Vaclav Havel celebrates 65 years of life

Vaclav Havel in November 1989

Friday was President Havel's 65th birthday. 65 years of achievement and 65 years of controversy. Vaclav Havel is a famous- writer and dramatist, he was the leading figure of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ended the years of Communist oppression under which he himself had suffered. He was the last President of Czechoslovakia and first President of the Czech Republic. Vaclav Havel, widely recognised and revered throughout the world, faces numerous problems at home. Nicole Klement looks at the work, the achievements and the personality of Vaclav Havel.

Throughout his life Vaclav Havel has stood up for his convictions, regardless of the consequences - a statement true of his days as a dissident during the Communist regime. But a fact also true about his days as president. In 1956, at a meeting of young writers, he spoke up against the generally accepted dogmas of communist literature. After the Warsaw Pact invasion into Czechoslovakia, which ended the "Prague Spring" attempts at introducing more democracy into the country, Havel became one of the co-founders and a spokesman for Charter 77 which portrayed Czechoslovak silent protest against the communist government and resulting oppression. As a result of his political activities, Vaclav Havel could not study, and for years, he could not publish officially. He was imprisoned three times for his civic views, and spent nearly five years behind bars.

Vaclav Havel in November 1989
November 1989 marked the beginning of social change in what was then Czechoslovakia. Students held a peaceful demonstration and where met with brutality from the communist regime's police force. Students and Artists came to the forefront of subsequent civic uprisings and Vaclav Havel as head of the Civic Forum, an association uniting opposition civic movements and democratic initiatives, became a key figure of the "Velvet Revolution". Months later, Vaclav Havel was elected President by the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia. In his inaugural address, he promised to lead the nation to democratic elections, which he did in the summer of 1990. The same year he was re-elected as Czechoslovak President.

Vaclav Havel continued to support a common Federation of Czechs and Slovaks, and used his political influence to promote it. But in January 1993 the rift between Czech and Slovak political parties became final and Czechoslovakia was divided. On January 26, 1993, the Chamber of Deputies elected Vaclav Havel as first President of the independent Czech Republic where he has carried two terms.

Throughout the years during which he lead the country, Vaclav Havel has been true to his conviction of speaking up for his beliefs, regardless of the opinion of others, or, in some cases, regardless of whether what he was saying was the most important issue of the moment. He has met with criticism for speaking about moral and ethic problems at a time, when economic shortcomings and disregard for the law were on top of the nation's problems. He as rubbed many a politician the wrong way by criticising their work. In fact, in November 1997 he called on Vaclav Klaus' cabinet to step down. And he was no less critical of his successor, Milos Zeman. In March 1998 he criticised Zeman's approach towards this country's integration into NATO. And, just one more example which perhaps characterises Vaclav Havel more than any other - he met criticism from most Czech politicians for inviting the author Salman Rushdie to Prague castle.

Vaclav Havel's second term in office ends next year. There is much discussion as to who will be his successor. A number of names are being mentioned, and opinions vary. But on one point they all agree - taking over after Vaclav Havel will be a very difficult task. Not only is he honoured throughout the world, but also at home. Regardless of criticism, he is recognised as an outstanding personality whose life time achievements cannot be underestimated.

Author: Nicole Klement
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