Address by Václav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, before the Members of Parliament


Prague, 9 December 1997


Distinguished Senators,
Distinguished Deputies, Distinguished Government,

With a certain amount of simplification, we can say that the life of our society - just as the life of any society, in any situation, - has two sides, even though one can always be seen through the other somehow.

One of the sides of our society's life is made up of prevailing human occupations: people go to work, and do well, or less well in their jobs; engage in private business; get married or divorced; beget children or remain childless; form a variety of associations; make holiday trips to foreign countries; read books or watch television; and those who are younger than most of us go to discotheques. I think that the everyday life - for all you may say - is now far better and more colourful than it was in those times when almost everything was forbidden, and almost everyone was afraid to say aloud what they thought.

There is, however, also a second side of our life, one that we may perhaps describe as people´s attitude toward their state, toward their social system, toward the climate of public life, toward politics. It seems to me that this is what we should concern ourselves with before everything else. We should inquire into the reasons why this side of life looks so gloomy now, and think about ways in which we could brighten it up a little before long.

This side of life indeed shows a rather gloomy face at the moment. Many people - the opinion polls corroborate this - are disturbed, disappointed or even disgusted by the general condition of society in our country. Many believe that - democracy or no democracy - power is again in the hands of untrustworthy figures whose primary concern is their personal advancement instead of the interests of the people. Many are convinced that honest business people fare badly while fraudulent nouveaux riches get the green light. The prevalent opinion is that it pays off in this country to lie and to steal; that many politicians and civil servants are corruptible; that political parties - though they all declare honest intentions in lofty words - are covertly manipulated by suspicious financial groupings. Many wonder why - after eight years of building a market economy - our economic performance leaves much to be desired, and even compels the government to patch together packages of austerity measures; why we choke in smog, when so much money is said to be spent on environment protection; why all prices, including rents and electricity tariffs, have to go up without a corresponding increase in pensions or other social welfare benefits; why they must fear for their safety when walking in the centres of our cities at night; why almost nothing is being built except banks, hotels and homes for the rich; etc. etc. An increasing number of people are disgusted by politics, which they hold responsible - and rightly so - for all these adverse developments. As a consequence, they have begun to feel suspicious of us all, or even take an aversion to us - notwithstanding the fact that they freely elected us for our offices.

You need not be afraid that I will undertake here a comprehensive sociological analysis of these warning occurrences. I will simply mention two causes, or rather sets of causes, of this situation.

The first of them is what I would call the ?historical? cause. It is, in fact, the Czech version of a phenomenon that has made itself felt, in different forms and with differing intensity, in all the countries that rid themselves of communism. We may perhaps call it post-communist morass. Something like that was bound to come - every person of sound judgement must have known that. Hardly anybody, however, foresaw how deep, serious and protracted it would be. The collapse of communism brought down, virtually overnight, also a whole structure of values that had been kept in existence for several decades, and with it the way of life based on that construction. The "time of certainties" - that were limited and dull, even suicidal to society, but still represented a certainty of a kind - was suddenly replaced by a time of freedom. Given the previous experience, it was inevitable that many took this new freedom to be boundless. The new life, which held dozens of temptations, also made entirely new demands on individual responsibility - in a measure that many find hard to bear. I have compared this strange state of mind to a post-prison psychosis experienced by those who - after having been constrained for years to a narrow corridor of strict and detailed rules - suddenly find themselves in an expanse of freedom that is strange to them. The new condition makes them believe that everything is permitted; at the same time, however, it thrusts upon them the tremendous burden of having to make their own decisions, and accept responsibility for those decisions. It is my firm belief and hope that the young generation - those who grew up after the fall of communism - will not be affected by this terrible post-communist syndrome, and I am looking forward to the time when these people take over the administration of public affairs. That time has not yet come; we are still living in a situation which makes us wonder how long it will take society to adapt to the new, more natural conditions of life, and how deeply the totalitarian era affected our souls.

However, it would not be honest to ascribe all blame - in the way that was so well known to the marxists - to some blind laws of history. A no less important, or maybe an even more important, role is played here by the second set of causes - by that which we have caused ourselves. Saying we, I refer to the whole body of post-November politicians, and particularly to political representatives of the independent Czech Republic, that is, all of us who have had an influence on the fate of this country in the past five years. I intentionally refrain from making distinctions according to the measure of responsibility or guilt, although it is clear that some deserve more blame than others. But that is not the point now. First of all, it is necessary to identify our faults.

