TITLE: Vaclav Havel: The Emperor Has No Clothes
SPEAKER: Vaclav Havel, and others
EVENT DATE: 05/24/2005
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 65 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)
Vaclav Havel, playwright and one of Europe's leading political, moral and intellectual leaders, delivered a major lecture on human rights, "The Emperor has No Clothes," in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium. The lecture focused on countries such as Cuba, China, Belarus and Burma. Havel has occupied the Kluge Chair for Modern Culture in the Library's John W. Kluge Center since early April.
Born into a well-known entrepreneurial and intellectual family in 1936, Havel was prevented by the Czechoslovak Communist authorities from pursuing his education after he finished his required schooling in 1951. He did, however, complete his secondary education during the evening while being apprenticed as a chemical laboratory assistant during the day. For political reasons he was not accepted into a postsecondary humanities program; he was admitted to a technical college, where he studied economics for two years.
Following two years of military service, Havel worked as a stage technician and then studied drama by correspondence at the Faculty of the Theatre of the Academy of Musical Arts. Playwriting soon became his first love, and although the Communists prohibited the production of his plays in Czechoslovakia, they were performed in theaters abroad to great acclaim. Works such as "The Garden Party," "The Memorandum," "Audience" and "Protest" were absurdist parables of life under a totalitarian government and fueled the dissident movement in his own country.
In the 1960s and 1970s Havel became involved in the growing dissident movement in Czechoslovakia and served as chairman of the Club of Independent Writers. He emerged as a spokesperson for the Charter 77 human rights movement in 1977, was subjected to harassment by the police and eventually spent five years in jail.
Dissident groups formed the Civic Forum in 1989 as the Communist regime began to disintegrate, and Havel became their main negotiator. Thanks in large measure to his leadership and effective negotiating strategy, the transition from dictatorship to democracy proceeded surprisingly smoothly.
Havel was elected president of the republic of Czechoslovakia on Dec. 29, 1989, and then resigned on July 20, 1992, as the country was being pulled apart. But on Jan. 26, 1993, the parliament of the newly constituted Czech Republic elected him president of the republic for a five-year term. He won reelection to a second five-year term in 1998.
Havel is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including the Erasmus Prize (1986), the Olof Palme Prize (1989), the Simon Bolivar Prize, the UNESCO Prize for the Teaching of Human Rights (1990), the Charlemagne Prize (1991), the Sonning Prize (1991), the Raoul Wallenberg Prize for Human Rights (1991), the Theodor Heuss Prize (1993), the Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honor (1990) and many honorary doctorates.