Vaclav Havel by Martin KozkPlaywright, poet and politician Vaclav Havel led the charge to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia proving the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule.

The dissident playwright was an unlikely hero of his nation’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” after four decades of suffocating repression.

He was his country’s first democratically elected president, leading it through the early challenges of democracy.

He wrote over 20 plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally and received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom among other awards worldwide. A lover of jazz, he once asked Frank Zappa to be his Minister of Culture, which the US did not allow).

At the time of his death he was Chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

Beginning in the 1960s, his work turned to focus on the politics of Czechoslovakia. After the Prague Spring, he became increasingly active. In 1977, his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77 brought him international fame as the leader of the opposition in Czechoslovakia; it also led to his imprisonment. The 1989 Velvet Revolution launched Havel into the presidency. In this role, he led Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic to multi-party democracy. His thirteen years in office saw radical change in his nation, including its split with Slovakia, which Havel opposed, its accession into NATO and start of the negotiations for membership in the European Union, which was attained in 2004.

(WATCH the video below or read the tribute from AP via USA Today)

Photo by Martin Kozk

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