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 mysterious institution above them, and that they were in charge of history. Paradise on earth has not been victorious and there are many difficult moments ahead. Only the real hope that we will return to Europe as free, independent, and democratic states and nations has triumphed.
But even that is good. Who among us was able to imagine something like this a mere twelve years ago? Do you remember, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, and Jan Litynski, our first secret meeting on the Czechoslovak-Polish border? At that time we were all so-called dissidents, that is, people persecuted by the police, locked up, and laughed at. We may have laughed at our guards and been cheered up by how we escaped them, but if someone at that time were to say to us that in twenty years we would be members of parliament, ministers, and presidents, we probably would have laughed at him even more.
And despite all of this, it happened. The totalitarian systems of the Soviet bloc are breaking down, and we who did nothing more than say aloud what we thought and ended up in prison for it suddenly found ourselves in important government offices, and now we can laugh only when the television cameras are not pointed directly at us.
Our main task—and I am no longer talking merely about my Polish and Czechoslovak friends, but about both our entire nations—is to think together now about what to do with that freshly gained freedom. Before I attempt to say a few words about that, I have to make a small digression.
Our Czechoslovak revolution which began with the November massacre of students, but otherwise took a surprisingly peaceful and rapid course, is called gentle, kind, peaceful, and full of love. Obviously we are happy that in our country there were so few victims, but we will not forget the nations that had to pay for their freedom in blood, and without whose victims we could hardly have been able to wake up to our own freedom so quickly, and almost painlessly. I already emphasized in my New Year’s speech, and I would like to repeat it again, that the Hungarians and Poles also spilled their blood for us; we know it and will not forget it. In a certain sense the Romanians have also paid for us, although their revolution came after ours. Who knows whether the dark forces in our country would not have been able to come together for a counterattack, had they not been paralyzed by the Romanian example, which showed how bravely the population were able to defend themselves.
To cut a long story short: although no one helped our revolution directly, which is really a historic novelty in our country, we are well aware that without the Polish struggle of many years, without the striving of the nations of the Soviet Union for self-liberation, without the mementos of the German uprising of 1953 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, we could hardly enjoy our freshly gained freedom and rejoice in the fact that everything went so smoothly.
Obviously, we also know that it was Polish Solidarity led by Lech Walesa which first found a peaceful, and at the same time effective, way to a lasting resistance against a totalitarian system. We will not forget that it was you, the Polish Senate and Sejm, who first—already last summer—condemned the shameful attack against Czechoslovakia in 1968. Allow me at this point to thank you and the entire Polish nation.
I have said that I will consider the tasks that the new situation has placed before us. There are many. Above all, it is necessary to take advantage of the fact that after many long years and decades the perspective of a genuine and authentic friendship has unfolded before our nations. Longstanding disputes, rivalries, and animosities were hidden by the common reality of totalitarianism. Socalled friendship, druzba—that formal play at friendship, directed from above, in the framework of the Warsaw Pact and COMECON—stems from the totalitarian system. Also stemming from it is the inconspicuous, quiet, and maliciously joyful instigation of a nationalistically selfish mood, which was skillfully called forth in harmony with the slogan “Divide and Conquer.”
The years of a parallel fate and a similar struggle for similar ideals ought now to be improved on in conditions of real friendship and real respect. It was the spirit that characterized the years when we secretly carried backpacks full of independent literature across our shared mountains, and that ultimately resulted in the autumn festival of Czechoslovak independent culture in Wroclaw—which turned out so excellently, thanks mainly to those indefatigable members of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity, Zbyszek Janas and Mirek Jasinski, and which unwittingly became one of the preludes to the Czechoslovak revolution.
During the process that we both call the return to Europe, coordination of policy ought ultimately to grow into authentic friendship, which is based on an understanding of our destinies, into which we have been jointly forced, on the common guidance that friendship gave us, and, mainly, on the common ideals that unite us. Here we should coordinate our efforts as closely as possible also with Hungary, where, in fact, I am going tomorrow with my associates—again this is no coincidence—and with other nations in our part of Europe.
We should not mutually compete with each other about who is surpassing whom, and who first wins his way into this or that European institution; on the contrary we ought to help each other in the spirit of the same solidarity with which you during your worst periods protested against our persecution and we against yours.
It is difficult at this moment to foresee the institutional forms which our East European or Central European coordination will create. Western Europe is substantially further in the process of integration, and if we return to Europe each on our own, it will be substantially more complicated than if we enter into a mutual agreement. It is not only a matter of economics, it is a matter of everything, including disarmament negotiations.
I would be glad in the coming days to invite various representatives of your government and that of Hungary, and representatives of the public, and even observers from other Central European countries to the Bratislava Castle, where we could discuss all those matters in peace. Maybe then we shall be a little wiser.
