Address by Vaclav Havel President of the Czech Republic to the Senate and the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 29 April 1999


Prime Minister,
Speaker of the Senate,
Speaker of the House of Commons,
Members of the Senate and the House of Commons,
Distinguished guests,

I certainly do not need to emphasize how honoured I am to address you. With your permission, I shall use this opportunity for a few remarks concerning the State and its probable position in the future.

There is every indication that the glory of the nation-state as a climax of the history of every national community and the highest earthly value - in fact the only one in whose name it is permissible to kill or which is worth dying for - is already past its culminating point.

It seems that the enlightened endeavours of generations of democrats, the horrible experience of two World Wars, which contributed so substantially to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the overall development of our civilization, are gradually bringing the human race to the realization that a human being is more important than a State.

The idol of State sovereignty must inevitably dissolve in a world that connects people - regardless of borders - through millions of links of integration ranging from trade, finance and property, up to information; links that impart a variety of universal notions and cultural patterns. Furthermore, it is a world in which danger to some has an immediate bearing on all; in which - for many reasons, especially because of the massive advancement of science and technology - our fates are merged together into one single destiny; and in which we all, whether we like it or not, suffer responsibility for everything that occurs.

It is obvious that in such a world, blind love for one’s own state - a love that does not recognize anything above itself, finds excuses for any action of the own state simply because it is one's own state, and rejects anything else simply because it is different - inevitably turns into a dangerous anachronism, a hotbed of conflicts and, eventually, a source of immeasurable human suffering.

I believe that in the coming century most states will begin to transform from cult-like objects, which are charged with emotional contents, into much simpler and more civil administrative units, which will be less powerful and, especially, more rational and will constitute merely one of the levels in a complex and stratified planetary societal self-organization. This change, among other things, should gradually antiquate the idea of non-interference, that is, the concept of saying that what happens in another state, or the measure of respect for human rights there, is none of our business.

Who will take over the various functions that are now performed by the State?

Let us first speak about the emotional functions: These, I believe, will begin to be distributed more equally amongst all the various spheres that make up human identity; or, in which human beings exercise their existence. By this I mean the various layers of that which we perceive as our home or our natural world - our family, our company, our village or town, our region, our profession, our church or our association, as well as our continent and, finally, our Earth - the planet which we inhabit. All this constitutes the various environments of our self-identification; and, if the bond to one's own state, hypertrophied until now, is to be weakened it must necessarily be to the benefit of all these other environments.

As for the practical responsibilities and the jurisdictions of the State, these can go in only two directions: downwards or upwards.

Downwards applies to the various organs and structures of civil society to which the State should gradually transfer many of the tasks it now performs itself. Upwards applies to various regional, transnational or global communities or organizations. This transfer of functions has already begun. In some areas, it has progressed quite far; in others, less so. However, it is obvious that the trend of development must - for many different reasons - go along this path.

If modern democratic states are usually defined by such characteristics as respect for human rights and liberties, equality of citizens, the rule of law and civil society, then the manner of existence toward which humankind will move from here, or toward which humankind should move in the interest of its own preservation, will probably be characterized as an existence founded on a universal, or global, respect for human rights, a universal equality of citizens, a universal rule of law and a global civil society.

One of the greatest problems that accompanied the formation of nation-states was their geographical delimitation, that is, the definition of their boundaries. Innumerable factors - ethnic, historical and cultural considerations, geological elements, power interests, as well as the overall state of civilization - have played a role here.

The creation of larger regional or transnational communities will sometimes be afflicted with the same problem; to some extent, this burden will possibly be inherited from the very nation-states that enter into such entities. We should do everything in our power to ensure that this self-definition process will not be as painful as was the case when nation-states were formed.

Allow me to give you one example. Canada and the Czech Republic are now allies as members of the same defence association - the North Atlantic Alliance. This is a result of a process of historic importance - NATO’s enlargement with states of Central and Eastern Europe. The significance of this process stems from the fact that this is the first truly serious and historically irreversible step to break down the Iron Curtain and to abolish, in real terms and not just verbally, that which was called the Yalta arrangement.

