Václav Havel

Czech statesman, first president of the Czech Republic and former Human Rights Foundation chairman

Václav Havel was a Czech author, poet, playwright, and statesman. He was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. In his youth, Havel studied drama and wrote several works satirizing the communist system, including the play “The Memorandum.” His plays were banned in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring in 1968, but Havel continued to write, throwing himself into activism. He penned numerous essays and became one of the architects of the Charter 77 human rights movement. Despite repeated arrests, multiple prison sentences, and government harassment and surveillance, he persisted in his reform efforts and helped spearhead the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He founded Forum 2000, an annual conference that seeks to advance democracy and civil society through a global dialogue. He was awarded numerous prizes for his tremendous accomplishments in promoting human rights worldwide, including the International Gandhi Peace Prize, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Order of Canada. He also served as a member of the international advisory council for the Victims of Communism Memorial and was the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. Havel died on Dec. 18, 2011. In 2012, HRF established the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, an annual award recognizing those who, with bravery and ingenuity, unmask the lie of dictatorship by living in truth.

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