Thursday, December 22, 2011

Czech Dissident, Playwright and Former President Vaclav Havel Laid to Rest

Former anti-communist dissident and Czech President Vaclav Havel passed away this week at the age of 75. Active in writing and theater, Havel was with Radio Free Czechoslovakia for the reforms of the 1968 Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion from the Soviet Union. After the Soviet quelled the Prague spring, Havel was banned from theater- although his works were clandestinely distributed throughout Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s.

The 1989 Velvet Revolution saw the collapse of Czechoslovakia's one-party communist rule after days of mass demonstrations and a general strike by Czech and Slovak citizens. Within days, the Communist Part of Czechoslovakia announced that it would dissolve and open up the borders with West Germany and Austria. Elections were called for within a month, and Havel was voted in as president of Czechoslovakia while Alexander Dubček (the secretary of the Communist party who attempted reforms during the Prague Spring) was voted in as the nation's first post-communist speaker of Parliament.

One of Havel's first acts as President was to issue a general amnesty to political prisoners that had been detained by the Communist regime. When Slovakia split apart from the Czech Republic, Havel resigned the presidency claiming he did not want to preside over the nation's breakup (which was pretty amicable compared to elsewhere in Eastern Europe).

However, he stood for election again in early 1993 and won easily, remaining in office for another decade.

Havel passed away on December 18th. His successor- current Czech president Vaclav Klaus announced that a state funeral mass for Havel would be held at St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague on Thursday.

Among the honors Havel received include the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Canada.

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