English Pages, 28. 10. 2006
Distinguished guests here in the Vladislav Hall, dear fellow citizens at the radio and TV-sets,
It is only a few hours ago, that yet another free election was completed. Election, being a public clash of political and ideological concepts, that we considered – from the beginning, after nearly half a century of lack of freedom – to be an issue of fundamental importance. It is not for me to assess the election results. Many of you have, however, like me, posed the question, whether the low turnout in the second round of the Senate elections was exactly what we expected those 17 years ago, and whether the process of election campaign itself was not a manifestation of a deeper problem our country may be facing.
Together with the nearly five months long search for a new government that would enjoy parliamentary support and the very first defeat of a government in a confidence vote in our modern history, these are good enough reasons to examine, just in the time of our most important National Day, whether we have continued consistently in what was given to us in November 1989, or whether - due to the loss of the original enthusiasm, determination and some perhaps unrealistic illusions - we have not taken a different path, leading elsewhere.
The ten million citizens of our country can probably never agree absolutely on these issues. We must, however, be searching for something like a highest common denominator on which we could and should agree.
The most characteristic features of our current social and political arrangement certainly include the words freedom, democracy, pluralism, inviolability of the individual and his or her civil rights, private property, market, capitalism. These are obviously quite contradictory to what characterized the previous regime: lack of freedom, totalitarian regime, one party rule, state ownership (even of the smallest news stand), central planning causing permanent lack of basic commodities, enforcement of the alleged higher principle to the detriment of the individual, degradation of the civil principle, socialism, communism.
Are we still even today, seventeen years later, sufficiently and clearly aware of the incommensurability of these two worlds (and these two world views) or has the originally indisputable and comprehensible distinction begun to erode? And if something has changed, have we ourselves changed? Or have our opinions changed? Or have we “just” started forgetting?
If I were only to encourage the search for answers to these questions by using populist and noble words, I would be plainly moralising. Let us rather see, where to look for that common denominator. Is it freedom? Is it democracy? Do we insist, also today, they have no alternative for us and cannot be replaced by anything else? Is the respect towards free election results part of what is fundamental? Is it also the need to maintain a necessary level of continuity if political representations change? Is it the obligation to look for consensus and compromise, when it’s needed? Is it the basic agreement on our security and foreign policy positions? The trust in democratically elected state institutions? And the defiance of indifference to the issues around us?
Such principles must be part of that search. I have, however, not used the word erosion as an overstatement. Its symptoms and manifestations do exist even though they may seem inconspicuous.
They are noticeable for example by the fact, that to most of the above mentioned terms we began to attach various softening and restricting attributes. That we lulled ourselves by the fact that the change had happened, that it happened once for all and that everything will now run naturally without our interference. That we started “balancing” and once again searching for some kind of mythical middle way, based on a dream that we may choose only the pleasant, the painless and that, which doesn’t involve any sacrifice from what the world around is offering to us. That it also came to a substantial split in our society which, I believe, does not reflect the traditional and perhaps typical Czech lack of unity, but rather a weaker willingness to jointly defend the Czech Republic, that unique, extremely fragile state entity we are all part of. That our country comes to be viewed as divided between those up-there and those down-there, between those who can and those who cannot, between those who know and those who don’t know?
We cannot put up with this. On Monday the Budapest 1956 Freedom Declaration was adopted in the Hungarian capital in memory of the tragic events of 1956. It says “only a country, which knows that defending freedom is a matter that affects all, can overcome the particular interests that are threatening it”.
In our country we are not fond of strong expressions. Kundera’s Jakub the Fatalist – hopefully once for all – showed us, how ridiculous phrases such as “going further, going forward” are. Even though every change produces not only positive but for some also less positive side-effects, we must not stay stuck where we are. Resisting change is at the end more costly than the change itself and we should be more afraid of getting nowhere than of taking an active step forward.
I appeal to the responsibility of us all, particularly of you in this Hall. I appeal to the responsibility we all feel on this special day looking at those who are with me on this stage, who have been decorated today, of whom we may be justly proud, for they have achieved extraordinary results in many fields of human activities and they very well understand the meaning of responsibility.
I appeal to the politicians and political parties that openly profess the legacy of November ‘89, as we tend to call it, to resist most resolutely the erosion of values attached to the restoration of freedom and democracy in our country. The voters have again given a clear signal that they want them to act constructively, while making sure that their political contest doesn’t lead to an irreconcilable division of society.
Such conduct must lead to an at least elementary agreement of the democratic parties to the left and right of the imaginary centre of political spectrum on the possibility to form a government or on the need to call for an early election. Our chief political players must state clearly what they want and do not want, or rather with whom they are and with whom they are not willing to reach an agreement. I am confident they are well aware of their responsibility towards our country.
We need a government that would receive a confidence vote of the Chamber of Deputies for domestic as well foreign policy reasons. Our public finance, our pension system and our health care system are waiting for reforms. We have to decide how to generate energy. We need to know what kind of future of the European Union we wish. We have to be able to respond to various global challenges of our times. We must be able to see further than tomorrow.
Thanks to a unique historical opportunity our modern sovereignty was restored eighty eight years ago. Despite the great differences in opinions the then decisive political forces agreed on a highest common denominator, on an independent state, as a guarantee that we would become the sovereigns of our own lives, and on freedom based on a democratic republican order.
Yet this agreement began to erode soon thereafter and that was one of the reasons why, after World War II, we lost these fundamental values so easily and for such a long time. Thanks to other unique historical circumstances, 17 years ago we won our freedom, democracy and state sovereignty back. And we must not discredit it just now. We must not forget the historical experience we paid for so dearly. It is not true that we face no threats, that the world is altogether different than it was in the past. It is not more perfect than it used to be. And it won’t be.
We should be aware of this not only on the festive occasion of our National Day but also in the coming days, weeks and months. They will be as good or bad as our concrete acts.
If an agreement on the fundamental democratic values is maintained by the majority and if it is reflected in the relevant positions of individual politicians and political groupings, we shall be able to go forward. The belief in this is a prerequisite of my – and I hope also of our common – optimism.
Thank you for your attention.
Václav Klaus, Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, October 28th, 2006
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