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A Dream for Czechoslovakia

Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

I often think about what our country will be like in ten, fifteen, or twenty years, and I regret that I cannot, for a moment at least, leap over the hard years that lie ahead and look into our future.

That life is unfathomable is part of its dramatic beauty and its charm. So is the fact that we know nothing about our own future, except that some day we will die. Nevertheless, let me attempt to describe, briefly, the kind of Czechoslovakia I would like to see and strive for with my limited powers.

I will, in short, dream for a while.

In the first place, I hope, the atmosphere of our lives will change. The shock of freedom, expressed through frustration, paralysis, and spite, will have gradually dissipated from society. Citizens will be more confident and proud, and will share a feeling of co-responsibility for public affairs. They will believe that it makes sense to live in this country.

Political life will have become more harmonious.1 We will have two large parties with their own traditions, their own intellectual potential, clear programs, and their own grass-roots support. They will be led by a new generation of young, well-educated politicians whose outlook has not been distorted by the era of totalitarianism. And of course there will be several smaller parties as well.

Our constitutional and political system will have been created and tested. It will have a set of established, gentlemanly, unbendable rules. The legislative bodies will work calmly, with deliberation and objectivity. The executive branch of government and the civil service will be inconspicuous and efficient. The judiciary will be independent and will enjoy popular trust, and there will be an ample supply of new judges.2 We will have a small (40,000 strong?), highly professional army with modern equipment, part of which will come under an integrated European command. A smaller, elite unit will be part of the European peacekeeping force. A well-functioning, courteous police force will also enjoy the respect of the population, and thanks to it—though not only to it—there will no longer be anything like the high crime rate there is now.

At the head of the state will be a gray-haired professor with the charm of a Richard von Weizsäcker.

We will, in short, be a stable Central European democracy that has found its identity and learned to live with itself.

Czechoslovakia will be a highly decentralized state with confident local governments. People’s primary interest will be in local elections rather than the parliamentary ones. Each town and city will have its own individual face and its own inimitable spiritual climate—the pride of the local authorities. Municipalities will finance their affairs from municipal taxes, rather than from transfer payments, and will no longer need to complain constantly about never having enough funds, or to seek revenue from the ownership of various enterprises. The governments and administrations of the different historical regions will be intricately structured: Moravia and Silesia will once again have their own regional governments, including their own assemblies; other regions (northern Bohemia? eastern Slovakia?) will have some degree of autonomy, though to a lesser extent.

The whole country will be crisscrossed by a network of local, regional, and state-wide clubs, organizations, and associations with a wide variety of aims and purposes. This network will be so complex that it will be difficult to map thoroughly. Through it, the rich, nuanced, and colorful life of a civilized European society will emerge and develop.

Life in the towns and villages will have overcome the legacy of grayness, uniformity, anonymity, and ugliness inherited from the totalitarian era. It will have a genuinely human dimension. Every main street will have at least two bakeries, two sweet shops, two pubs, and many other small shops, all privately owned and independent. Thus the streets and neighborhoods will regain their unique face and atmosphere. Small communities will naturally begin to form again, communities centered on the street, the apartment block, or the neighborhood. People will once more begin to experience the phenomenon of home. It will no longer be possible, as it has been, for people not to know what town they find themselves in because everything looks the same.

Prefabricated high-rise apartment blocks and other kinds of gigantic public housing developments will no longer be built. Instead, there will be developments of family houses, villas, townhouses, and even low-rise apartment buildings. They will be better constructed, more varied, and on a more human scale.

Both the historical cores of our cities and towns, and their prewar suburbs, will be sensitively revitalized and renovated in such a way as to preserve the specific charm of each, while the risk of the buildings collapsing on people’s heads is eliminated. It will no longer take a young married couple a decade of hard work, involving all their relatives, to find themselves an apartment. Once a varied network of competing construction firms and societies is created, many people will be astonished at how quickly a great deal can be done.

Existing high-rise housing estates, where so many people have made their homes over the last four decades, will be enlivened in different ways—some redesigned and altered, others gradually phased out to make room for something more adequate for the twenty-first century. People can—as we know—get used to anything, so why should they not get used to shops in apartment buildings, children playing in parks, and streets and squares that are more than just blank spaces on a plan?