It appears to me that our main fault was pride. Because of the fact that the transformation process progressed in our country practically continuously since November 1989, without being impeded by any major political changes, we really got, in some respects, farther than others - or at least it seemed so. Apparently, this went to our heads. We behaved like a spoiled only child in a family, or like the top of the class who believe they can give themselves an air of superiority and be everyone else´s teacher. Oddly enough, this pride was combined with a kind of provincialism or parochialism. We disrupted, for example, our close political cooperation with our nearest neighbours - that which used to be called Visegrád - because we thought we were superior to the rest of the group. Now that we have been invited, together with these nations, to join the European integration groupings, and that we see they have gotten farther than we have in a number of respects, we must exert a great deal of effort to restore that cooperation. Many of us ridiculed all those who spoke about global responsibility in the interconnected civilization of today?s world, and maintained that a tiny country like our own should deal only with our tiny Czech problems. Now, we must go to great lengths to make it clear to our own citizens that we can be granted security guarantees only when we are prepared to take our share of responsibility for Europe and the world, and to convince the North Atlantic Alliance that we are aware of that. Fascinated by our macro-economic data, we disregarded the fact that this data, sooner or later, reveals also that which lies beyond the macro-economic or technocratic perception of the world: the things that constitute the only imaginable environment for any economic advancement, although their weight or significance cannot be calculated by accountants - things like rules of the game; the rule of law; the moral order behind that system of rules, that is essential for making the rules work; a climate of coexistence. The declared ideal of success and profit was turned to ridicule because we allowed a situation in which the biggest success could be achieved by the most immoral ones, and the biggest profits could go to unpunishable thieves. Paradoxically, the cloak of liberalism without adjectives, which regarded many things as leftist aberrations, concealed the marxist conception about a fundament and a superstructure: morality, decency, humility before the order of nature, solidarity, regard for those who will come after us, respect for the law, a culture of human relations, and many other things were relegated to the realm of the superstructure, and slightly derided as a mere ?seasoning? of life - until we found there was nothing to season: the fundament has been tunnelled. It has been tunnelled because - the atheists among you will forgive me - it was not developed in a rigorous climate of the divine commandments. Intoxicated by power and success, and fascinated by the discovery, or rediscovery, that a political party can be turned into a marvellous springboard for a climb up the career ladder, many began - in an environment that took the law so lightly - to turn a blind eye to this and that, until they were faced with scandals casting doubts on the principal reason for our pride - on our privatization. Human beings are social animals who feel a need to form associations and to take part, even if it were only within their small worlds, in the management of public affairs and in the pursuit of universal benefit. This, too, was somehow forgotten: under the motto ?the citizen and the state?, the citizen was thrown into a hopeless solitude. In order that he would not feel too lonely, and because it was appropriate, the word ?family? was added from time to time. Beyond that, nothing but emptiness. Consequently, all that was left between the citizen and the state was a party with a capital P. Self-government - that necessary evil - was also meant to be forced under a party-political yoke. Fortunately, it did not let itself be forced there completely, thanks to which it is one of the best working sectors of the state. And what about the state as such? The stated objective was to make it small, but strong. I am afraid the opposite is true: it is big and weak. Perhaps because we lacked the courage to challenge the nature of the state we had inherited.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I could go on like this still longer. However, the reason why I have addressed you today is not an obsessed need to engage in lamentations, to masochistically turn a knife in our wounds, to be the smart guy once the battle is over or to support the thoroughly wrong impression that we have lost all, and achieved nothing. I have appeared before you to dwell on what lies ahead of us, and what we should do in order to brighten up the now rather gloomy side of our life together.

Being an orderly person, I shall number my remarks. Let me announce in advance that there will be ten items.

