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The Fall of the Wall: 20 Years After

English Pages, 7. 11. 2009

Dear Mrs. Reagan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for organizing this conference and for inviting me as one of the speakers. It is my pleasure and honor to visit for the first time the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the final resting place of the 40th President of the United States, and to commemorate, together with you, the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism.

This event deserves to be commemorated and deserves to be commemorated not only by the citizens of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe who were victims of the communist regime, but in the whole world. 

It should not be a commemoration of the past only. Even though I don’t expect the old communism to come back, I see other collectivistic and dirigistic “isms” waiting for their chance. They may be called differently, they may be softer and less brutal, but their structural characteristics look suspiciously similar. They should not be underestimated even though our experience tells us that it is almost inevitable.  Men always fight old battles. The generation of my parents did not see the real danger of communism the night before the communist putsch in Czechoslovakia in February 1948. I remember, as a six-year-old child, being in the mountains with my parents those days. We were skiing and everyone looked quite happy and careless. 

The end of communism shouldn’t be interpreted as a final and comfortable victory. We should stay “on guard.” To learn from the past is, in this respect, extremely important. As we all know, communism collapsed just 20 years ago. The main cause behind its collapse in Central and Eastern Europe and in Russia were the internal problems of the regime itself. At the end of the 1980’s, communism was already weak, soft, old and emptied of all meaning to exist much longer. And there was also almost no one seriously defending it. Its weaknesses and failures were visible for everyone who wanted to see them. 

Different issue is that communism was not ready to voluntarily declare itself dead. It was necessary to do something. Many people in the West want to hear how much they helped us to bring communism to an end. The only real help from the outside that accelerated the final collapse of communism came from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who understood that words alone are not enough to bring the end of this evil empire. They were right. The so called “Helsinki process” that has long been a source of hope for many people in Europe was toothless and naïve to bring any real results. The belief that the Cold War division of Europe could be overcome by a patient and friendly dialog with the Soviet Union, a morally and intellectually bankrupt regime, was totally misleading. That was my feeling then, that is my conviction now as well.

Ronald Reagan was aware of that. He understood that Soviet system and Soviet expansionism had to be resisted. His tough rhetoric vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, his massive military build-up that the Russians could not afford to keep up with, and his Strategic Defense Initiative were all part of a successful strategy to defeat communism and win the Cold War. Ronald Reagan succeeded in this effort. By the time he left office, the Soviet Union was already in the process of dissolution.

The last days of communism differed in each of the communist countries. In these moments, new leaders were born – either from the circles of the local dissidents or, like in the Polish Solidarność, from a movement that already had the support of the public and therefore also the necessary strength. One of such personalities was no doubt Václav Havel whose significant contribution can be found in the nonviolent, “velvet” form of the anticommunist revolution in Czechoslovakia. The events of 1989 prove that personal commitment, civic engagement and individual courage did make things move. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall we commemorate here today (and I’ll be commemorating it in Berlin on Monday, November 9th) was one of the crucial events. Only now, twenty years later, I dare say that it was a small surprise even for us who were nearby. East Germany was really extraordinarily closed. People like me used to have many personal and professional friends in almost all former communist countries, but none in East Germany. I spoke German, but I had no Germans among my Christmas cards addressees.  We could not visit West Germany but were allowed to travel to East Germany without any restraint. We did not, however, make contact with the East Germans and they did not make contact with us either. Their country was special in another aspect – East Germans had their older brother, the West Germans, who were eventually ready to cover the transformation costs.* No other country had anything similar to that. Nevertheless, the events of November 1989 proved that the same spirit – as in the other communist countries – existed there also. 

We still do not know whether the fall of communism happened yesterday or whether it is already a historic (if not prehistoric) event. On the one hand, various moments of those days are still vividly before my eyes, on the other, almost half of the people in my country did not experience communism at all or were too young to understand it.

Our life is incomparably different now. And much better in many respects. One thing is, however, to compare our current life with the past, another is to compare it with our expectations. In November 1989, I believed that the world in 2009 would be more free than it is now. To my great regret, I see more of government intervention into my life and less of freedom than I – and I believe Ronald Reagan also – expected.

Václav Klaus, “Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Wall: Reflections from Yesterday, Lessons for Today.” The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California, November 6, 2009.

* See my speech “Komparative Analyse der Transformation im Multavialand und Albisland“, Technical University in Dresden, February 23, 2007, www.klaus.cz/clanky/15


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