On Home

Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

The following speech was given on October 26, when President Havel received an honorary degree at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

It is a great pleasure for me to receive an honorary doctorate in a town in which many of my countrymen took refuge centuries ago, and which is still the domicile of many Czechs and Slovaks who have found a new home here while retaining close ties, in their minds, to their former country. Their old home is now at a historical crossroads: it is not only seeking a new form of statehood but, having freed itself from its position as a satellite, it is looking for a new political home both in Europe and globally as well. These two circumstances have led me to share with you some thoughts I wrote down recently on the subject of home.

The category of home belongs to what modern philosophers call the “natural world.” (The Czech philosopher Jan Patocka analyzed this notion before the Second World War.) For everyone, home is a basic existential experience. What a person perceives as his home (in the philosophical sense of the word) can be compared to a set of concentric circles, with his “I” at the center. My home is the room I live in for a time, the room I’ve grown accustomed to, and which, in a manner of speaking, I have covered with my own invisible lining. I recall, for instance, that even my prison cell was, in a sense, my home, and I felt very put out whenever I was suddenly required to move to another. The new cell may have been exactly the same as the old one, perhaps even better, but I always experienced it as alien and unfriendly. I felt uprooted and surrounded by strangeness, and it would take me some time to get used to it, to stop missing the previous cell, to make myself at home.

My home is the house I live in, the village or town where I was born or where I spend most of my time. My home is my family, the world of my friends, the social and intellectual milieu in which I live, my profession, my company, my work place. My home, obviously, is also the country I live in, the language I speak, and the intellectual and spiritual climate of my country expressed in the language spoken there. The Czech language, the Czech way of perceiving the world, Czech historical experience, the Czech modes of courage and cowardice, Czech humor—all of these are inseparable from that circle of my home. My home is therefore my Czechness, my nationality, and I see no reason at all why I shouldn’t embrace it, since it is as essential a part of me as, for instance, my masculinity, another aspect of my home. My home, of course, is not only my Czechness, it is also my Czechoslovakness, which means my citizenship. Ultimately, my home is Europe and my Europeanness and …

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