On Septemer 12, the Czech Mint launched a new set of medals honoring the late president Václav Havel (1936–2011). One of the best-known and most highly celebrated Czech presidents, Havel was a celebrated figure in his own right both as a playwright and as a dissident during the communist era in Czechoslovakia. He is remembered in his native land and abroad as a stern supporter of human rights and for shepherding a return to democratic principles after years of Czechoslovakian Communist Party dominance. (A biographical sketch of Havel is located below the specifications chart.)
The designs of the medal set concentrate on three distinct chapters in the life of Václav Havel: playwright, dissident, and president. All three reverses are designed by Czech Mint medalist Vojtěch Dostál, who also provided the three obverse portraits, each of them slightly different.
Playwright — The reverse design includes the word DRAMATIK and, arranged within an off-center circle, a montage of words from the titles of Havel’s works. In the obverse portrait, Havel wears a pair of reading glasses, emphasizing the playwright’s philosophical detachment.
Dissident — The reverse design depicts the word DISIDENT and a hand holding up two fingers in a 1960s-era peace sign. On the obverse, a more unruly hairstyle hints at the dissident’s reluctance to submit to the totalitarian regime.
President — The reverse features a linear skyline of downtown Prague, the word PREZIDENT, and a stylized depiction of St. Wenceslas Square (the scene of the initial protests in 1989 that shunted Havel to the presidency by the will of the people). Although the president on the obverse is outwardly restricted by a necktie and a formal suit, his lively gaze suggests that he has not changed inwardly.
|.999 Silver||16 g each||34 mm||Proof||1,000 sets|
|.999 Gold||7.76 g each||22 mm||Proof||400 sets|
The medal sets were launched on what would have been the 80th anniversary of Havel’s birth (October 5, 1936) and will be available in two versions: .999 fine gold and .999 fine silver. Proceeds from the sale of these medals will go as usual to the projects of the Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97, with which the Czech Mint has been associated for many years.
For more information on these and other medals and coins offered by the Czech Mint, please visit their website. International orders dispatched where applicable.
Born in the Czech capital city of Prague . . .
…into a family with strong links to the arts, commerce, intellectualism, and politics, Havel was just two years old when the Czechoslovakian Republic was divided up and a region of the country known as the Sudetenland, which was populated by a German-speaking minority, was “reunited” with—or annexed by—Hitler’s Third Reich in exchange for “peace within our time.” The ensuing events in 1939 resulted in the complete division of Czechoslovakia and an occupation of both entities until the end of the Second World War. When the two Republics were liberated by Stalin’s forces of the Soviet Union, it soon became clear that, once reunited, the country would be unable to return to its Western-leaning influences and alliances but would be included in the Soviet sphere of influence—what Winston Churchill would later call the “Iron Curtain.” The installation of the communist-led government in 1948 solidified Czechoslovakia’s position within the Communist Bloc of nations, with a command economy and a one-party state.
It was during these years that Havel grew up and received his education. He had initially opted for a curriculum in humanities but, for political reasons and because of his familial connections to former politicians, he was prevented from doing so. Havel later chose the subject of economics and completed his secondary education in 1954. It wasn’t until after his completion of national service in 1959 that Havel’s attentions turned back to the humanities and Czech culture, when he applied for and was accepted as a stagehand at the Divadlo ABC theater in Prague. Havel showed real interest in dramatic arts, and he wrote and saw his first play, The Garden Party, performed in 1963. This work was soon followed by a more successful endeavor entitled The Memorandum—later to be considered one of his greatest plays.
Events in 1968, however, would thrust not only Havel but also the whole of the country into danger as a time the world would remember as the “Prague Spring” unfolded. In January of that year, an enlightened and reform-minded politician named Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) had been elected as First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party—effectively the country’s head of government. Within just six months of Dubček’s election (and what many Czechoslovaks had thought would be the beginning of the end of the restrictive and rigid Communist system of government), Warsaw Pact nations headed by Soviet armed forces had invaded the country and their tanks were patrolling the streets of the capital. Alexander Dubček and other senior members of the Czechoslovak government, including its president and prime minister, had been taken to Moscow and compelled to sign the Moscow Protocol, which ensured they would preserve the Communist and socialist government. Over the coming months, the ideals of the Prague Spring were subdued by both the presence of the militaries of the Warsaw Pact nations and the turnaround of those who had earlier envisioned a more Western-leaning government. Dubček eventually lost both his chairmanship and his seat in parliament and was actually expelled from the Communist Party in 1970.
It was at this time that Havel turned his attentions to the suppression of the hoped-for reforms of the Prague Spring. As his efforts intensified, he gained the attention of the authorities, who promptly banned him from further activity in the arts and from any international travel. Havel continued to write, however, and even intensified both the volume of his work and the breadth of its distribution via an underground network. His reputation for dissention greatly increased but also drew greater attention from the authorities, eventually resulting in many instances when he was imprisoned. From May 1979 until February 1983, Havel was imprisoned but continued to write, including letters to his wife, Olga Havlová, whom he had married in 1964.
It would not be until 1989 that much of Eastern Europe—the Warsaw Pact nations—had begun to think once again of the real possibility that their countries could be restored to multi-party politics and that the communist regimes could come to an end. At this time, Havel founded the Civic Forum, a movement to organize the public’s wish to see the end of communist rule in Czechoslovakia and to explore the Czech and Slovak people’s desire to establish two separate nations. The movement was eventually termed the Velvet Revolution. Having harnessed the will, strength, and opposition of the people onto the streets of Prague and Bratislava, the capital or administrative city of Slovakia, the communist-led government admitted defeat after just 10 days of intense protests. (Austria, a country that felt the cold touch of the Iron Curtain acutely, produced a silver 20-euro coin remembering the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the roles of the countries involved. Czechoslovakia is represented by a depiction of the Charles Bridge in Prague. For more about the coin, click here.)
Remarkably and unexpectedly, the name of Václav Havel was put forth as a new president of the country by Civic Forum members of the federal assembly, and with a unanimous vote, Havel became the new head of state of Czechoslovakia—its 10th president—on December 29, 1989. Havel also presided over the dissolution of the Federation of the Czech and Slovak Republic, which officially took effect on January 1, 1993, and assumed the presidency of the newly formed Czech Republic from February 2 that year until the expiration of his term on the February 2, 2003. Václav Havel’s life took him to remarkable heights and brought accolades from all over the world. He died on December 18, 2011, eleven days short of the 22nd anniversary of his election as his country’s president. After an official three-day mourning period in the Czech Republic, Václav Havel’s ashes were placed in his family’s tomb in a private cemetery in Prague. Today, Havel is remembered by many as “one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.”