English Pages, 20. 3. 2010
Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and pleasure for me and for all of us to welcome you – today already for the second time – here, in Prague Castle, the historical seat of the Czech statehood. I especially very cordially welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall who is visiting the Czech Republic for the first time.
In the last six years, we had the honour to receive here Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, His Royal Highness The Duke of York and His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex. As President of the Czech Republic, I paid numerous visits to the United Kingdom (the last one in November 2009) and keep remembering with great fondness the very warm welcome that we received from Her Majesty The Queen in the Buckingham Palace in November 2007.
We take the visit of the heir to the British throne and his wife as a symbolic gesture and a confirmation of the very high level of many centuries’ lasting Czech-British relations. Today, they are further strengthened by our partnership and alliance within NATO and the European Union.
Contacts and relations between our two countries go back to the very beginning of the Czech statehood. They existed between Czech and English royal families as early as in the era of Přemyslide and Luxembourg dynasties. For many centuries, Czech history was influenced by the spiritual and later ideological and political inspiration coming from the British Isles.
In this context, I would like to mention the impact that the ideas of the Oxford scholar John Wycliff had upon the Czech Hussite movement in the early 15th century, the hopes the rebellious Bohemian estates laid on the English help to the so called “Winter King” of Bohemia, Frederick of the Palatinate, and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of the English King James I, or the fact that after the end of the Thirty Years’ War, England became a frequent destination for Czech rebels and patriots, fleeing persecution in the Czech lands.
British political tradition, based on realism, pragmatism, individual freedom and free markets substantially influenced Czech political thinking and provided a so much needed counterbalance to the radical collectivistic ideological concepts that were coming to the Czech lands especially from France and Germany.
During the First World War, Great Britain became – together with France and the United States of America – an important centre of the Czech anti-Habsburg opposition led by Thomas Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš that significantly contributed to the creation of the independent Czechoslovak Republic. I cannot, however, conceal the fact that – at the time of the Munich Pact in 1938 – many Czechs expected more from your country.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Great Britain very rapidly became one of the main centres of the Czech fight against the Nazi occupation, fight for the renewal of freedom, statehood and sovereignty of our country. London became the seat of the Czechoslovak exile government led by President Beneš and recognized by the British government in July 1940. Hundreds of Czechoslovak soldiers and pilots fought and died for our freedom and democracy in many places of the world, both in our and in the British armies. Some of them are here with us tonight. Their heroism and the heroism of their British fellow combatants is remembered and commemorated in our country until this day, and rightly so.
The victory over the Nazi totalitarian regime did not bring us a lasting freedom. In 1948, our country fell under another totalitarian regime, this time the communist one. Great Britain became again one of the destinations of our emigration and the Czech BBC broadcasting gave hope to many Czechs who were dreaming about freedom.
Last November, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, made possible by two great leaders of the free world – Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The straightforward and uncompromising policy of Margaret Thatcher was for us, and for me personally, an important inspiration in the subsequent political, social and economic transformation of the country at the beginning of the 1990s.
In the last twenty years, our countries have become close partners in all fields. This partnership is based on broad and ever increasing political, economic, cultural as well as interpersonal relations. In the European Union, we belong to the nations that are less eager to hand over further areas of power to Brussels, less eager to centralize and unify Europe behind the backs of our citizens, less eager to surrender our sovereignty. Current financial and economic crisis and especially the problems the Eurozone is facing are another justification for our caution and pragmatism.
I am convinced that now, perhaps more than ever before, we are confronted with the task to defend human, civil and economic freedom against new efforts to suppress it – this time in the name of new collectivistic ideologies and “isms.” We have to be on guard and not let history repeat itself again. I know, Your Royal Highness, that our views differ when it comes to the subject of global warming. I do respect it. Yet, no doctrine such as environmentalism can justify our resignation on the defence of principles our freedom and prosperity are based upon, principles which originated and were first formulated in your great country.
Let me emphasize how much we appreciate the long-lasting positive relationship that Your Royal Highness and Her Majesty The Queen has with our country, your interest in Prague monuments and in the protection of historical heritage. We hope that your today’s visit will make it possible for you and your wife to become more acquainted with life in our country, with its problems as well as successes.
Let me propose a toast to the friendship and partnership of our two countries, to the happy future of the United Kingdom and its citizens, to Her Majesty The Queen, to your health and health of your family.
Václav Klaus, Prague Castle, Rudolph’s Gallery, March 20, 2010
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