Artist in chains
The Czech playwright Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a well-known political dissident artist and a prominent participant in the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring (1968). After the Soviet clampdown on Czechoslovakia that year, his plays were banned. The Communist block was proud of its cultural achievements and used the traditional arts as propaganda – more progressive works were usually banned or censored. Havel used the absurdist style in works such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum (1965) to critique the communism. During the 1970s and ‘80s he was repeatedly arrested. He served four years in prison (1979-1983) for his activities on behalf of human rights. During the massive anti-government demonstrations erupted in Prague in November 1989, known as the Velvet Revolution, Havel became the leading figure in the Civic Forum, a new coalition of non-communist opposition groups pressing for democratic reforms. The Forum had a very loose structure. Most of its leaders came from members of the Charter 77 dissident movement. The Communist Party capitulated and formed a coalition government with the Civic Forum. After the fall of communism Havel was president of Czechoslovakia (1989-92) and of the Czech Republic (1993-2003).