25 years since Václav Havel elected Czechoslovak president
25 years ago today, the dissident playwright Václav Havel became the first non-communist president of Czechoslovakia since 1948. Back then, Edvard Beneš had resigned from office in the midst of a communist putsch led by Klement Gottwald. 41 years later, the communists would vote to destroy their own monopoly on power.
The original oath had read “to be faithful to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and to matters of socialism.” It was hurriedly altered. Nonetheless, Havel faced the curious situation of having been elected by a communist body to serve as president of a Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. It would take several years for this particular tangle to be undone. In 1990, Václav Havel was again elected as president of the newly renamed Czech and Slovak Federal Republic – but only for a two-year term. Two years later, in 1992, multiple rounds of presidential elections – again voted-on by parliament – merely served to run out the clock on the very existence of Czechoslovakia. On February 2, 1993, Václav Havel recited the oath and became President of the Czech Republic.
Following his taking the oath, Václav Havel went to Prague Castle and conducted an inspection of the Presidential Guard. He then addressed the public from a balcony at the Castle:
“Dear friends. Not long ago, I was unanimously elected by the Federal Assembly to be the president of our republic. I thank all of you for your support. I promise not to betray the faith you have placed in me, and I pledge to lead this country towards free elections.”
“These have to take place in a clean and peaceful manner so as to not dirty the clean face of our revolution. That is a goal for all of us. I thank you!”
The crowds cheered “long live the president”. Václav Havel responded with a V-sign. It was a euphoric day, which those who were there to witness it will likely never forget.