Czech Playwright, Essayist, Poet, Dissident and Politician, Last President of Czechoslovakia
Czech Playwright, Essayist, Poet, Dissident and Politician, Last President of Czechoslovakia
Mr. President, for the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization there's no doubt in my mind that it was personal leadership that made this historic development possible.
Periods of history when values undergo a fundamental shift are certainly not unprecedented. This happened in the Hellenistic period, when from the ruins of the classical world the Middle Ages were gradually born. It happened during the Renaissance, which opened the way to the modern era. The distinguishing features of such transitional periods are a mixing and blending of cultures and a plurality or parallelism of intellectual and spiritual worlds. These are periods when all consistent value systems collapse, when cultures distant in time and space are discovered or rediscovered. They are periods when there is a tendency to quote, to imitate, and to amplify, rather than to state with authority or integrate. New meaning is gradually born from the encounter, or the intersection, of many different elements.
The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order. Yet, I think it must be anchored in a different place, and in a different way, than has been the case so far. If it is to be more than just a slogan mocked by half the world, it cannot be expressed in the language of a departing era, and it must not be mere froth floating on the subsiding waters of faith in a purely scientific relationship to the world.
There appear to be no integrating forces, no unified meaning, no true inner understanding of phenomena in our experience of the world. Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. In short, we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.
Those who rebelled against totalitarian rule and those who simply managed to remain themselves and think freely, were all persecuted. We should not forget any of those who paid for our present freedom in one way or another.
We must come to understand the deep mutual connection or kinship between the various forms of our spirituality. We must recollect our original spiritual and moral substance, which grew out of the same essential experience of humanity. I believe that this is the only way to achieve a genuine renewal of our sense of responsibility for ourselves and for the world. And at the same time, it is the only way to achieve a deeper understanding among cultures that will enable them to work together in a truly ecumenical way to create a new order for the world.
Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
My dear fellow citizens: For forty years you have heard from my predecessors on this day different variations of the same theme: how our country flourished, how many millions of tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us. I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you. . . We live in a contaminated moral environment. We have fallen morally ill because we became used to saying one thing and thinking another. We have learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only about ourselves. Notions such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depth and dimensions. . . The previous regime . . . reduced man to a means of production and nature to a tool of production. Thus it attacked both their very essence and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people to nuts and bolts in some monstrously huge, noisy, and stinking machine.
Poles are able to reflect their history, they respect it. Who knows if anybody will remember when we commemorate our 25 years [since the 1989 Velvet Revolution].
The kind of hope that I often think about… I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul. It’s not essentially dependent upon some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
There are no exact directions. There are probably no directions at all. The only things that I am able to recommend at this moment are: a sense of humor; an ability to see the ridiculous and the absurd dimensions of things; an ability to laugh about others as well as about ourselves; a sense of irony; and, of everything that invites parody in this world. In other words: rising above things, or looking at them from a distance; sensibility to the hidden presence of all the more dangerous types of conceit in others, as well as in ourselves; good cheer; an unostentatious certainty of the meaning of things; gratitude for the gift of life and courage to assume responsibility for it; and, a vigilant mind.
Today I would like to thank from my heart all those of you who have trusted me, sympathized with me or in any way supported me. Without your understanding and goodwill I would not have been able to stay in office for even a few moments. I appreciate your support all the more for the fact that I did not try at all costs to obtain it. I frequently even took what was clearly a minority position and so reaped more opposition than recognition. Sometimes I may have been mistaken in this but I would like to assure you of one thing: I have always tried to abide by the dictates of the authority under which I took my oath of office — the dictates of the best of my awareness and conscience.
We must not be afraid of dreaming the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality.
Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, in the cosmos. This awareness endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be a part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors, and thus honor their rights as well.
My dear friends, I bid you farewell as your President. I remain with you as your fellow citizen!
Seek the company of those who seek the truth, and run away from those who have found it.
The law is only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better. Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.
There are no exact guidelines. There are probably no guidelines at all. The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world. In other words, I can only recommend perspective and distance. Awareness of all the most dangerous kinds of vanity, both in others and in ourselves. A good mind. A modest certainty about the meaning of things. Gratitude for the gift of life and the courage to take responsibility for it. Vigilance of spirit.
Today's world, as we all know, is faced with multiple threats. From whichever angle I look at this menace, I always come to the conclusion that salvation can only come through a profound awakening of man to his own personal responsibility, which is at the same time a global responsibility. Thus, the only way to save our world, as I see it, lies in a democracy that recalls its ancient Greek roots: democracy based on an integral human personality personally answering for the fate of the community.
We still don't know how to put morality ahead of politics, science and economics. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions if they are to be moral is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my firm, my success. Responsibility to the order of Being, where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged. The interpreter or mediator between us and this higher authority is what is traditionally referred to as human conscience.
You can't spend your whole life criticizing something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it.
My honorable task is to strengthen the authority of our country in the world. I would be glad if other states respected us for showing understanding, tolerance and love for peace. I would be happy if Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama of Tibet could visit our country before the elections, if only for a day. I would be happy if our friendly relations with all nations were strengthened. I would be happy if we succeeded before the elections in establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican and Israel.
Seemingly endless negotiations finally led to the division of Czechoslovakia. It had one great advantage: it proceeded calmly, without violence, major conflicts, or significant unsolved issues. This unusually positive split brought us worldwide respect. But it also had one disadvantage: a matter of such importance as the division of a country into two new ones was not decided by the citizens in a referendum, as would be appropriate in a democratic society. Rather, it was mostly treated as a technical matter, almost as if it were an accounting operation. Perhaps for this reason, the end of Czechoslovakia was accompanied by an unpleasant aftertaste and awkward feelings. No significant part of the citizenry protested the division then, but no significant part celebrated it either. It was as if there was nothing to say, as if the public had more or less breathed a sigh of relief at the endless, traumatizing bargaining finally being behind us. All that is now long-gone — is history — and after all this time, I cannot help but feel that no matter how queerly it happened then, it is a good thing that it happened. Evidently, most peoples must taste full statehood for at least a while in order to learn to cooperate with others. Czechs and Slovaks may be closer today than ever before. There is no animosity, and they are united in their goals: to fully participate in the European and global integration processes and, in their own interest, to gradually forsake some of their countries' sovereignty in favor of increasing influence in the life of communities vastly larger and more powerful than countries are. We live in an interconnected world, and we — Czechs and Slovaks — walk hand in hand in it. And that, of course, is what is most important.
The main thing is, it seems to me, that these revolutionary changes will enable us to escape from the rather antiquated straitjacket of this bipolar view of the world, and to enter at last into an era of multi-polarity. That is, into an era in which all of us, large and small, former slaves and former masters, will be able to create what your great President Lincoln called the family of man
There are times when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.