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Václav Havel’s life full of paradoxes

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Prague, Sept 28 (CTK) – Starting his professional career as a scene-shifter in a small theatre in Prague, Vaclav Havel gained fame across the world and as a politician, he became the Czechoslovak president in 1989, although earlier that year, he was still in a prison cell under the Communist regime.

Late Havel, who would celebrate his 80th birthday on October, used to say about himself that all of his life was comprised of a large number of paradoxes.

In his childhood he was considered a “lordly boy” since he came from a very rich family. After the communists seized power in then Czechoslovakia in 1948, he was labelled politically unreliable.

Havel was born in Prague on October 5, 1936, as the older of two sons of construction mogul Vaclav Milos Havel, co-owner of the Havel Brothers Company.

Havel’s younger brother Ivan Milos is a scientist and philosopher.

Vaclav Havel was banned from university studies by the communist authorities. Only in the more liberal 1960s he was allowed to study at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in a distance programme.

From 1961, Havel worked in Prague’s Na Zabradli theatre for which he later wrote several plays, such as The Garden Party (1963), The Memorandum (1965) and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), with distinctive features of the Theatre of the Absurd. Havel’s works have been therefore compared to dramas by Samuel Beckett.

In the 1960s Havel was the chairman of the Independent Writers’ Club and a member of the Club of Committed Non-Party Members (KAN). He also cooperated with the Tvar monthly.

In 1964 Havel married Olga Splichalova who, unlike him, came from a Prague worker’s family. Havel says it was exactly Olga who corrected his tendency to being “an awkward intellectual.”

After the Warsaw Pact troops’ invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which crushed the reform movement, and the “normalisation” in the 1970s restoring the hard-line communist rule, Havel was again excluded from the official culture circles.

He spent most of the time in his cottage in Hradecek, east Bohemia, where he wrote his fundamental essays, for instance, The Power of the Powerless (1978).

The communist authorities turned attention to Havel mainly in 1977 when he was one of the initiators and later spokespersons of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto and opposition movement.

Havel was persecuted and convicted for his political and civic opinions, and he spent almost five years behind bars.

After the communist regime collapsed in late 1989 Havel’s face appeared on newspapers’ front-pages and TV screens and his portraits as head of state were displayed in offices and schools.

Two years later, in July 1992, when it was apparent that the joint state of Czechs and Slovak was unsustainable, Havel resigned from the post of Czechoslovak president.

The independent Czech Republic was established in January 1993 and Havel was elected its first president. In 1998 he was re-elected for another five-year term.

Havel’s involvement on the domestic political scene has met with an ambiguous reception and he has many critics in the Czech Republic, but abroad he is undoubtedly the most famous Czech politician of the postcommunist developments.

According to political analysts, Havel’s personality was considered a guarantee of continuity and stability abroad and he is “the most significant export article.”

In his personal life after 1989 Havel experienced many twists and turns.

His wife Olga, who enjoyed respect and sympathies of the public, died in January 1996.

A year later, Havel married popular actress Dagmar Veskrnova, 17 years his junior, which provoked controversial reactions. Since then the couple have been in focus of the gossip media.

Havel then also had to cope with serious health troubles.

In December 1996, he underwent a serious surgery having a malignant tumour from his right lung removed.

In the spring of 1998 he spent almost two and a half months in hospital after the urgent operation of a perforated colon.

Havel’s health condition has had to be constantly monitored for years and he has been repeatedly hospitalised with troubles of the respiratory tract, such as bronchitis and lung inflammation.

His second and last presidential term expired in February 2003, but Havel has not lived in seclusion since then and has kept being involved in public affairs. He has commented on current political affairs and has been preoccupied with human rights issues in the world.

He expressed several times fears for the fate of democracy in Russia.

Havel has also returned to theatre with his latest play The Leaving that was premiered in the Archa Theatre in Prague in May 2008.

At the close of his life, he devoted his efforts to the project of his presidential library and screened a film by his last theatrical piece premiered in March 2011.

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