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News Release

Photo exhibit celebrates Václav Havel, former president of Czech Republic

Opening program to feature remarks by Peter A. Rafaeli, Consul General of the Czech Republic, Philadelphia

Bethlehem, Pa.—Moravian College will celebrate the exhibit, “Václav Havel – Dissident, President, Citizen: A photographic journey by Oldřich Škácha” with an address by Peter A. Rafaeli, Consul General of the Czech Republic, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 22, 2004.

The exhibit, which depicts the extraordinary life of Václav Havel, the prominent Czech playwright, dissident, and human rights advocate who became the first post-Communist president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, is on display through October 13 in the H. Paty Eiffe Gallery, Haupert Union Building, on the Moravian College main campus.

In 1991, Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, visited Moravian College and rededicated the statue of John Amos Comenius in front of Comenius Hall. (See below, About Václav Havel). Comenius was a founding bishop of the Moravian Church, the sect that founded the city of Bethlehem in 1742. Moravian College evolved from the school for women that was founded the same year and is regarded as the sixth oldest college in the United States.

The program will begin with a welcome from Dr. Ann Stehney, vice president for planning and research at the College. Rafaeli will talk about the former president of the Czech Republic in remarks titled “Who is Václav Havel?” Rafaeli will be followed by representatives of the American Friends of the Czech Republic (AFOCR) and the Embassy of the Czech Republic (Tentative).

The program will include a video presentation, “The Power of the Pen,” a documentary about Havel narrated by Walter Cronkite, followed by an audio presentation of Havel receiving the AFOCR’s highest honor, the Civil Society Vision Award.

Photographer Oldřich Škácha was born in 1941 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. During the 1960s, he studied photography at the State Graphic Institute in Prague and worked as a photojournalist for a number of Czechoslovak and foreign publications. After the “Prague Spring” of 1968, when the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to crush a democratic movement, his journalistic activities were banned by the government. He joined a group of dissidents led by Havel and other prominent Czech intellectuals. Following the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989, he worked for the Office of the President. Since 1996, he has worked for a number of Czech publications and is engaged in photographing Czech political and cultural personalities.

The Haupert Union Building is located on the corner of Monocacy and Locust Streets in Bethlehem, Pa. For more information, call 610 861-1491 or visit www.moravian.edu.

About Václav Havel

Václav Havel was born to parents who lost their fortune after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. He was denied access to higher education but took night classes to finish high school and spent two years at a technical university studying economics. He found work as a stagehand in a Prague theater company in 1959 and turned to playwriting. He became involved in the reforms of 1968, when it seemed that Czechoslovakia might liberalize and throw off its Soviet shackles. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 suppressed that budding movement and sparked the beginning of Havel's lifelong career in human rights.

Supporting himself by working in a brewery, Havel published numerous articles and essays in literary and theater magazines that were distributed secretly. His writings were denounced and banned by the government. He was offered several opportunities to leave the country but declined, at one point saying, "The solution of this human situation does not lie in leaving it." Along with hundreds of Czech intellectuals, in 1977 he helped orchestrate and produce Charter 77, a document dedicated to ensuring that Czech citizens were afforded basic human rights. In 1978 Havel was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison for involvement with a group called the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted. He was released in 1983; though under constant surveillance, he continued to criticize the government through the underground press.

In 1989, after spending nine months in prison for involvement with protest movements, Havel helped form Civil Forum, an opposition movement dedicated to democratic reforms. Its actions culminated in the bloodless "Velvet Revolution" of 1989, which brought down the Communist government. In December 1989, Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia. After the country divided in 1993 into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he was elected president of the Czech Republic, an office he held until 2003.

A respected and renowned intellect, activist, statesman, and international figure, Václav Havel continues to promote democracy and human rights worldwide. He also serves as an inspiration to fighters for democracy, both demonstrating and symbolizing the power of one person to change the course of history through nonviolent means.