Vaclav Havel: Fought to Restore Ill-Gotten Wealth

By Stephen Gowans

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright turned President, came from a prominent, vehemently anti-socialist Prague family. Havel’s father was a wealthy real estate tycoon, who developed a number of Prague properties.

One was the Lucerna Palace, “a pleasure palace…of arcades, theatres, cinemas, night-clubs, restaurants, and ballrooms,” according to Frommer’s. It became “a popular spot for the city’s nouveau riche to congregate,” including a young Havel, who, raised in the lap of luxury by a governess and chauffeured around town, “spent his earliest years on the Lucerna’s polished marble floors.”

Then, tragedy struck – at least, from Havel’s point of view. The Reds expropriated Lucerna and the family’s other holdings, and put them to use for the common good, rather than for the purpose of providing the young Havel with more servants.

Four decades later, Havel, as president –celebrated throughout the West as a champion of intellectual freedom — presided over a mass return of nationalized property, including Lucerna and his family’s other holdings. As a business investment, Havel’s anti-communism proved to be quite profitable.

A champion of intellectual freedom, or the formerly pampered scion of an establishment family who had a material stake in seeing socialism overthrown?