Havel, Václav

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Havel, Václav

Václav Havel (väts´läv hävĕl), 1936–2011, Czech dramatist and essayist, president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and the Czech Republic (1993–2003). The most original Czech dramatist to emerge in the 1960s, Havel soon antagonized the political power structure by focusing on the senselessness and absurdity of mechanized, totalitarian society in plays that implicitly criticized the government, such as The Garden Party (1963, tr. 1969) and The Memorandum (1965, tr. 1967), and in various essays of the 1960s and 70s. As an organizer (1977) and leading spokesman for the dissident group Charter 77, he was imprisoned (1979–83) by the Czechoslovak Communist regime, and his plays were banned.

Havel was a founder (1989) of the Civic Forum, a human rights and opposition group, and became its principal spokesman. When it succeeded in forcing (1989) the Communist party to share power, he became interim president of Czechoslovakia. He was elected president of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of Communism in 1990, but resigned in 1992 prior to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, to which he was opposed. He was elected president of the new Czech Republic in 1993 and reelected in 1998. As president he tended toward a social democratic approach to social and economic issues, strongly supporting civil liberties and human rights and an eastward-expanding NATO. He retired from the presidency in 2003. Havel's other works include Protocols (essays and poems, 1966), Letters to Olga (1983, tr. 1989), Three Vanek Plays (1990), Open Letters: Selected Writings 1965–1990 (1991), Summer Meditations (1991, tr. 1992), and Selected Plays, 1984–87 (1994).

See his memoir, To the Castle and Back (2007); interview ed. by P. Wilson (tr. 1990); biography by M. Simmons (1991); collections of essays on Havel, ed. by J. Vladislav (1986) and M. Goetz-Stankiewicz and P. Carey (1999); study by J. Keane (2000).

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