News / Europe

Vaclav Havel, Playwright and Former Czech President, Dead at 75

Former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel answers questions about anti-government protests in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East, (File).
Former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel answers questions about anti-government protests in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East, (File).

Dissident playwright and freedom fighter, Vaclav Havel, a leader of Czechoslovakia's anti-communist revolution in 1989, has died at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic at the age of 75.  He was a modest writer whose powerful words catapulted him from political prisoner to president.

Born in Prague three years before the outbreak of World War II, Vaclav Havel was persecuted by the communists who seized power in 1948 because his parents were wealthy.  They would not allow Havel to receive a university education.

The plays Havel wrote in the early 1960s gained an international following.  When he loudly protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of his homeland in 1968, his passport was confiscated.

As news spread of the death of former President Vaclav Havel, Czech citizens lit candles and placed flowers on Prague's Wenceslas Square

In the late 1970s, Havel stepped up his human-rights activities, actions that led to years of imprisonment and house arrest.

In 1989, as the communist regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled, Havel was the undisputed leader of Czechoslovakia's revolution.  He was elected president in December 1989 and when the country peacefully split in two four years later, he was twice elected president of the Czech Republic - a post he held until 2003.

As a visiting scholar at New York's Columbia University in 2006, Havel recalled the stifling and pervasive impact of communism on people's lives.

"Everything was controlled.  Everything was directed.  Everything was manipulated.  It was in these conditions, very difficult to believe, that the situation could change," Havel stated.

Havel told students at Columbia that it was important challenge oppression with the truth.
"Truth and morality can have stronger power than weapons.  And that it makes sense to speak the truth and do what you think it is right to do, to be moral and try to make solidarity with other people who are in need," he said.

Havel said that his proudest achievement as president was the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Moscow-led military alliance that lasted until 1991.

Vaclav Havel long struggled to maintain good health.  He suffered from pneumonia that was not treated during his time in prison.  A heavy smoker and chronically short of breath, he was hospitalized with lung cancer in 1996 and nearly died.  His ill health continued when he suffered a ruptured colon in 2007.

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