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Mutual Inspirations Festival 2013 - Václav Havel


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Václav Havel

VÁCLAV HAVEL

VÁCLAV HAVEL

“I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.” ~ Václav Havel        

Václav Havel (October 5, 1936 – December 18, 2011) was born into a grand bourgeois and intellectual family, the son of Václav Maria Havel and Božena (Vavrečková). His father and uncle pioneered the film industry, co-founding Barrandov Studios, modeled after Hollywood. Meanwhile, his grandfather was an ambassador and renowned journalist. From this esteemed background, Havel went to one of the best prep schools in the country, where future Oscar-winning director Miloš Forman was a fellow student. However, 1948 brought the communists to power, and Havel was expelled from school and banned from studying anything connected to the arts. The government appropriated his family’s country estate, cinema, film studio, and all but two rooms of their mansion in Prague. During this tumultuous time, Havel never sacrificed truth and justice as lies and hatred, fed by the ruling regime, began to infest the country. Little did they know that one day he would transform the nation and the world through his powerful words and actions.    
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
2005 – Václav Havel in his office in Voršilsk
á Street    

ARTIST

ARTIST

“Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred!” ~ Václav Havel       
By day, Havel held odd jobs, including as a chemical laboratory technician and a worker in a brewery. By night, he studied, finishing secondary school and attending the Faculty of Economics at Czech Technical University. Yet, he never gave up his love for the arts. In the margins of his lab work, he would write poems. Writing served as a tool to overcome his feeling of being an outsider as well as an outlet during his most difficult times. One of his favorite writers as a teenager was Franz Kafka. Like the literary figures in Kafka’s writings, Havel lived during the time of a political system where absurdity not law ruled. With his friends, Havel enjoyed discussing philosophical matters and would seek out the company of writers and intellectuals—such as Czech poets Jiří Kolář, Jaroslav Seifert (the first Czech to receive the Nobel Prize in literature), and Vladimír Holan. Havel’s earliest works, published largely in samizdat editions, were collections of poetry that first appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s. A collection called Antikody, which consists of calligrams where letters and words create a certain design, is some of his most renowned work. In 1956, he attracted widespread attention when he appealed for the official recognition of several writers during a government-sponsored conference for young authors. This act of courage drew the attention of the communists, who would continue to keep a watchful eye on him for years to come.   
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
1978 – Havel reciting poems with František Brož, Sázava   

MAN

MAN

“Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.” ~ Václav Havel     

Václav Havel was a humble man. He was witty and wore a grin, frequently joking and then sharing his words of philosophy and politics. When he was only 20, he met his first wife Olga Šplíchalová, and they would meet almost daily in Prague's Café Slavia. They came from completely different worlds: she was from a working-class family while he was the son of millionaires. However, they remained unified in their beliefs. Both had a common enemy - communism. They also both had a love for the arts and theater. According to one account of Havel’s first sighting of Olga, she was getting ready to debut in the role of Cinderella and was taking acting lessons. Throughout their marriage, until her death from cancer in 1996, she was always the person who read Havel's writings first and supported him and the dissident movement. Later, she grudgingly became the First Lady and served as Havel’s “indispensable source of support” for much of his life.    
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
1978 – Václav Havel with his wife Olga, Sázava   

PLAYWRIGHT

PLAYWRIGHT

“The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” ~Václav Havel     

Havel loved the social aspects of theater and began working at the ABC Theater in Prague as a stagehand. At that time, Czech theater was being influenced by the “Theatre of the Absurd," including playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. This sense of the absurd appealed to Havel and was central to his writing. In the 1960s, he became a leading playwright working at the Theatre on the Balustrad. By 1963, he wrote his first, full-length, publicly performed play, The Garden Party, about a person who has lost his sense of identity. Many of his plays show the absurdity of totalitarian rule through dark comedy and thus were banned by the communist regime. His play Audience features a main character named Vaněk, which represented Havel himself, who also appeared in two subsequent plays Unveiling and Protest. When Audience premiered in New York City, Havel was not allowed to travel out of the country to see it. His plays served as a stage for his ongoing struggle with the regime, his life experiences, as well as his means of support during hard times.
Photo © Bohdan Holomíček
Václav Havel - Audience
 

DISSIDENT

DISSIDENT

“Those that say that individuals are not capable of changing anything are only looking for excuses.” ~ Václav Havel     
       
In 1970, Havel was publicly condemned on television, radio, and newspapers. The regime confiscated his writings, tapped his phone lines, and harassed his friends. As a dissident, one of Havel's central principles was the appeal to the people to live in a state of inner freedom. He championed the ideals of a civil society and was one of the original creators and courageous signatories of the historically vital document Charter 77, which criticized the then communist Czechoslovak government in 1977 for failing to honor basic human rights. The charter was deemed illegal and a threat to the state. Its creation was inspired, in part, by the arrest of the members of the rock band Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), which voiced its dissenting views of the totalitarian regime. The band was heavily influenced by American song writer Frank Zappa. Many dissidents, including Havel, listened to smuggled in American music such as The Velvet Underground. Two decades later as President of a free country, Havel requested the band’s founding member to perform at a White House dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton in 1998.    
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
1975 – Václav Havel writing an open letter to President Husák

