Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia and playwright, who was also a leading dissident in the Cold War and helped to free Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule, has died.
As reported by the BBC, Vaclav Havel died on Sunday at the age of 75. Havel passed away at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic. The Huffington Post reports that his wife Dagmar and a nun who had been caring for him the last few months of his life were by his side. Havel had suffered for several years with respiratory illness.
Havel was the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia and, ironically, the last following the alter break up of Czechoslovakia into two nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. The split was opposed by Havel and caused him to step down. He later stood as the non-executive president of the Czech Republic and remained in post until ill-health forced an early retirement in 2003.
Havel's interests in the arts made culture a major part of his presidency. As Czech Radio reports at one stage, as a fan of rock music, he made the American musician Frank Zappa an honorary cultural ambassador.
Havel played at key role in the struggle to liberate Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule. During the cold war, a number of initiatives were launched. The most successful was the non-violent organization Charter 77 (movement for democratic change). With Charter 77 there were parallels with the anti-communist Solidarity movement in Poland led by Lech Walesa.
As noted by The Daily Mail, years of seeking to counter the Czechoslovakia government through civil protests led to a major anti-government rally in 1989 in Wenceslas Square. The huge numbers of people taking to the streets triggered the end of the Soviet backed government and paved the way for Havel to stand as president. Havel thus moved from leading dissident to respected politician.
Havel was born in 1936 and worked for many years as a laboratory technician. Havel gained fame as a playwright, with works including The Garden Party (1963) and The Memorandum, (1965) (a video on Vimeo gives an interesting insight into his works).
Since stepping down from the presidency, Havel suffered from prolonged ill-health. This limited his ability to work to the same degree as other ex-leaders of major nations. Nonetheless, Havel remained a key figure in Czech history to the extent that, as The Guardian reports, the Czech government are planning a major state funeral and a national day of mourning.