The houses, gardens, and sidewalks will be clean, tidy, and well cared for, because they will belong to someone; for every piece of real estate, there will be someone with a reason to look after it. All the dead spaces, which in Prague, I understand, account for more than one third of the city’s land area—spaces that no one knows the real purpose of (are they meadows, parking lots, construction sites, rubbish dumps, factory yards, or a combination of all of the above?)—will be turned into something specific. Some areas will be intelligently built on, and others will be converted to parks or something else. Apart from completing the construction of the superhighways that form our share of the European network, we will have good local highways lined with trees, the occasional motel or rest stop, and gas stations owned by competing firms. Towns will not grow every which way, like tumors, without regard for the most efficient use of available space (and thus without regard too for the land and the countryside). Best use will be made of every square meter, since it will once again have a value and an owner.

In short, the villages and towns will once again begin to have their own distinctive appearance, culture, style, cleanliness, and beauty. We can’t expect to become a Switzerland or a Holland; we will remain ourselves, but our outer face will stand comparison with these countries. We will not have to feel ashamed—either before ourselves or before foreigners—of the environment in which we live. On the contrary, that environment will become a source of quiet, everyday pleasure for us all.

The railways, transportation, communications, and distribution networks will probably be partly stateowned, partly private but under state control, and partly owned by companies in which the state has a stake. I truly don’t know what combination will be best in our case; different developed countries do it differently. But I hope that natural development and wise decisions will create the optimum model.

Apart from that, everything will be privatized, including the largest enterprises. Business corporations will be the rule, but there will also be cooperatives, individual private owners, and other types of ownership. Foreign companies, firms, and entrepreneurs will obviously play a large role. Our economy can hardly be expected to recover without extensive foreign investment and a flow of capital in our direction. Firms of different provenance will be present, so we will not be excessively dependent on any single country. Large-scale privatization has been organized to ensure a respectable degree of participation by domestic investors. There is a great wealth of skill and enterprising spirit in our society. Were this potential to be continually pushed out of the way by foreign skills and entrepreneurialism, it might well lead to considerable social tensions, and it would not even be just.

As we know, money is the lifeblood of economics. The circulation of money should be streamlined by a well-developed network of banks and savings institutions. Perhaps the single European currency now under discussion will be introduced here, but, if not, by that time our crown will be firm and fully convertible. A new and comprehensible tax system will have to be operating, including tax offices, tax advisers, and tax-fraud investigators—in short, everything that is part of a healthy fiscal and monetary system.

The real pioneers today, those who are blazing a trail to the market economy, are our first entrepreneurs, who often must overcome unbelievable obstacles. In the future society I am imagining, there will already be a very strong and powerful stratum, not just of small entrepreneurs, but also of middle-range and perhaps even large-scale entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs will be the engine of our economic life, and will have the respect of society—which by this time will understand that ownership is not a vice, not something to be ashamed of, but rather a commitment, and an instrument by which the general good can be served.

The employee—and I would like to emphasize this especially, because we often forget about it—will be as respected as the entrepreneur or the employer. A firm’s prosperity will depend as much on the people who work there as on the owner. Once this is recognized and accepted, people can feel that what they do and how they do it matters.

The previous regime presented itself as the government of the working class, yet it was able to make work such an anonymous process, and to obscure its value and significance so thoroughly, that workers lost something immensely important to everyone: the knowledge that their work meant something. The results of their work were dumped into the maw of the unified state economy, and they had no idea whether their work made a contribution or was done utterly in vain. The workers, and in fact all citizens, became a single, enormous, anonymous body called “the masses” or “the working masses,” a giant army of robots fulfilling quotas and plans, but with no control over the results of their work. True, work (or “honest work,” as it was often called) was the subject of constant homilies by the regime, but in reality, respect for work declined. Work is always personal, and one does it well when one knows what it is for and what it will become—when one can take pride in it or know it will receive recognition. Only then can one enjoy work, and take a personal interest in what one does, the company one works for, the quality and outcome of one’s efforts.

  1. 1

    Forty-two registered political parties and coalitions competed in the elections. The actual number of parties is far greater.—PW

  2. 2

    In the transitional period Havel is writing about, it has been difficult to find judges who are not compromised by their past and can be trusted to hand down independent decisions. At present there are 675 vacancies on the bench in the Czech lands, and about 150 in Slovakia.—PW

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