This enlargement, as we all know, was far from easy and has become a reality only ten years after the bipolar division of the world came to an end. One of the reasons why progress was so difficult was the opposition on the part of the Russian Federation; they asked, uncomprehendingly and worriedly, why the West was enlarging and moving closer to Russia without taking Russia itself in its embrace. This attitude, if I disregard all other motives for the moment, reveals one very interesting element: an uncertainty about where the beginning is, and where the end is, of that which might be called the world of Russia, or the East. When NATO offers Russia its hand in partnership, it does so on the assumption that there are two large and equal entities: the Euro-Atlantic world and a vast Euro-Asian power. These two entities can, and must, extend their hands to each other and cooperate - this is in the interest of the whole world. But they can do this only when they are conscious of their own identities; in other words, when they know where each of them begins and ends. Russia has had some difficulty with that in its entire history, and it is obviously carrying this problem with it into the present world in which the question of delimitation is no longer about nation-states but about regions or spheres of culture and civilization. Yes, Russia has a thousand things that link it with the Euro-Atlantic world or the so-called West; but, it also has a thousand things which differ from the West, just like Latin America, Africa, the Far East or other regions or continents of today’s world. The fact that these worlds, or parts of the world, differ from one another does not mean that some are more worthy than others. They are all equal. They are only different in certain ways. But being different is not a disgrace! Russia, on the one hand, deems it very important to be seen as an entity of moment, an entity which deserves special treatment, that is, as a global power; but, at the same time, it is uncomfortable with being perceived as an independent entity that can hardly be part of another entity.

Russia is becoming accustomed to the enlargement of the Alliance; one day it will become acclimated to it completely. Let us just hope that this will not be merely an expression of Engels’s “recognized necessity” but an expression of a new, more profound self-understanding. Just as others must learn to redefine themselves in the new multicultural and multipolar environment, Russia must learn it also. This means not only that it cannot forever substitute megalomania, or simply self-love, for natural self-confidence; but, also that it must recognize where it begins and where it ends. For example: The huge Siberia, with its vast natural resources, is Russia, but the tiny Estonia is not Russia, and never will be. And if Estonia feels that it belongs to the world represented by the North Atlantic Alliance, or the European Union, this must be understood and respected, and it should not be seen as an expression of enmity.

With this example, I would like to illustrate the following: The world of the Twenty-First Century - provided that humankind withstands all the dangers that it is preparing for itself - will be a world of an ever closer cooperation, on a footing of equality, amongst larger and mostly transnational bodies that will sometimes cover whole continents. In order that the world can be like this, individual entities, cultures or spheres of civilization must clearly recognize their own identities, understand what makes them different from others and accept the fact that such “otherness” is not a handicap, but a singular contribution to the global wealth of the human race. Of course, the same must be recognized also by those who, on the contrary, have the inclination to regard their “otherness” as a reason for feeling superior.

One of the most important organizations in which all states, as well as major transnational entities, meet as equals for debate, and make many important decisions which affect the whole world, is the United Nations.

I believe that if the United Nations is to successfully perform the tasks to be imposed on it by the next century it must undergo a substantial reform.

The Security Council, the most important organ of the United Nations, can no longer maintain conditions from the time when the Organization first came into being. Instead, it must equitably mirror the multipolar world of today. We must reflect on whether it is indispensable that one state - even if only theoretically - could outvote the rest of the world. We must consider the question of which great, strong and numerous nations do not have permanent representation in that body. We must think out the pattern of rotation of the non-permanent members, and a number of other things.

We must make the entire vast structure of the United Nations less bureaucratic and more effective.

We must deliberate on how to achieve real flexibility in the decision-making of UN bodies, particularly of its plenary.

Most importantly, I believe we should ensure that all the inhabitants of our Earth regard the United Nations as an organization that is truly theirs, not just as a club of governments. The crucial point is what the UN can accomplish for the people of this planet, not what it does for individual states as states. Therefore, changes should probably be made also in the procedures for the financing of the Organization, for the application of its documents and for the scrutiny of their application. This is not a matter of abolishing the powers of states and establishing some kind of a giant global state instead. The matter is that everything should not always flow, forever, solely through the hands of states or their governments. It is in the interest of humanity - of human rights and liberties as well as of life in general - that there is more than one channel through which the decisions of planetary leadership flow to the citizens, and the citizens’ will reaches the planetary leaders. More channels mean more balance and a wider mutual scrutiny.

I hope that it is evident that I am not fighting here against the institution of the State as such. It would, for that matter, be rather absurd if the head of a state addressing the representative bodies of another state pleaded that states should be abolished.