1)
What I have said at the beginning makes it quite clear which of the numerous tasks that lie ahead of us is most important to me. It seems to me that the government - whoever will be its members - as well as yourselves, Senators and Deputies, all political representatives of our country, indeed, all those who are active in public life, should tell our fellow citizens clearly that a good life together and prosperity are possible only when the various spheres of our life are governed by clear, sound and universally understandable rules, and when such rules are generally respected. Respect for the rules can certainly be enhanced through swift and severe punishment of their violations; however, this is - and will always be - merely an auxiliary instrument. First and foremost, such respect should take root in human minds. Everyone should deem it an honour to obey the law, not to break or circumvent it. In other words: without an all-embracing cultivation of the moral order - the only source of respect for the rules of human coexistence, and thus the only element that can hold us together as a civic community - we have no chance of a peaceful and contented life, of stability, or of prosperity. More than ever before, I am convinced that we all who have an influence on the developments in this country must accept this principle as our own, and try to translate it into our everyday political activities. The task of the citizens and of the media is to watch closely whether we are truly doing it. If they find that we are not, they should use every possibility offered by a democratic political system to replace us with better people.

2)
The spirit of justice and decency, as it emanates from the moral order, must permeate the entire set of technical rules governing our coexistence, that is, our legal system. In this respect, a unique responsibility rests with you, members of our Parliament, who pass legislation binding for all our citizens. Our legal system at present - partly because it is undergoing an unprecedented transformation - is immensely intricate. Few know altogether how many laws are currently in force, how many times they were amended or superseded by new legislation, and which subordinate regulations elaborate on them. Special experts are needed to deal with ever narrower sectors of our law, and many of us actually cannot manage without a lawyer, or without a whole team of legal specialists. I am deeply convinced that the more transparent, the more clearly structured and the more understandable a legal system we will have, the greater will be the chance that it will be respected. I would, therefore, deem it advisable if, in addition to passing new legislation, you gave an increased attention also to the aspect of streamlining our legal system as a whole, so as to make it simpler and clearer.

3)
The nervous system of the state is constituted by a network of self-government and state administration authorities. I consider it a crucial task for the coming period to undertake a reform of this system. This reform has been put off for several years, and the delay has done this country a great deal of damage. It is only in recent days that you adopted the first piece of legislation that paves the way to it - the constitutional act on regions. It will have to be followed by a series of other laws to develop the concept, as well as by a civil service act whose absence is beginning to pose tremendous difficulties. Why is the reform of public administration so necessary? The reasons are numerous; however, I am afraid that they have never been explained to our public in clear and understandable terms. I therefore deem it important not only to pass the relevant legislation in the foreseeable future, and to do all that will result from this, but also to launch an explanatory campaign to make it clear to the people why it is important that certain powers pass from the state to self-government bodies; why decisions on things extending beyond the scope of a municipality, or a district, should be made by regional authorities; and why many institutions currently administered by ministerial officials from Prague would be better served if they were run at the regional level. I find it absurd that while we are building a market economy, many of us do not object to the fact that whole spheres of our public life - state administration is one of them - still bear the marks of the communist pattern of rule over the people, including a high degree of politicization. It is not true that reform of public administration will produce more bureaucracy and more bureaucrats. Unless it is disastrously mismanaged, it should achieve the very opposite.

4)
Europe now has a chance it has never had before throughout its long and eventful history. Our continent, which has always constituted one entity that is indivisible in certain respects, can now build an order that will not derive from a dictate of the large and powerful ones, or from agreements among them behind everybody else?s backs. This new order can be based on the cooperation of all resting on true equality and true freedom, and emanating from a shared commitment to democratic values. Progress toward the structures of European integration, which has been the backbone of our foreign policy, is the right course. The Czech Republic - a small country in the very centre of Europe that has always been a crossroads of different geopolitical interests - has, for the first time ever, a chance to become truly, firmly, and securely established on the European political scene. Our principal anchors will be constituted by our future membership in the European Union, as well as by our future membership in the North Atlantic Alliance, which is no less important. A Europe of peace and cooperation is simply unthinkable without a system of collective defence, and NATO is the only institution that can provide for this kind of defence at present. Enlargement of the Alliance, combined with its transformation, is essential to Europe?s successful political integration. I have no doubt that most of the elected representatives of Czech politics are well aware of that, and know that they are offered the historic chance to take steps that will ensure a peaceful and happy life for many succeeding generations. It is all the more unfortunate that we have, so far, seemed to be unable to convey this message to our citizens convincingly enough. Maybe this was also due to the unfortunate emphasis on pure economy, that relegated even such crucial themes as national security - a sine qua non for the prosperity, indeed, for the existence of any economy - into a secondary role. Czech foreign policy, that is, the competent ministry, as well as all Czech political representatives, are faced with the great task that consists not only in intensifying all the work to be done for our membership in the European Union and NATO but also in explaining to our people the historic importance of these endeavours. The Czech Republic has been in existence for five years, and can hope to become a firmly established component of an integrated democratic Europe within the next five years. We all would make ourselves endlessly guilty if we wasted this chance. If we do not want to waste it, we must - once again! - begin in our souls. We should declare a relentless war on Czech provincialism, isolationism and egoism, on all illusions about a clever neutrality, on our traditional short-sightedness, on all kinds of Czech chauvinism. Those who now refuse to take upon themselves their share of responsibility for the fate of their continent, and of the world as a whole, are signing a death warrant, not only for their continent and the world, but primarily for themselves.

