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He could avoid going to prison, but he refused

Václav Havel's fateful October: Birthday in prison, illness and freedom. He would be 83 years old today

David Budai
17.Nov 2019
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2 minutes
Václav Havel by se letos dožil 83. narozenin

Václav Havel would celebrate his 83rd birthday today. We will soon celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of communism, and we definitely shouldn't forget that Václav Havel actually had a part in the dissent that was systematically undermining the former regime. He went to prison for it three times, and was always sentenced in October. "He didn't take part in it all that much, he just didn't want to part company with the people he was with," his lawyer from back then recalls exclusively for

Václav Havel
Advokát Václava Havla Josef Lžičař
Advokát Václava Havla Josef Lžičař

The first Czechoslovakian and Czech president Václav Havel not only celebrated his birthday on October 5th, but he was always sentenced by the communist regime in October. Three times, actually! He wrote letters from prison to his wife at the time, which became the base for the unique book Letters to Olga.

His was first put on trial in 1977, because of his significant engagement with Charter 77. The second trial in October was huge and concerned a large group of dissidents. Havel was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. According to some witnesses, he was "made an offer you can't refuse". He could avoid prison, but he would have to leave the country and work as a script editor in New York. But he refused, because he did not want to abandon his friends and fellow dissidents. It would mean that he would be able to live free abroad, but they would remain in prison.

Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m
Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m, Praha 10

He stood by his friends' side

Josef Lžičař, who was Havel's attorney at the time, recalls it in an interview for "I think he didn't take part in it all that much, he just didn't want to part company with the people he was with. Those were the dissidents that sat in the dock in court - Jiří Dienstbier, Václav Benda, Petr Uhl, Dana Němcová, Otka Bednářová… He didn't even disclose his real part in those activities, because he didn't want to abandon them," said Lžičar, adding that Havel was always thoroughly prepared for court proceedings.

He was arrested again in 1989, once again in October. "That time he was sentenced for incitement, as they said, because he allegedly went to place a flower in front of Wenceslas. When that actually isn't true at all. He was only a spectator and National Security detained him because one of the leaders of that "underground movement" was evading them. He didn't do it," recalls Josef Lžičař, saying that that it was clearly written in the STB files. That's why actually received a more lenient sentence.

"When somebody read it and considered it, they had to reach the conclusion that he didn't take part in it. That was the climate back then, the former regime was trying to isolate these people from society, even if it wasn't a large group of people. Those were the Charter members, some of whom later became dissidents that brought attention to society's shortcomings to a lesser or greater extent,"

added Lžičař in the interview.

Poor health

It was the repeated incarceration that left a lasting impact on Václav Havel's health. He got sick, suffered from pneumonia and at one point his prison sentence even had to be interrupted because of his health. His health problems kept recurring even after he'd already become president.

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