I am talking about something else. I am talking about the fact that there is a value which ranks higher than the State. This value is humanity. The State, as is well known, is here to serve the people, not the other way round. If a person serves his or her state such service should go only as far as is necessary for the state to do a good service to all its citizens. Human rights rank above the rights of states. Human liberties constitute a higher value than State sovereignty. In terms of international law, the provisions that protect the unique human being should take precedence over the provisions that protect the State.

If, in the world of today, our fates are merged into one single destiny, and if every one of us is responsible for the future of all, nobody - not even the State - should be allowed to restrict the right of the people to exercise this responsibility. I think that the foreign policies of individual states should gradually sever the category that has, until now, most often constituted their axis, that is, the category of “interests”, “our national interests” or “the foreign policy interests of our state”. The category of “interests” tends to divide rather than to bring us together. It is true that each of us has some specific interests. This is entirely natural and there is no reason why we should abandon our legitimate concerns. But there is something that ranks higher than our interests: it is the principles that we espouse. Principles unite us rather than divide us. Moreover, they are the yardstick for measuring the legitimacy or illegitimacy of our interests. I do not think it is valid when various state doctrines say that it is in the interest of the state to uphold such and such a principle. Principles must be respected and upheld for their own sake - so to speak, as a matter of principle - and interests should be derived from them.

For example: It would not be right if I said that it is in the interest of the Czech Republic that there is an equitable peace in the world. I have to say something else: There must be an equitable peace in the world and the interests of the Czech Republic must be subordinated to that.

The Alliance of which both Canada and the Czech Republic are now members is waging a struggle against the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic. It is neither an easy struggle nor a popular one, and there can be different opinions on its strategy and tactics. But no person of sound judgement can deny one thing: This is probably the first war ever fought that is not being fought in the name of interests, but in the name of certain principles and values. If it is possible to say about a war that it is ethical, or that it is fought for ethical reasons, it is true of this war. Kosovo has no oil fields whose output might perhaps attract somebody’s interest; no member country of the Alliance has any territorial claims there; and, Milosevic is not threatening either the territorial integrity, or any other integrity, of any NATO member. Nevertheless, the Alliance is fighting. It is fighting in the name of human interest for the fate of other human beings. It is fighting because decent people cannot sit back and watch systematic, state-directed massacres of other people. Decent people simply cannot tolerate this, and cannot fail to come to the rescue if a rescue action is within their power.

This war gives human rights precedence over the rights of states. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been attacked without a direct UN mandate for the Alliance’s action. But the Alliance has not acted out of licence, aggressiveness or disrespect for international law. On the contrary: It has acted out of respect for the law - for the law that ranks higher than the protection of the sovereignty of states. It has acted out of respect for the rights of humanity, as they are articulated by our conscience as well as by other instruments of international law.

I see this as an important precedent for the future. It has now been clearly stated that it is not permissible to slaughter people, to evict them from their homes, to maltreat them and to deprive them of their property. It has been demonstrated that human rights are indivisible and that if injustice is done to some, it is done to all.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am well aware that Canadian politics has long and systematically advanced the principle of security of the human being, which you deem equally important as that of security of the State, if not even more important. Let me assure you that this Canadian ethic enjoys a profound respect in my country. I would wish that we are not merely allies in a formal or institutional sense as members of the same defence alliance, but also as partners in promoting this worthy principle.

Dear friends,

Many times in the past, I have pondered on the question of why humanity has the prerogative to any rights at all. Inevitably, I have always come to the conclusion that human rights, human liberties and human dignity have their deepest roots outside of this earthly world. They become what they are only because, under certain circumstances, they can mean to humanity a value that people place - without being forced to - higher than even their own lives. Thus, these notions have meaning only against the background of the infinite and of eternity. It is my profound conviction that the true worth of all our actions - whether or not they are in harmony with our conscience, the ambassador of eternity in our soul - is finally tested somewhere beyond our sight. If we did not sense this, or subconsciously surmise it, certain things could never get done.

Let me conclude my remarks on the State and on the role it will probably play in the future with the following statement: While the State is a human creation, humanity is a creation of God.

L'Etat est l'oeuvre de l'homme, et l'homme est l'oeuvre de Dieu.

Thank you.