The Future of Central Europe

The following is the text of the speech given by President Havel to the Polish Sejm and Senate on January 21, 1990.

I am very glad that the first foreign parliament in which I have the honor of speaking is the Polish Sejm. It is not merely a coincidence. It has a meaning, and I assume you understand what that is.

Allow me a brief personal memory: this is my second visit to Poland. I was first here on a student excursion in 1957. It was after your pazdziernik [Polish for October, i.e., the attempt at revolution in 1956], when your country was experiencing joyful hope, which later was so often and heavily dashed, and at that time I was fascinated with everything Polish. I was reading Hlasek, Milosz, Herbert, Kolakowski, Brandys, and Adolf Rudnicki, who was writing about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and the curse on our part of Europe; I saw Wajda’s film The Sewer, I admired the free-thinking Polish spirit and the special heroism which was radiated by Polish culture and which deep in my soul was dearer to me than the eternal skepticism, and sometimes even the cult of the mediocre and downtrodden, which so often appear in Czech literature. I myself at that time began to write so-called absurdist plays, full of skepticism, ridicule, and terror, and with inconspicuously unhappy endings, but my admiration for the Polish ethos was, strangely enough, not shut out by my own literary view of the world.

Today I am here—after thirty-three years—for the second time, and, in addition, as president of Czechoslovakia. Inevitably, I ask myself the question: What has changed in your country, in our country, and in our part of Europe in general?

A lot has changed. The most important change is that the time of the periodic rise and frustration of hopes, the circle of eternal illusions and disillusions, and the hellish dance of freedom and death has ended. It appears to be certain for the first time that democracy and freedom, justice, and national autonomy are triumphing and that the process that has led us to that is irreversible. This certainty arises above all from the fact that our efforts to achieve self-liberation are not solitary attempts in the realm of misunderstanding that surrounds us, but that they are flowing together in one common stream. The changes that were fought for and won by the Polish nation despite temporary failures, the important peaceful changes in Hungary and the German Democratic Republic, followed by our peaceful revolution in Czechoslovakia, the heroic and heavily paid-for victory of the Romanians over Dracula’s autocracy, as well as the movement in Bulgaria that we are witnessing—all of that is flowing together into one river.

But paradise on earth has not been victorious, nor can it win in the future. The notion that it would win could console only the vain minds of those who were convinced that they understood everything, that there was no higher …

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