May 20, 2005 Václav Havel To Give Human Rights Address on May 24

Talk Is Titled “The Emperor Has No Clothes”

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Václav Havel, a playwright and one of Europe’s leading political, moral and intellectual figures, will give a lecture on human rights titled “The Emperor Has No Clothes” at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event, which is sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, is free and open to the public; no reservations are required, but seating is limited.

Havel will speak about the contradiction between what nations proclaim about human rights and how they actually treat their citizens, with particular attention to countries such as Cuba, China, Belarus and Burma.

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 Simón 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.

Havel, who has occupied the Kluge Chair for Modern Culture at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress since early April, visited the Library in 1998 for the opening of an exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the independent Czechoslovak state. During his visit to the U.S. in 1990, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington presented him with the original 1918 Czechoslovakia Declaration of Independence in the hand of Thomas Masaryk (first president of Czechoslovakia, 1918-1935) as a gift from the Library of Congress to the Czech Republic.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize scholarly discussion, distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and interact with policymakers in Washington. The Kluge Center houses senior Kluge Chairs, other senior-level chairs, senior distinguished scholars and nearly 25 postdoctoral fellows. For more information about any of the fellowships, grants and programs offered by the John W. Kluge Center, contact the Office of Scholarly Programs, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, DC 20540-4860; telephone (202) 707-3302, fax (202) 707-3595, or visit the Web at


PR 05-123
ISSN 0731-3527