English Pages, 28. 10. 2009
Dear high government officials, representatives of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, dear viewers and listeners of television and radio stations,
Tonight, on the occasion of our most important state holiday, we are meeting here, in a free country, for the twentieth time to celebrate the formation of our modern independent state. We did commemorate this anniversary also before 1989, but at that time it was rather a parody on the celebration of our statehood, since October 28 used to be celebrated more like the day of nationalization.
It was also because of this that our country was divided irreconcilably for long forty years. On this day, many of us – in the privacy of our families and among friends – would recall the thoughts and ideals on which our finally once again sovereign and independent country was founded and built after World War I, after three centuries of foreign rule. While doing so, we would regret that we were not able to preserve the sovereignty and independence and that a course was set after 1948 which lead us somewhere completely different. Others here, at the Prague Castle, but also in other official places, would mutually assure one another that it was thanks to the February coup in 1948 that we were living in the best of possible worlds. The contrast between these two assessments of the situation was enormous.
The majority of us knew well even at that time that the discord, disharmony and incompatibility of these two assessments of our reality couldn’t be overcome by a compromise or by one side giving ground to the other, but only by a fundamental social change. This change didn’t occur until 1989 when communism collapsed and we found ourselves living in a totally different world. I am convinced that today there are no longer reasons for the formation of new deep trenches that would divide our society, as was the case in the past.
Our country, the authorities of its administration, as well as self-administration are now run by people who were chosen in democratic elections. This gives them a mandate that the governments in the communist era did not and could not have. In spite of this, we have to ask why it is in our country that even today we’re witnessing considerable turbulence, moods of dissatisfaction that keep coming back in various waves, usually with an unclearly defined but undoubtedly real feeling that public affairs are not managed properly. The distrust of politicians and both state and constitutional institutions keeps growing. In this atmosphere, some groups of our fellow citizens are radicalizing and are demagogically calling for seemingly simple solutions, which would, however, negate all that we have achieved in the past twenty years. Others, on the other hand, are once again – like back then – withdrawing into their shells and are leaving the public sector.
There is certainly more than one cause of this situation. The causes include excessive initial expectations that are now confronted with reality, i.e. with unfulfilled personal ambitions and unrealistic dreams of many of us. Natural exhaustion and fatigue of the generations that lived most of their lives under communism can also play its role, on top of that recently combined with the world economic and financial crisis – which we did not cause – even though so far it has not affected us much. We are certainly also causing much overselves through our immaturity, inconsistency, short-sightedness, insufficient considerateness, but also our general unpreparedness for freedom and for personal responsibility that ensues from it.
We’re experiencing also a dangerous erosion of the state resulting from the accelerating European integration process. Also because of this, some people are ceasing to consider their state and its institutions as a unit on which they can rely, with which they can and should identify, and for the development and strengthening of which they should strive. Without wanting to discredit or cast doubt on all of these – and certainly also many other – real causes of the existing social dissatisfaction, I would like to use this place and this day at least to call for a differenciation of the order, scope and extent of our pre-November feelings from the feelings of today.
This requires our ability to appreciate and fully imagine the fundamental change that happened here after 1989 and that is – without any doubt – a positive change. But it also requires our ability to differentiate the irrefutable effects of this systemic change from the regular problems of today, from problems that go hand in hand and will always go hand in hand with a democratic society and human life in it.
Democracy is not a guarantee and it is not even a promise of a perfect solution of public affairs. Nevertheless, it is a guarantee and a promise that the opinions and standpoints of millions of people will be acknowledged and respected. It is also a space where these very differing opinions and standpoints of citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to exist and be presented in public.
As crucial as this attribute of democracy is, by itself, it is still not a guarantee that it is the most correct opinions and standpoints that, in the free competition that goes along with it, always win, that it is the best ones of us that are always in every place of responsibility, or that every minority opinion is always heard everywhere. Democracy does not mean that only the most vocal and most assertive ones cannot win in the short-run, which does not mean they’re the best and the most trustworthy ones. Democracy is not a certainty that the state system designed on its basis sees everyone, that it punishes each person who is quilty or that it helps each person who needs it and who’d deserve it. Democracy is a human product and has many faults as a result.
A better political system than a parliamentary democracy – based on the existence and competition of political parties – has, however, not yet been invented and successfully tested anywhere. Nor has an economic system that is better than a market economy, based on private ownership and private initiative and only a supplementary role of the state, been invented and successfully tested anywhere. What’s more, many of us believe that better systems will never be invented. I am one of these people.
That is why there is no other choice but to live in this system with its huge benefits as well as non-negligible weaknesses, even though this means living in an imperfect system. This is the only way to the future that we could wish for.
Let us therefore accept our frequently dramatic political clashes as an unavoidable reality and let’s help – when we finally get an opportunity – through a high participation rate in elections, rather than our resignation upon them. Let us respect the diversity of individual and frequently also of group interests, but let’s subordinate them to the system of parliamentary democracy. Let us consider the independence of the judiciary as an immense advantage in the dealings of individuals with the state, but let’s not let the judiciary replace the political struggles that legitimately go hand in hand with democracy. Let us accept the competition that is included in the essence itself of the market and the fact that some will be more successful in it and some less successful; let’s rid ourselves of envy towards the successful and let’s instead build a reasonable social support system on the basis of a consciously and consensually accepted degree of our solidarity.
Let us search for maximum agreement on issues dividing us on the basis of differing ideological starting points – such as the position on smoking in public or on the legalisation of drugs, on the current ambitions to artificially influence the start and end of human life, on the concept of family in comparison with registered partnership, on the degree of restrictions on immigration into our country, on the manner of coming to terms with the past, on the extent of the transfer of our sovereign rights to the European Union and on foreign policy as a whole, on the possible degree of indebtness of our state and thereby also of the future generations, and on many other things. Let’s search for maximum agreement but let’s resist the tempetation to regard the currently fashionable and so called politically correct solutions of these controversial matters as an unavoidable and mandatory imperative of our times. Let’s act as confident owners of our own future. As it was often the case, solutions that at a certain time were presented as the only possible ones did not stand the test of time. There is a high probability that they will not stand the test even now, even though they are frequently forced upon us as the only acceptable direction of progress, as a reflection of a bright tomorrow.
Let us participate as rationally as possible in European integration, but while doing so let’s keep in mind that the European integration process is a means to our future and not an end in itself. Let’s evaluate it with this in mind. Let us view each next step in the widening and deepening of the European Union based on how much the step contributes to the increase of our freedom (and prosperity). No other criteria will stand the text of history. And let us use the same criteria also for other challenges of today.
Incidentally, that’s what the October 28 state holiday is about. That’s what the entire 91 years of the existence of our independent state have been about. And that’s what our entire history is about.
Václav Klaus, Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, October 28, 2009
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