In any event, one thing is certain: there is before us a real historic opportunity to fill with something meaningful the great political vacuum that arose in Central Europe after the breakup of the Habsburg Empire. We have the opportunity to transform Central Europe from a phenomenon that has so far been historical and spiritual into a phenomenon that is political. We have the opportunity to take a string of European countries which until recently were colonized by the Soviets and which today are attempting the kind of friendship with the nations of the Soviet Union, that would be founded on equality of rights, and transform them into a specific body which could approach a rich Western Europe not as a poor dissident or a helpless, amnestied prisoner, but as someone who also brings something with him: namely spiritual and moral incentives, bold peace initiatives, untapped creative potential, the ethos of freshly gained freedom, and the inspiration for brave and swift solutions.
We have awakened and we must awaken those in the West who have slept through our awakening. That is a task that we shall fulfill better, the more united we set ourselves to it.
If we want to think about synchronizing or coordinating our steps on the path to Europe, we obviously have to be clear about what actually ought to be at the end of that path, that is, what kind of Europe we are actually aiming for.
The general ideal is probably clear to us all. We want to be part of Europe as a friendly comity of independent nations and democratic states, a Europe that is stabilized, not divided into blocs and pacts, a Europe that does not need the protection of superpowers, because it is capable of defending itself, that is, of building its own security system.
The hope exists that the Soviet Union—in the interests of good relations with its former satellites—will gradually withdraw its army from them. Relevant negotiations are already taking place and sooner or later shall meet with success. It seems to me that we have quite a good starting point in the Helsinki process. If it were to speed up and intensify, it could—parallel to the various disarmament talks and unilateral disarmament initiatives—in the course of time grow into something that could fulfill the purpose of a peace conference or peace treaty like a definite punctuation point after the Second World War, the cold war, and the artificial division of Europe, that resulted from those world wars. Then both military pacts could be dissolved, and with that the process of an all-European integration could be started.
For the time being, Europe is divided.
Germany, too, is divided.
Those are two sides of a difficult coin: it is difficult to imagine an undivided Europe with a divided Germany, but at the same time it is difficult to imagine a unified Germany in a divided Europe. Both unifying processes obviously ought to be carried out together—and as quickly as possible.
One of the keys to a peaceful Europe lies, therefore, in its very center, namely in Germany. The Germans did a lot for all of us: they themselves began to tear down the wall that divides us from the ideal we long for, which is the ideal of a Europe without any kind of walls, iron curtains, or barbed wire fences.
Aware of the actual significance that the German question has for us all, aware at the same time that without peace in Germany not one of us will live in peace, I went to both German states for several hours not long after my election to the presidency, so that I could ascertain how the Germans themselves see the European situation, and so that I could at the same time stress how closely the future fates of us all are bound with the future fate of Germany.
I came back with a good impression. Reasonable people in both German states want the same thing we all want: a peaceful path to a democratic and peaceful Europe.
I believe that this impression of mine is also good news for you who during the Second World War had to sacrifice many more human lives than we did, and who, consequently, when it comes to the Germans—be they the majority of those who were your murderers or only the descendant generation—have the right to be more mistrustful than I.
For that matter, I will not hide the fact that many of my fellow Czechoslovak citizens are more mistrustful than I. It was also because of them that I went first to Germany: I resolved therefore that in today’s mistrustful world I will try to be—within my modest means—a kind of promoter of trust. And when I speak in this place about Germany, it is a pleasant duty to assure you that Czechoslovakia, too, considers the Oder-Neisse boundary final and inviolate.
For that matter, I suppose that borders will have less significance in a future Europe, that people will flow freely from one country to another, and that above all this will apply to our present common borders.
On the contrary, what should no longer flow across our borders is poisonous smoke, sulphur, and clouds with acid rain, be they from Stonarov or from…
There are of course still more dangerous walls than those that divide Europe. Those are the walls that mutually divide individual people and that divide our own souls. I would above all like to speak out against those walls. This concerns mainly my native land.
The most dangerous enemy today is no longer the dark forces of totalitarianism, the various hostile and plotting mafias, but our own bad qualities. My presidential program is, therefore, to bring spirituality, moral responsibility, humaneness, and humility into politics and, in that respect, to make clear that there is something higher above us, that our deeds do not disappear into the black hole of time but are recorded somewhere and judged, that we have neither the right nor a reason to think that we understand everything and that we can do everything.
I think that the Poles, with their strong religiousness, which is embodied in the admirable person of the Pope whom they have given to the world, can understand my modest presidential intentions.
Thirty-three years ago I spent a fortnight on the Baltic coast. Today I find myself in Warsaw, in the brave heart of Poland. I would be glad if it meant that not only I personally, but especially the movements and ideas that I represent are commensurately closer to the Polish heart.
Thank you for your attention, and in conclusion I call out to you the famous words:
Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginiela!
[Poland Is Not Yet Dead!]
March 29, 1990