Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has travelled to the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President George W. Bush. Mr Havel is the first Czech ever to receive the medal, which is the highest civilian award in the United States, and recognizes exceptional meritorious service.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel will be one of 11 awardees this year, including prominent American scholars, journalists, artists, sportsmen and businessmen. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize notable service in the war. In 1963, President Kennedy reintroduced it as an honour for distinguished civilian service in peacetime.
Vaclav Havel will be the first Czech to receive the award. Other non-Americans who have received the medal in the past include political leaders Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, scientist and explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and opera singer Placido Domingo, to mention just a few.
Vaclav Havel receives the award for his life-long commitment to freedom and democracy, even under the oppressive Communist rule. Former Czechoslovakia's leading dissident, Mr. Havel was elected first post-Communist president of the country in 1990 and stayed in office until earlier this year, when his final term expired.
Mr. Havel is also recognised for his achievements in foreign policy and involvement in reforms of the United Nations and its Security Council.
A prolific playwright and author, Havel has published more than 20 literary works, which have been performed around the world. He has received 14 honorary degrees from 10 universities, among many other awards for both his literary and political accomplishments.
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