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Our historical forgotten American articles are generally impressive figures, but there are very few one might accurately call “cool.” This is an exception in two ways. Václav Havel, the founder of the modern-day Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) is undoubtedly cool by any definition of the word. A political dissident under the Soviet-backed regime, he served hard time in Communist prisons rather than bend the knee to their authority. His moral courage acted as a beacon of hope for the entire resistance movement behind the Iron Curtain. As you’ve gathered by now, the second exception is that Havel is not American, but his fight against communism earned himself an honorable mention in our “Forgotten Americans” section.
Havel was born in Prague in 1936 to a wealthy and prominent family in then Czechoslovakia, a nation newly independent from the Austro-Hungarian Empire made up of the future Czechia and Slovakia. His paternal line comprised real estate developers, while his mother was the daughter of a famous diplomat and journalist. As one might imagine, this did not make his life easy after the Czechoslovakian Communist coup d’etat of 1948.
Indeed, the new Communist regime dictated his life path largely on the basis of his class background. He took gymnasium classes while working as an apprentice chemical lab assistant. Due to political and social reasons, none of the postsecondary humanities programs would accept him as a student. He was accepted into a prestigious economics program but dropped out after two years. He entered into compulsory military service in 1957 and left in 1959.