The most notorious playwright among dissidents and the most notorious politician among writers. Before he was president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic, he was known as a critic of the totalitarian government, attacking it from different angles: he signed petitions and protest notes, defended political prisoners, spoke out on behalf of the “Charter 77” manifesto, wrote essays and plays.
In his dramas, he described manipulation techniques used by the authorities, violence of the formalized language used by the politicians, moral dilemmas of people living under totalitarian regimes. Frequently used the poetics of absurdist fiction characteristic of Beckett and Ionesco, but his grotesque-tragic stories always took place in particular political realities. His most recognizable character is Ferdinand Vaněk, a dissident surrounded by cowards loyal to the authorities. Vaněk appeared in Havel’s most famous one-act plays, such as “Audience”, “Unveiling” and “Protest.”
„I couldn’t deliver a speech written by somebody else.”
His 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless” became a must-read in Central European opposition circles. Havel’s other works, such as “An Open Letter to President Gustáv Husák” and “Letters to Olga” (a part of the latter was written during his imprisonment)” were also widely known. He did not stop writing when he became president, although the character of his works changed to purely utilitarian: “Never in my life have I written as much as when I was in office,” Havel once said.
Havel has not shunned the fascinations of his youth. He’s still a fan of Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground, once even gave a press conference with Lou Reed. Friends with members of the Czech band The Plastic People of the Universe, whom Havel tried to get out of jail in Prague, when they were imprisoned by the authorities. Debuting as a director, Havel has recently filmed a screen adaptation of his partially autobiographic play, “Leaving.”
Recipient of numerous awards, decorations and honorary doctor’s degrees. Havel was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.