5)
Against the background of what I have just said, I think I do not need to stress how important it is to give appropriate attention to our armed forces. All legislation concerning our security, defence and the military service that is so urgently needed will never be enacted in a satisfactory form if the task is left solely with the competent minister. This is a task for us all, for all the political representatives of this country. The same goes for the restructuring of our army, cultivation of its human resources, its rearmament, and its economy. And the same is also true of systematic enhancement of the armed forces´ prestige in society. The same could be said about other security instruments of the state as well. If we want to see a decrease in the crime rate, we cannot leave the task of combatting crime solely to the chief of police or to the minister of the interior. It is a matter that concerns us all. If we fail to understand this, we have no right to call ourselves politicians.

6)
And what is the situation of our economy? Why are we, who considered ourselves to be, or who truly were, a model of speedy economic transformation suddenly faced with difficulties? Why is our economy now growing more slowly than, for instance, the Polish economy? I do not share the view held by some of you that the entire transformation started from the wrong foundations, was wrongly devised and wrongly directed. I would rather say that our problem lies in the very opposite: the transformation process stopped halfway, which is possibly the worst thing that could have happened to it. Many businesses have been formally privatized, but how many have concrete visible owners who seek increasing effectivity and who care about the long-term prospects of their companies? It is no exception to see companies whose executives are unable to say who their owners are, or how they are supposed to account to the owners for their managerial performance. But how can we expect the desired restructuring of companies, and of whole branches of our economy, when there are so few clear owners, and when so many of those who represent the owners see their role not as a task, mission or commitment but simply as an opportunity to transfer the entrusted money somewhere else and get out? A rather strange role, to my mind, is often played by our banks: they indirectly own companies that are operating at a loss, and the more the companies lose the more money the banks lend them. A small businessman is refused half a million crowns for a sound and specific investment project, while a dubious big businessman, or rather pseudo-businessman, is granted a loan of a billion crowns without proper investigation of what he needs it for. The legal framework of privatization, as well as of the capital market, is being perfected only now. Is it not rather late? Did we really have to pay for the fast progress of our privatization, which certainly was a good and desirable thing, a price in the form of stolen billions, or rather of tens of billions? If it was inevitable let somebody clearly say it. If it was simply a consequence of sloppy rules of the game which could have been avoided, let us admit this. Why, for example, was it possible in Hungary to privatize roughly the same part of the nation?s economy and avoid such a massive tunneling? And what about the state?s shares in companies? Is there a clear concept of what is of strategic or vital importance to the state, and where the state should therefore keep a share of ownership, and what can be further privatized without hesitation? And if there is such a concept, why is that which is destined for privatization not being privatized? I know about the widespread disapproval of words like ?conception?, ?strategy? or ?industrial policy?. To a considerable extent, I understood this: it was necessary to teach our enterprises the art of taking care of themselves instead of depending on the state. I am, however, not sure whether the "no-conception-cult" was not carried too far. There are a number of things on which the state must have an opinion, and about which it must know whether it deems them important or not. I am not referring at this moment only to the activities financed from the state budget or to the domain of public interests or public goods, such as public health, education, culture, etc. I speak of the economy. I speak of things like housing construction and the housing market, transportation, power supply, and infrastructure networks in general, I speak of the foundations of a prosperous economy and of a prosperous state. I find it impossible for a state to have no opinion, no policy and no strategy in this particular field. Does this exist in our country? If it does, why is it not more widely known? If it does not, why are we not working on it? In other words: it is high time that our economic transformation caught a second breath. It should be reinvigorated, and enter into its second phase. Politicians should take stock of all that remains unfinished, and tell the people quickly how they plan to finish it. I am convinced that the more clearly and understandably this is explained, the more acceptance can be won among the people for temporary sacrifices that may still be required. In the present situation, marked by a strange, almost cryptic silence, it is quite likely that the next attack on their living standard, be it progressing liberalization of rents or of electricity tariffs, may bring a real social unrest, not just a would-be one, as has been mostly the case until now.

