BORN: October 5, 1936, Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic)
IDENTIFICATION: Late-twentieth-century Czech playwright, essayist, and political thinker; after the fall of the Soviet-dominated communist regime, he became president of Czechoslovakia and, when the country was divided in 1992, president of the Czech Republic.
SIGNIFICANCE: As playwright, essayist, and political figure Václav Havel speaks to men and women of the present. His humorous, lively plays give dramatic shape to social and philosophical issues and illuminate the very nature of theater. His approachable yet profound essays from the 1970s and 1980s discuss such issues as power, resistance, identity, responsibility, and the use of language. His Letters to Olga (written in prison to his wife) are a document of spiritual and intellectual resilience. His presidential speeches (entirely composed by himself), delivered all over the globe, have been widely translated and have become subjects of discussion for philosophers, literary scholars, social commentators, and politicians.