How Europe Could Fail

Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

The following address was given on October 9 to the General Assembly of the Council on Europe in Vienna.

All of us—whether from the west, the east, the south, or the north of Europe—can agree that the common basis of any effort to integrate Europe is the wealth of values and ideals we share. Among them are respect for the uniqueness and the freedom of each human being, the principles of a democratic and pluralistic political system, a market economy, and a civic society with the rule of law. All of us respect the principle of unity in diversity and share a determination to foster creative co-operation between the different nations and ethnic, religious, and cultural groups—and the different spheres of civilization—that exist in Europe.

This intellectual and spiritual basis of European civilization is the product of thousands of years of history, of the intermingling of many traditions, and of vast historical experience, both good and bad. The fall of communism has presented our continent with a unique opportunity to unite on that foundation and to become—for the first time in a very long time, if not in history—a stabilizing force in the world today.

Despite general agreement on the values upon which European integration should stand, this process today, four years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, has encountered a number of obstacles. Many are even beginning to doubt that the process can succeed, that it can lead to the kind of Europe in which everyone will feel at ease, in which no one will feel repressed or threatened, and no one will have any cause to behave aggressively.

What are the reasons for this discrepancy between the possibilities and the reality? Why, so soon after the collapse of a bipolar Europe and at a time when we all appear to want the same things, do we suddenly feel so much doubt? Why does a goal that seemed within reach at the beginning of 1990 now seem so distant?

There are many reasons for this state of affairs, but I feel strongly that they all have one thing in common: the erroneous belief that the great European task before us is a purely technical, a purely administrative, or a purely systemic matter, and that all we need to do is come up with ingenious structures, new institutions, and new legal norms and regulations. We believe, in short, that we need do no more than discuss endlessly, or, more precisely, argue endlessly over, technical matters without ever attempting to change anything in ourselves or in the habitual motives and stereotypes of our behavior. The very values that were to be secured by systemic changes get lost in the debates over those changes. In other words, what was to have been no more than a means to an end becomes the central topic of discussion, and our very capacity to agree is weakened.

Many of the great supranational empires or alliances in history, or …

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