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Václav Havel Followed In Kafka's Footsteps

Kafka (as far as is known) never wrote plays - though he loved the theatre. Václav Havel not only wrote plays with themes akin to Kafka's observations, but he lived through the crazed government bureaucracy which Kafka foretold. And then Havel one-upped Kafka by helping to battle and defeat this monolithic bureaucracy. And then - which would have made Kafka beam - he replaced that bureaucracy with ... himself.

Kafka in living wax
Kafka in living wax

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Havel, a visionary playwright who trod in Kafka's footsteps

Former Czech president and literary figure, who died yesterday, focused on the effects of living under a totalitarian regime in his widely admired plays


In this Oct. 15, 2009 file photo former Czech President Vaclav Havel is seen during a press conference on occasion of the 20th anniversary of the changes in Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Prague. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (Photo: AP)

Long before becoming an anti-communism icon and Czech president, the late Vaclav Havel earned a reputation as visionary playwright in the vein of the theatre of the absurd and Franz Kafka.

Havel's works expounding his humanist beliefs focus largely on the inhuman and absurd aspects of everyday life he and his fellow countrymen endured under totalitarianism.

"The greatest spiritual authority of our young democracy, a great politician and an excellent playwright has died," Ondrej Cerny, director of Prague's National Theatre, said in reaction to Havel's death on Sunday aged 75.

"The role of Vaclav Havel as a founder of a specific stream in the theatre of the absurd, reflecting a political background, is crucial," said Jana Soprova, a theatre historian.

The theatre of the absurd, which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s examining the consequences of what its authors believed was a godless universe, questioned established theatrical concepts, foregoing classic plot lines and conventional language.

Hailing from a rich family whose assets were confiscated by the communist regime that took power in the former Czechoslovakia in 1948, the young Havel did odd jobs, wrote plays and dreamt of the stage.

Starting as a stage hand at Prague's tiny Na Zabradli (On a Ballustrade) theatre, just steps from the picturesque Charles Bridge, Havel became an acclaimed author in the 1960s which saw somewhat of a thaw in the hard line communist regime of then Czechoslovakia. His first great play, "The Garden Party" (1963), was an immediate success.

The Na Zabradli theatre was "a pioneer of the theatre of the absurd with Ubu the King by Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka's Castle, but also with the first works by Vaclav Havel", said Soprova.