The writer who stood up as human rights activist against the communist regime in the then Czechoslovakia and who later became president of his country showed “that a man really can make a difference” and “that dictatorships are not unassailable”, Mr Rutte said.

Vaclav Havel, hero of the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in his country in 1989, died on Sunday at the age of 75. The announcement was made by his office. Havel, who served as head of state from 1989 to 2003, died in his sleep at dawn after a lengthy illness.

Born in 1936, Havel was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993–2003). He wrote over 20 plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally.

Havel received several distinctions, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the freedom medal of the Four Freedoms Award. He was a founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism. At the time of his death he was Chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

Beginning in the 1960s, his work turned to focus on the politics of Czechoslovakia. After the Prague Spring, his involvement with the human rights manifesto Charter 77 brought him international fame as the leader of the opposition in Czechoslovakia; it also led to his imprisonment.

The 1989 Velvet Revolution launched Havel into the presidency. In this role he led Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic to multi-party democracy. His thirteen years in office saw radical change in his nation, including its split with Slovakia, which Havel opposed, its accession into NATO and start of the negotiations for membership in the European Union, which was attained in 2004.