7)
Two years ago the Chamber of Deputies passed the long prepared and long awaited act on public benefit organizations. Many were pinning their hopes on it, many were looking forward to seeing it come, many - including myself - rejoiced when it came. We hoped that many budgetary, and all contributory organizations, which are a remnant of communism, would finally begin to be transformed into modern non-profit entities that would no longer be tied hand and foot by a host of silly regulations, and would, therefore, be both much freer and much more economical, and, as a consequence, also more useful to society. I hoped that various schools, hospitals, social welfare establishments and cultural institutions would gradually switch over to this new status, and begin to enjoy the benefits of multiple-source financing that would include not only funds from the state, region or municipality but also massive contributions from both natural persons and bodies corporate, and I expected gradually increasing tax deductions for those who support such commendable activities. I expected this pattern of decentralized redistribution to address the various local and regional needs much more diversely and more resourcefully than this can ever be done by a ministerial staff in the capital, and I looked forward to seeing the money that would be saved once funds for such purposes no longer had to pass through the lengthy channel that makes them go first, as taxes, to the state budget and only then, through the budget of a competent ministry, to their destination. I hoped that the new system would enhance the self-confidence of the people and of the entrepreneurs, once they could actually see their money serve concrete beneficial projects. I was hoping in vain. How many public benefit organizations have come into being in the past two years? One? Two? And how many budgetary or contributory organizations have been transformed into non-profit bodies? I know of none. Some say this is impossible without special legislation for such transformation. Some say that it can be done under the existing privatization laws, but that nobody is trying because everyone finds it easier to stick to the good old socialist ways - especially since tax easements for those financing the non-profit sector have failed to appear. One way or the other, I see here a major task that has remained unfulfilled so far, and that must be tackled in the future. I even believe that a proper functioning of the non-profit sector, in a way that would at least resemble its functioning in advanced Western democracies, could eliminate much of the confusion troubling our budgetary organizations, or the entire sphere of public goods at present.

8)
Numerous reforms have been carried out in the social welfare system, and others are under preparation. There is but one remark that I want to make on this subject: I welcomed it when the government included in its policy statement the intention to gradually separate the pension fund from the state budget. For a number of reasons, this seems to me to be a much better system, and it can even be more advantageous financially, because funds are better equipped to manage their money in profitable ways. Of course, I take it for granted that the state will continue to guarantee the citizen?s right to a pension. Since the presentation of the government policy statement, nothing has been heard about this. I want to believe that this does not mean that this intention has been forgotten. Hopefully, a team of experts is quietly, yet intensively working on it somewhere. This is another task that lies ahead of us.

9)
No reasonable person will accuse either this government or the previous one of having neglected environment protection when putting together the state budget. On the contrary: the billions spent on the various environmental projects are beginning to bear fruit in the form of slightly improving data on the condition of our air, soil and waters. Nevertheless, I am still not sure whether these investments emanate from a truly clear concept, that is, from the simple principle that it is not enough to clean the environment of industrial pollution - it is necessary to build a clean industry. This means giving support to all those who save energy and introduce environment-friendly technologies. Let the rules of the market operate in this field too. But let the first of them be the rule that it is always preferable, and that it pays off, to refrain from polluting the environment in the first place, instead of cleaning up polluted areas or paying fines afterwards.

