Vaclav Havel was born in Prague the capital city of Czechoslovakia. The family were well-off through their restaurant business and enjoyed close involvements with artistic and literary circles.
At the end of the Second World War Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet Russian and Communist domination in 1948. Havel's family - were seen as "class enemies". Their wealth was confiscated and they were force into low-paid employment. The children of the family were denied access to the state educational system beyond quite elementary levels. Vaclav Havel worked as a laboratory technician and took night classes to finish high school. His applications for liberal arts courses having been denied he then spent two years at a technical university studying economics.
He showed signs of dissent against the Czech Communist authorities' on-going suppression of artistic and literary freedoms. After military service he sought admission to university drama school in Prague in 1959, but was turned down and subsequently found employment as a stage hand at Prague's ABC Theatre.
During the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, Czech intellectuals supported moves led by Alexander Dubcek, for reform of the Czech Communist system. By this time Havel had turned to writing plays which were generally critically acclaimed and found a wider European audience. As a playwright, Havel's works communicate an existential philosophy, and their timing reflects the circumstances of his life.
A Soviet invasion in August 1968 suppressed the Prague Spring. Havel protested with the result that the authorities banned his works. Supporting himself by working as a brewery labourer, Havel continued to write numerous articles and essays for unofficial publications which were often distributed secretly.
In 1977 he helped orchestrate and produce Charter 77 demanding basic human rights. In 1978 Havel participated in the foundation of a Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted. Later that year he was arrested and tried, convicted and sentenced to 4 years with hard labour for "subversion." During his prison term, authorities distorted one of Havel's letters to make it appear he had betrayed the Charter 77 movement.
He was released in 1983 and, though under constant surveillance, continued to criticize the government through the underground press. He was re-arrested in January 1989 and spent nine months in prison for his various involvements with protests. the same year, Civil Forum - an opposition movement Havel helped form that was dedicated to democratic reforms - gained momentum and culminated in the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989. The way for this having been opened by Mikhail Gorbachev's policy in Moscow which accepted that the Soviet satellites states in eastern Europe had the right to pursue their own futures. Gorbachev was trying to save Communism by liberalizing it but the resulting wave of democratisation effectively brought an end to Communism.
In December, 1989, Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia. In 1992 Czechoslovakia split into two new states - the Republic of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Havel was elected president of the Czech Republic in 1993.
In December 1996 he was operated on for lung cancer brought on by smoking and said later that he nearly died. Havel gave up smoking but continues to suffer from health problems. Havel serves as an inspiration to fighters for democracy, symbolizing the power of one person to change the course of history through non-violent means.