect Magazine's poll of the world’s top 100 intellectuals.

Later Life & Death

In 2007, after a hiatus of almost 20 years, Havel penned his new play, the tragicomedy Odcházení (Leaving). The play, which portrayed a chancellor leaving his post as he deals with a political enemy, premiered in 2008. In 2011, Havel directed the film adaptation of the play.

Havel died on December 18, 2011, in Hrádeček, at age 75. His memorial gathering was held at Wenceslas Square in Prague.

A week prior to his death, Havel had met his long-time friend, the Dalai Lama, in Prague. Havel received a 21-gun salute at his funeral, held at the Saint Vitus Cathedral. Following a private ceremony at Prague's Strašnice Crematorium, his ashes were buried in the family tomb in Prague’s Vinohrady Cemetery.

See the events in life of Václav Havel in Chronological Order

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