Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Václav Havel

Czech Playwright, Essayist, Poet, Dissident and Politician, Last President of Czechoslovakia

"Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good… Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons… Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather and ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

"I believe that, for the rest of the world, contemporary America is an almost symbolic concentration of all the best and the worst of our civilization. On the one hand, there are its profound commitment to enhancing civil liberty and to maintaining the strength of its democratic institutions, and the fantastic developments in science and technology which have contributed so much to our well-being; on the other, there is the blind worship of perpetual economic growth and consumption, regardless of their destructive impact on the environment, or how subject they are to the dictates of materialism and consumerism, or how they, through the omnipresence of television and advertising, promote uniformity, and banality instead of a respect for human uniqueness."

"Communism was overthrown by life, by thought, by dignity."

"Hope is an orientation of spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

"None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit [of the people], or all the ways in which [people] can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events."

"We live in a postmodern world where nearly everything is possible and nothing is certain."

"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect in human weakness and in human responsibility. Without a global resolution in human consciousness nothing will change for the better and catastrophe will be unavoidable."

"The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less."

"We are living at a time when humankind can face whatever threatens it only if we, by which I mean each of us, manage to revive, with new energy and new ethos, a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world."

"The secret of man is the secret of his responsibility."

"A genuinely fundamental and hopeful improvement in systems cannot happen without a significant shift in human consciousness."

"A human action becomes genuinely important when it springs from the soil of a clear-sighted awareness of the temporality and the ephemerally of everything human. It is only this awareness that can breathe any greatness into an action."

"A modern philosopher once said: Only a God can save us now."

"A state that denies its citizens their basic rights becomes a danger to its neighbors as well: internal arbitrary rule will be reflected in arbitrary external relations. The suppression of public opinion, the abolition of public competition for power and its public exercise opens the way for the state power to arm itself in any way it sees fit. A state that does not hesitate to lie to its own people will not hesitate to lie to other states."

"A person who cannot move and live a normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped in this way."

"A year ago, we all were united in the joy over having broken free of totalitarianism. Today we all are made somewhat nervous by the burden of freedom. Our society is still in a state of shock. This shock could have been expected, but none of us expected it to be so profound. The old system collapsed, and a new one so far has not been built. Our social life is marked by a subliminal uncertainty over what kind of system we are going to build, how to build it, and whether we are able to build it at all."

"All human suffering concerns each human being."

"All respected domestic and international organizations agree that your demands are justified. Therefore I wish you strength, endurance, courage and fortunate decisions."

"An amalgamation of cultures is taking place. I see it as proof that something is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when everything is possible. Yes, everything is possible, because our civilization does not have its own unified style, its own spirit, its own aesthetic."

"As long as people are people, democracy in the full sense of the word will always be no more than an ideal; one may approach it as one would a horizon, in ways that may be better or worse, but it can never be fully attained. In this sense you are also merely approaching democracy. You have thousands of problems of all kinds, as other countries do. But you have one great advantage: You have been approaching democracy uninterruptedly for more than 200 years, and your journey toward that horizon has never been disrupted by a totalitarian system."

"Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not."

"As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension and man began to lose control of it."

"At one time, the state of culture in Czechoslovakia was described, rather poignantly, as a 'Biafra of the spirit'. . . I simply do not believe that we have all lain down and died. I see far more than graves and tombstones around me. I see evidence of this in . . . expensive books on astronomy printed in a hundred thousand copies (they would hardly find that many readers in the USA)."

"An ordinary human being, with a personal conscience, personally answering for something to somebody and personally and directly taking responsibility, seems to be receding farther and farther from the realm of politics. Politicians seem to turn into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre; they appear to become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major civilizational automatism which has gotten out of control and for which nobody is responsible."

"Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to prosecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing."

"Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became. Today, for instance, we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us."

"Cultural conflicts are increasing and are understandably more dangerous today than at any other time in history. The end of the era of rationalism has been catastrophic. Armed with the same super-modern weapons, often from the same suppliers, and followed by television cameras, the members of various tribal cults are at war with one another."

"Drama assumes an order. If only so that it might have -- by disrupting that order -- a way of surprising."

"Despite all the political misery I am confronted with every day, it still is my profound conviction that the very essence of politics is not dirty; dirt is brought in only by wicked people. I admit that this is an area of human activity where the temptation to advance through unfair actions may be stronger than elsewhere, and which thus makes higher demands on human integrity. But it is not true at all that a politician cannot do without lying or intriguing. That is sheer nonsense, often spread by those who want to discourage people from taking an interest in public affairs. Of course, in politics, just as anywhere else in life, it is impossible and it would not be sensible always to say everything bluntly. Yet that does not mean one has to lie. What is needed here are tact, instinct and good taste."

"Clearly, things turned out quite differently: I have now been here for more than thirteen years, if we discount the short break in the latter half of 1992."

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance."

"Every concession gives rise to further concessions, we cannot back down, because behind us there is only an abyss, we must keep our promises and demand that they be kept."

"For 15 years the Government of Burma has refused to implement recommendations made by the UN and the situation is getting worse... In fact, the situation in Burma is much more severe compared to other countries in which the Security Council has chosen to act in recent years."

"Full freedom of speech and expression prevails in our country, and freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed."

"Genuine politics -- even politics worthy of the name -- the only politics I am willing to devote myself to -- is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole."

"He tries to explain why man behaves most improbably, strangely, at variance with his nature, how it is possible for instance that a calm, rather neutral petty bourgeois is all of a sudden capable of commanding a concentration camp, burning to death or gassing thousands of people, and afterwards returning to his clerk's life as if nothing happened"

"Hope is a feeling that life and work have a meaning. You either have it or you don't, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you."

"Hope is the deep orientation of the human soul that can be held at the darkest times."

"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

"Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

"Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well. Hope is just a feeling that life and work have a meaning."

"I also appeal to those who have already done most of their work for society. I hope that the changes you awaited or worked for so long will bring joy and satisfaction into your lives. We need your experience, your wisdom and your love."

"I am referring to respect for the unique human being and his or her liberties and inalienable rights and to the principle that all power derives from the people. I am, in short, referring to the fundamental ideas of modern democracy."

"I appeal to all pupils, students and young people, asking you to focus on the horizons that are opening up for you, and which you could only dream of a year ago. Our future will depend on your desire for education and moral values as well as on your entrepreneurial spirit."

"I cannot make decisions about things it is not proper for him to decide. He is merely putting in a good word for genuine peace, and for achieving it quickly."

"Human beings are compelled to live within a lie, but they can be compelled to do so only because they are in fact capable of living in this way. Therefore not only does the system alienate humanity, but at the same time alienated humanity supports this system as its own involuntary master plan, as a degenerate image of its own degeneration, as a record of people's own failure as individuals."

"I feel with leaving office I will enter a new realm of great freedom than I have had ... and I will speak more freely."

"I believe that during the intervention of NATO in Kosovo there is an element nobody can question: the air attacks, the bombs, are not caused by a material interest. Their character is exclusively humanitarian: What is at stake here are the principles, human rights which have priority above state sovereignty. This makes it legitimate to attack the Yugoslav Federation, although without the United Nations mandate."

"I felt the need to stir things up... To confront others for a change and force them to deal with a situation that I myself had created."

"I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence."