He was born Oct. 5, 1936, into a family of entrepreneurs in Prague. His early life was privileged, but his family's prosperity made it a target after the Communists seized power in 1948. Due to his "bourgeois" origins, Havel was denied a secondary education and had to finish his diploma at night school while working days. He was also denied entry to the history and philosophy departments of Prague's prestigious Charles University. He wound up studying economics at a technical institute instead. These frustrations became a source of creativity,. He mocked the Communist system's bureaucracy in his absurdist plays, which include "Beggar's Opera," "The Garden Party," "Largo Desolato," and "The Memorandum."
After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia crushed the "Prague Spring" reform movement, Havel became convinced of the importance of moral resistance to dictatorship. As a prominent pro-democracy leader and critic of the Soviet regime, he was charged with undermining the state. His plays were banned and it was forbidden even to publish his photograph.
In early 1989, Havel was jailed again for several months, but by November it was clear that the Communist regime was doomed. Student demonstrations were on the rise and Havel's Civic Forum organized additional huge protests and held talks
with the crumbling Communist government, eventually persuading it to