10)
Lastly, I want to speak of culture. Not that I would consider it a mere ?seasoning of life? from the realm of the superstructure - on the contrary: I regard culture as the most important thing of all, which therefore deserves to be mentioned in conclusion of my remarks. Of course, I do not limit the notion of culture only to human occupations, such as conservation of national heritage, making films or writing poetry. I speak of culture in the broadest sense of the word, that is, of the culture of human relations, human coexistence, human labour, human ventures; of the culture of public and political life; of the culture of our behaviour in general. I am afraid this is a sphere where we have most of our debts to pay, and most of our work to do. Culture in the broadest sense is not measured by the number of splendid rock stars who visit this country, or by the beauty of dresses by prominent designers presented here by world-class models. It is measured by something else - for example: by that which is chanted by skinheads in a pub; by the number of lynched or murdered Romanies; by the dreadful behaviour of some of our people toward their fellow humans simply because of the different colour of their skin. In all probability, this lack of culture in the broadest sense can again be ascribed to both sets of causes behind the dismal condition of public affairs that I mentioned at the beginning: it is a typical expression of the post-communist state of the mind, as well as a consequence of our inadequacy in cultivating the state of our minds in the past few years. Let me repeat it once again: it is not that there was an economic fundament, and a cultural superstructure living on its advancement. Just the opposite is true: economic advancement is directly dependent on the culture of the environment where the given economy operates.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When speaking here - and this is not the first time that I do so before members of the Parliament - about the non-profit sector, reform of public affairs administration, and other things as such, I speak, as you well know, about that which is called civil society. This means a society characterized by a systematic opening of a room for a most diverse self-structuring, and for the broadest possible participation in public life. This kind of civil society brings with it, essentially, a twofold impact: firstly, it allows a human being to develop all of the facets of human personality, including that which makes a person a social animal, desirous of taking part in the life of his or her community; secondly, it constitutes a true guarantee of political stability. The more a community develops all organisms, institutions and instruments of a civil society, the more resistant it is to various political windstorms or upheavals. It was not by chance that civil society was the target of the most brutal attack on the part of communist regimes. They knew very well that their greatest adversary was not any particular non-communist politician, but an open society possessing solid structures built from below, and therefore largely immune to manipulation.

Our country, as we all know, is now undergoing a political crisis. In the context of democratic conditions, resignation of a government is a fairly banal occurrence. A democratic system allows for such occurrences and knows how to deal with them.

Many, however, perceive this crisis as a collapse of the regime, or of democracy, or as the end of the world. In my view, such feelings may be a consequence of the fact that we have not yet even built the foundations of an advanced civil society whose life encompasses a thousand different levels, and which, therefore, does not need to feel existentially dependent on one government, or one political party.

If I blame those who are now resigning for something, it is not so much any concrete flaw. What I most blame them for is an apathetic, or almost hostile attitude, toward everything that bears even a distant resemblance to a civil society, or that which could create it. It is precisely because of this apathetic attitude that the fall of one government - indeed a banal thing in a democracy - appears to be almost a classical drama, and, to some extent, even becomes one: many people believe to be faced with the collapse of a certain concept of the state, of a certain world outlook, of a certain set of ideals.

However unpleasant and distressing our present experience is, and however dangerous it may be in certain respects, it can be a valuable lesson, and eventually bring some good: it can set off a catharsis - the traditional climax of all classical dramas. It can generate a feeling of profound purgation and redemption, of reborn hope, of liberation.

If today?s crisis makes us think again, in all seriousness, about the character of our state, its underlying idea, and its identity, and translate the result of these thoughts into our work, the crisis has not been for nothing, and all the losses it has brought us can be multiply compensated.

The question of identity of a nation, a state or a society is raised fairly often. Many an opponent of European integration uses it to make his or her case, and spreads fear for its loss. To my mind, most of those who do this subconsciously perceive identity as something given by fate, or determined by our genes, almost as a matter of blood that we cannot influence in any way. This concept of identity is very wrong. Identity is first and foremost a deed, a piece of work, an accomplishment. It does not stand apart from responsibility, on the contrary: identity is an expression of responsibility.

If our present crisis inspires us to new deeds, that will give our identity a renewed meaning, we have no reason to regret that it has come. Let us, therefore, try to accept it as a test, a lesson, an appeal that has, perhaps, come at the right time to warn us against our own pride, and to spare us much worse experiences.

Thank you.