Václav Havel

* 1936  †︎ 2011

  • “I believe that at the beginning there was a time when I wanted to become a general because I was fascinated with uniforms. I already mentioned how I was standing in front of the shop with window displays of decorations and uniforms. I have innumerable drawings from my childhood, and they are all drawings of armed generals and marshals. Perhaps I wanted to become a soldier for some time. For a while I also wanted to become an entrepreneur. I even made up my own company and I pretended I was the boss. I wrote a ´book´ about it, outlining the concept of this company. It was called Factory Dobrovka. The book was in the form of comics, with pictures of workers depicted as loving their company’s owner… Later I wanted to work in the film industry, I wanted to be a film director. I applied to study at the Theatre Faculty and Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, but I never was admitted due to my family background. Only now, in my ripe age, will I work as a film director.”

  • “I remember the liberation very well. Especially one memory has stuck in my mind: I stuffed a sub-machine bullet up my nose and then I couldn’t get it out. A surgeon had to step in to help. I also remember the endless lines of miserable Malinovsky soldiers who had liberated Moravia. Havlov was in Moravia, and I witnessed it there (our house in Prague had been bombed during a bombardment in February). I remember that one adventurous partisan leader visited us at home; he later ended up in a gulag. And I remember the army – it was strange, there were hay-waggons full of stuff, soldiers and weapons. They were stopping at farms and begging people to give them a piece of bread or something to eat. They were hungry, pitiful and they almost looked like tramps. They were welcomed as liberators, but at the same time they were scary because they wanted to eat everything. They were even taking watches from people's wrists. It was difficult to bear with them.”

  • “I need to say that we also had a resistance group. It was called Jánošík. It was after February 1948, when my friends and I felt this need. This partly explains the atmosphere of that time, including the case with the Mašín brothers. It was a time when it seemed that it was necessary to somehow resist the regime that had seized power. But how to resist? The Mašín brothers chose their way of resistance – they fought their way to the West and they shot a couple of people. Our group Jánošík opted for campaigning. We were writing various pamphlets, writing inscriptions on houses, like: ´We want free elections!´ or ´Communists away!´ (…) Naturally, it was extremely dangerous, but as children we were not aware of this.”

  • “My most provocative suggestion was that they should release imprisoned writers and that they should enable publication of those who were not behind the bars, like Černý, Chalupecký, I named more of them… I slightly ridiculed the Květen movement of everyday life, when they were discovering "ordinary life" and thus began to distance themselves from that official socialist-realism culture. I tried to point out that others had already been doing this a long time before them – the Civilism movement, Group 42, and others. I asked why these authors were banned from publication, and why they (the group centered around the magazine Květen – ed.’s note) appropriated the discovery of "ordinary life". I remember that Marie Pujmanová spoke out against me, claiming that there were Fascist gangs raiding Hungary and that the Soviet Army was bravely helping to suppress them. And that here I was, speaking about some allegedly imprisoned poets (which meant Zahradníček, Renč, and others). I replied to her, in front of the assembly, that if she thought this was not an appropriate time for discussing poetry, then they should not be organizing this conference on poetry at all…”

  • “My name is Václav Havel, and I was born in Prague in 1936. I come from a family which was later marked as bourgeois, and we probably really were a bourgeois family. That means that my father was an entrepreneur, he managed the restaurants in Lucerna and Barrandov, which he had partly inherited from his father and partly built by himself. Obviously that also meant that we enjoyed certain comfort – we had a governess, a gardener, but to an extent which was adequate for that time.”

  • “When one remembers that time, the context, the language of the time and these plays… what later came to be called the "grey zone", one thinks: Watch out! You cannot just take some antique StB file from that time and wave it in your hand forty years later. You need to see it within the context of that time. The language was different, the atmosphere was different, and so were the social relations, tactics and strategies…”

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    Praha, Voršilská ul., kancelář V. Havla, 17.03.2010

    duration: 57:53
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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Surprisingly, I remember quite a lot.

VH 1955.jpg (historic)
Václav Havel
photo: Dobová: knihovna Václava Havla - archiv Ivana M. Havla, současná: archiv Post Bellum

Václav Havel was born October 5, 1936 in Prague to Václav Havel and Božena Havlová. The family owned the Lucerna Palace and the Barrandov terraces in Prague. His uncle Miloš was an entrepreneur in the film industry. Young Václav spent the war years mainly at the family summer estate, Havlov, near Tišnov. It is here that he experienced the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. Since he was a young boy he has been interested in arts and public affairs. When the communist coup took place in February 1948, he was studying at a boarding school in Poděbrady. The family property was confiscated and his uncle Miloš went into exile. Because of his family background, Václav Havel was not allowed to study at a grammar school but a vocational school for chemical laboratory assistants. Afer completing secondary school in 1954, which he managed by attending evening classes, he applied for admission to the performing arts university, but in vain. Instead, he was enrolled as a student of the Faculty of Economics of the Czech Technical University between 1955 - 1957. He began to develop his career as an artist in the literary group Thirty-Sixers, which has been independent of the official cultural scene since its foundation. After completing his compulsory military service, he began working as a stagehand, and later became a dramaturgist and the core author of the Theatre Na zábradlí. Václav Havel became one of the best known and most played Czechoslovak playwrights abroad. He was also active in the editorial board of the literary magazine Tvář (Face). In 1964 he married Olga Šplíchalová, with whom he had been in love for many years. His critical speech at the 4th congress of the Czechoslovak Writers’ Union in 1967 marked Havel’s involvement in the events of the Prague Spring. The reform movement of the 1960s was however quashed by the occupation by the Warsaw Pact armies in August 1968 and the subsequent normalization. While he became a respected and frequently staged author abroad and his plays were being awarded with numerous awards, in Czechoslovakia his plays were banned. He withdrew from public life and his brief work experience at the Trutnov brewery became a theme for his famous play, “Audience”. The declaration of Charter 77 marked a turning point in the scattered and fragmented activities against the communist regime. Václav Havel was one of the authors of the declaration and he became one of the first three spokesmen of Charter 77. He had been investigated and bullied by the StB, but Charter 77 led to his first prison sentence. He was held in detention for five months, from January until May 1977, pending trail. In October he was sentenced to fourteen months of imprisonment for harming the interests of the republic abroad. He served his longest prison term in 1979-1982 for his activities in the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS). In December 1988 he was able to make a legal public appearance at the opposition demonstration at Škroupa Square in Prague. This was the first permitted demonstration during the normalization era. Less than a month later, however, he was arrested in relation to the demonstrations during Palach’s Week. Increasing pressure from international groups and the Czechoslovak public contributed to his earlier release. In June 1989 he was involved in the petition, Several Sentences. Although he was arrested again in autumn 1989, the rising anti-regime activities of the opposition could no longer be stopped. Two days after a brutal putting down of a permitted student demonstration on November 17, he was involved in the founding of the Civic Forum. and he became an unofficial leader of the Velvet Revolution. On December 29, 1989 in the Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle, Václav Havel was elected, by unanimous agreement, the first free president of the country, which still bore the name Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia he was reelected president of the Czech Republic. His term ended in 2003 after 13 years. Even after stepping down from office, Václav Havel has remained a respected public authority.