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Speech by the President of the Czech Republic at the mourning gathering to honour the late President Václav Havel

English Pages, 21. 12. 2011

Dear Mrs Dagmar Havlová,
Highest Representatives of State,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have gathered here today at this historic place in the heart of Prague Castle to pay our respect to Václav Havel, who passed away on Sunday, 18 December, following a long and difficult illness, yet he passed away unexpectedly. We have gathered in the Vladislav Hall, where Václav Havel was first elected and inaugurated as President twenty two years ago. There is not a more appropriate place in our country where to bid him farewell.

We have gathered here to remember the legacy of the last Czechoslovak, first Czech and most importantly the first democratic President of our republic to take office following long four decades of Communism. Our Velvet Revolution and the era of restoration of freedom and democracy will always remain associated with his name. We have gathered here in order to pay tribute to the life and contributions of a statesman, who was such a world renowned personality that he became a symbol of the struggle for democracy and human rights. He, like no one else, has had merit in the international position, prestige and authority of the Czech Republic in the world. We have gathered here in order to remember Václav Havel as a person – a courageous person, a person with firm convictions and principles who bravely and persistently stood up for what he believed in and a person who was not afraid to bear personal sacrifices as a consequence of expressing his views.

His life reflects and expresses our own experience of much of the complex and problematic 20th Century: the war, the post-war period, the Communist coup in February 1948, the reforms of the 1960s, normalisation, the fall of Communism, the breakup of the federation, European integration and the building of a new democracy. All this was imprinted in his life.

Václav Havel was a distinctive and complex personality, whose characterisation cannot be over-simplified. Because of his family origin, the Communist state basically automatically regarded him as an enemy. It did not allow him to study and gave him a life experience, which in the 1960s turned him – in part due to his artistic talent – into a playwright who uncovered the absurdity and emptiness of the totalitarian regime. The persecution that followed the suppression of the Prague Spring led to his brave civil protests, which eventually led to Charter 77 and the dissident movement. His imprisonment and persecution by the Communists turned him into a symbol of resistance against totalitarianism and predestined him for his key role as the leader of the November revolution, which directly led him to become head of state after the fall of Communism.

Václav Havel became a symbol of commenced reforms, and people projected their hopes on him. He also played a crucial role through his concrete steps, by which he consciously and decisively supported those who did not view the year 1989 merely as another 1968 and just another attempt to create socialism with a human face.

He played a major role in the restoration of the international position of our country and during its integration into the institutions of the free world, especially into NATO and into the European Union. He was a convinced supporter and defender of the principles of humanity, democracy and human rights and had difficulty tolerating their disrespect by the world's dictatorial regimes. 

He became an extraordinarily esteemed and respected personality who was listened to and whose voice had significance and weight. His opinions, actions and gestures prompted discussion, polemics and attention and set things in motion. He knew how to earn sympathy and find allies and support for his opinions and for his politics both at home and abroad. He has succeeded in increasing the visibility of his country and representing it. Only after the passing of time will we have a true opportunity to evaluate the whole of his contributions and everything that he left us.

As a writer and playwright, he believed in using the power of words to change the world, and he did not hesitate to use his words openly and sharply whenever he deemed it necessary. It is obvious, of course, that he did not succeed in fulfilling all of his expectations and initiatives and that neither our country nor world events always developed according to his expectations and objectives. Several of them were unsuccessful. It is possible that – just like each of us – he was mistaken at times. But that too is a natural part of the life of great personalities.

It has been stated repeatedly in recent days that his death marks the end of one chapter in the history of our country. I would like for this not to be the case. The struggle for freedom and democracy and the discussion about the values of our society and its direction, which he has influenced so much over the past several decades, have not ended. I would like for everyone who is not indifferent about the future of our country to be willing to stand for their opinions and convictions with the same courage and determination with which Václav Havel did. It is necessary to continue with his efforts, so that words have significance, so that the word “responsibility” is not just an empty term and so that the defence of the citizens’ freedom once again becomes a crucial political theme. For all of these reasons, I would wish that the era that began in November 1989 and which is connected with the name Václav Havel does not end. I think this is what Václav Havel would have wished as well.

Mrs Havlová, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Václav Havel – a president, politician, intellectual, artist and respected person – has passed away, but his work, his ideas, his legacy and his example remain with us. It is up to all of us to find guidance and inspiration in his legacy, so that we can reconcile with it and make use of it both for ourselves and for our entire country and its future.

Václav Klaus, The Solemn Gathering at the beginning of the Lying in State, Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, 21 December 2011


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