POLITICAL LEADER

POLITICAL LEADER

"The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both." ~ Václav Havel

The Velvet Revolution brought democracy back to the Czech lands in 1989. The peaceful revolution in the then Czechoslovakia was initially led by student protests and set the stage for the dissident political movement Civic Forum, many of its leaders being of the Charter 77 initiative. Václav Havel, its founding member, was elected President and led the nation in its transition from a totalitarian state through the re-establishment of democracy and onto a path to join NATO and the European Union.           
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
November 23, 1989 – Prague, Letná    

PRISONER

PRISONER

“The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.” ~ Václav Havel

Although the original Charter 77 was confiscated when Václav Havel along with others attempted to deliver it to the communist Czechoslovak government, copies continued to circulate through samizdat; a process through which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand for distribution. Havel underwent constant government surveillance and his activities led to his arrest in 1979, and imprisonment for several years, during which he wrote his views on life and politics to his first wife (later published as Letters to Olga). While in prison, his previously written essay The Power of the Powerless, about the nature of the communist regime and life within it as “living within a lie,” became widely distributed through samizdat in Czechoslovakia as well as neighboring communist countries. During his years in opposition to the government, Havel communicated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which aired his works to the public. He credits the broadcasts for also allowing his presence to be made known while he was in prison, keeping him from serving longer sentences and being forgotten as well as for helping to end the Cold War.
 

PRESIDENT

PRESIDENT

"You can't spend your whole life criticizing something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it." ~Václav Havel    

Havel never imagined himself becoming president. When thrust into the limelight following the Velvet Revolution, he felt a sense of responsibility that could not be ignored. Between 1989 and 2003, Václav Havel became the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Shortly after his election, he gave a speech before the joint session of Congress, stating, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.” A standing ovation greeted Havel at the conclusion of his speech. Havel received numerous state decorations, honorary doctorates, and international awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.   
Photo © Tomki Němec
Prague Castle,1990 - President Václav Havel welcomed by citizens.

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

“When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete.” ~Vaclav Havel    

After leaving the presidential office, Václav Havel continued to support the values of democracy, promote respect for human rights around the world, and encourage religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance. He created Forum 2000, which provides a platform for global leaders, thinkers and brave individuals. Havel reasoned that “the best way to our own misfortune is to cover our eyes from the misfortune of others,” a belief which prompted his involvement in the advocacy for human rights in Cuba, Belarus, and Burma. When he himself could have received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership during the Velvet Revolution, he successfully campaigned for it to be awarded to Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.
Photo © Tomki Němec
May 7, 1992 - Václav Havel pays his respects to the approximately 2,000 political prisoners of the communist regime who had been interned in the Vojna u Lesetic concentration camp; the President placed flowers in the bunker that had served as a correctional cell.

 

HUMANIST

HUMANIST

“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties?” ~ Václav Havel

Václav Havel’s unwavering commitment to and involvement in the protection of human rights around the world transcended all religions. He formed special relationships with great spiritual leaders such as Pope John Paul II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was the first leader of a free former Soviet bloc country to visit Israel. Havel was an intellectual and a dedicated humanist in a constant search for spirituality and morality. It was this spirituality which Havel believed that gives democracy its “universal resonance” and “connects all cultures and in fact all humanity.”
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
2004 – with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

VISIONARY

VISIONARY

“If the world is to change for the better it must start with a change in human consciousness, in the very humanness of modern man.” ~ Václav Havel

Havel continued the search to answer fundamental questions of knowledge, being and human existence, through the Vision 97 foundation. The foundation operates in the sphere of social care, education, healthcare, as well as responding to society’s current needs. An objective of the foundation is to find and support projects which look to the future. Hoping for a better future for his fellow and global citizens, Havel also established the Forum 2000 Foundation, which provides a platform for global leaders, as well as thinkers and courageous individuals from every field of endeavor, to openly debate and share critical issues. The conference has hosted such renowned personalities as Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger.     
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
2004 – with Madeleine Albright   

REMEMBERING HAVEL

REMEMBERING HAVEL

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” ~ Václav Havel

Havel passed away on December 18, 2011. The Czech Republic held three official days of mourning and a funeral, which was attended by no less than forty-two heads of state and dignitaries. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and friend to Havel, said, “I think his legacy will be that here was a person who felt so deeply about freedom and democracy and respect for human beings,” in an interview with PBS Newshour following his death. U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement published in the New York Times after Havel’s passing stating, “(Václav Havel’s) peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.” At a memorial tribute to honor Havel in Washington, the Dalai Lama said, “President Havel himself impressed me as being utterly free of pretense and on the many occasions that we met over the years, he remained a true champion of human rights and freedom everywhere.”    
Photo © Tomki Němec
Portugal, December 14, 1990 - Cabo da Roca.
 


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