Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, dies aged 75
Dissident playwright who led velvet revolution and became first post-communist Czechoslovakian president dies
Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, in 2007 Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
guardian.co.uk, Sun 18 Dec 2011 11.37 GMT
Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who led the Czechoslovakian "velvet revolution" and was one of the fathers of the east European pro-democracy movement that led to the fall of the Berlin wall, died this morning aged 75.
Reports quoted his assistant, Sabina Dancecova, as saying Havel died at his weekend house, and the news was announced on Czech television during an interview with the current prime minister, Petr Necas.
The former president's state funeral is likely to draw a crowd of leaders, artists and intellectuals from around the world. Havel was a global icon, admiration for whom transcended boundaries. He was a revered playwright and essayist who, after the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968, was drawn increasingly into the political struggle against the Czechoslovakian communist dictatorship, which Havel derisively titled Absurdistan. His involvement in the Charter 77 movement for freedom of speech made him famous.
His commitment to non-violent resistance helped ensure that Czechoslovakia's "velvet revolution" when the Berlin wall fell in 1989 was bloodless. It also help ensured that the country's "velvet divorce" three years later when the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was equally peaceful.
Havel opposed the split and stepped down from his position as the country's first post-communist president in 1992, rather than oversee the process. However, he stood for the presidency of the Czech Republic early the following year and won it. It was a non-executive position but Havel brought to it both moral authority and prestige on the world stage. He stayed in the position, despite bouts of ill health including lung cancer, until 2003.
His role in the east European revolutions of 1989 was second only to Poland Lech Walesa. As the twin inspirations of the pro-democracy movement, they were strikingly contrasting figures. While Walesa was a flamboyant, brash, working-class union agitator, Havel was a soft-spoken intellectual from a well-to-do family, who was a reluctant politician.
He was one of a generation who came to political consciousness at the time of "flower power" and the "summer of love". Rockers like Frank Zappa were among his heroes and late in life he continued to sign his name with a small heart-shaped flourish.
His motto was: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."