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.

It may sound paradoxical to those brought up in the world of Communist ideology, but only with the renewal of the market economy, in which companies become legal entities under particular and responsible ownership, will respect for work be renewed as well. Diligence and skill will be recognized and rewarded; the self-esteem of all workers will be enhanced, and that includes all that goes with working-class self-esteem, such as working-class solidarity, the development of an authentic trade-union movement, the emergence of self-education movements, and the enrichment of the general culture.

In our case, something that could contribute to the self-esteem of employees and thus to the atmosphere of social peace would be—though I don’t yet know to what extent—privatization via coupons, which citizens could purchase and convert to shares in newly privatized companies. This process would strengthen the perception that everyone had an equal chance. In a relatively simple way, and without needing access to capital, any employee could choose to become an “employer”—that is, a co-owner of some enterprise.

There will, of course, be unemployed people. I hope there will not, however, be more than is necessary and unavoidable in a market economy (3 percent? 5 percent?). The state will support every measure by which unemployment can be dealt with, from the creation of new job opportunities and requalification programs to commissioning work from private firms, to, in some cases, even investment in public works. All such measures are better than merely paying out unemployment insurance, not only because—directly or indirectly—they create new value, but also because of the distressing social and psychological consequences of living on unemployment.

A great transformation and rebirth are awaiting agriculture. The Communist regime, guided by the ideological doctrine of parity between rural and urban areas, treated agriculture as a single gigantic industrial plant, and turned farmers into employees. A system of enormous transfer payments kept rural areas relatively well off, as far as their standard of living went, but the price they paid was extensive proletarianization. Farm villages ceased to be true villages and became more like dormitory communities for agricultural laborers. Farmers were no longer close to their livestock or the soil. Animals were moved from pastures and well-kept stables laid with clean straw into vast factory barns where they stand in stalls on metal grates, often never seeing the sun or having he run of a meadow in their entire lives. These barns were painted with toxic disinfectant. The land was polluted with chemical fertilizers. Ploughing under the strips and hedgerows dividing the fields and introducing heavy machinery led to the destruction of the ecological balance, to erosion, and to the disintegration, compacting, and deadening of the soil, which in turn led to more excessive chemical fertilizing and the expensive liquidation of pests that would otherwise be eaten by the birds that had been driven from the fields. The yields are decent, it is true, but the produce is not of high quality, and the meat sometimes contains toxic substances.

All of this must be changed, and it will obviously take years. I can imagine, however, that ten years from now this great rebirth of agriculture should be basically complete. It should definitely not rage through the land the way the whirlwind of collectivization in the 1950s did. But it should leave our countryside looking essentially different. First of all, our villages will once again have become villages, modern and pleasing to the eye. The natural connections between their traditional raison d’être—a place for people to live, for the raising of livestock, and for the cultivation of the fields—must be gradually renewed. Agriculture should once again be in the hands of the farmers—people who own the land, the meadows, the orchards, and the livestock, and take care of them. In part, these will be small farmers who have been given back what was taken from them; in part, larger family farms; and in part (and a large part, at that) modest cooperatives of owners or commercial enterprises. The gigantic cooperative enterprises are not working, and should be divided and transformed.

Of course, the slaughterhouses, dairies, processing industries, and wholesale networks will all be privatized. The farmers themselves know best—and new farmers will quickly learn—how to renew the ecological balance, how to cultivate the soil and gradually bring it back to health. I also believe that a portion of the agricultural land should simply be left fallow, converted to pasture land, or reforested. We have few forests, while there is already, and probably will be in the future, a surplus of agricultural products.

A traditional scale and proportion should be restored to our environment, and we must renew the old connections between its elements. This concerns not only our once-picturesque countryside, woods, and fields, but also the farm buildings, the churches, chapels, and wayside crosses. I am not harboring an anti-quarian desire to return to the time of my youth, when work in the fields was incredible drudgery. I would be completely satisfied if, in ten years, our rural areas looked and functioned something like the rural areas in, for example, Denmark. I am continually shocked at how sharply our western border [with Germany] stands out, both from the air and from the ground. On one side of the border there are neat, well-kept fields, pathways, and orchards, and among them perfectly tended estates and farms. Every square meter—again!—is being used for something, and you can see in it evidence of human care, based on respect for the soil. On the other side there are extensive fields with crops lying unharvested on the ground, stockpiles of chemicals, unused land, land crisscrossed with tire tracks, neglected pathways, no rows of trees or woodlots. Villages are merely the remains of villages, interspersed with something that resembles factory yards or production halls. There is mud everywhere, and occasionally, like a fist in the face, an ugly new prefab apartment building, utterly out of place in a rural setting. At the same time, the countryside is set about with monstrous shiny silos painted with poison.

Perhaps the most difficult thing of all will be the ecological revival of our land, its devastated countryside and polluted cities.

But even here—with a little imagination—we can see that in ten or fifteen years things could be essentially different. There should be, as I have said, an increase in woodlots, which will contribute to the amount of oxygen in the air. There should also be a decrease in sulphur dioxide and all harmful atmospheric emissions. The thermal-electricity generating plants that are not closed down will convert to clean combustion technology (I saw this working in Sweden), or will be provided with scrubbers and filters. Our overdeveloped and insanely concentrated chemical industry will, I hope, be brought under control. There are projects for saving the dying forests and for recultivating the destroyed countryside. But a little of the moonscape in northern Bohemia,3 with its open pit mines and dead trees, will still remain, since revitalizing it completely will take many decades.

Ecologists are already working on plans to regenerate our rivers and to treat effluent wastes. It makes no sense to build power sources and industries that destroy nature, the air, and the water, and then turn around and invest the profits in measures to rectify the damage. We must achieve a situation in which firms are compelled to choose alternatives that are ecologically sounder, though this may mean far higher initial investment. This cannot be done without the participation of the state, well-thought-out economic policies, and strict ecological laws. The state must systematically make use of all the means it has to compel companies to behave responsibly. If it does so, the results will certainly be visible in ten years.

What will the international position of our country be?

If everything goes well, we will be full members of the European Community, we will have a firm place in the growing pan-European association, and we will have solid guarantees of our security, flowing from the security system that Europe will have developed by that time. In other words, we will have essentially built our new home in Europe. Our independence will have substance, meaning, and context. We will no longer feel naked, helpless, isolated, forgotten, and threatened.

Ján Carnogurský, the present premier of Slovakia, often speaks about how Slovakia wants its own star on the future flag of Europe, and its own seat at the table. The European firmament is large and I see no reason why there shouldn’t be two independent stars in it, Czech and Slovak, though from a distance they might look like a binary star. By the time the European Community has a firmly integrated political leadership, by the time we are part of its monetary union, by the time not only tourists but workers and capital are flowing freely across our borders, by the time those borders are only a formality and we are bound in many things by an integrated legislative system and have handed over many powers to supranational institutions or, instead, to individual regions—by that time the number of stars we have in the European flag will not seem as important as it may seem to some today.

Nevertheless, if our citizens wish it, they will have every right to change the number of stars on the flag; there will be far fewer obstacles, dangers, and problems involved in the division of our country in ten years than there are today. But this is all the more reason for thinking that, if separation is really what is meant by the demand for two stars, it is not very clever to emphasize it too strongly today. A country that declares its own existence as temporary, that reveals its disinclination to go on existing for much longer, will not enjoy a great deal of confidence. No partner is going to perceive us as solid and trustworthy, as a country that stands behind what it does because it is sure of its identity and is therefore responsible for itself. If we intend to defer separation for practical reasons, then for the same practical reasons we should defer any talk of separation.

Nations have their own identities—spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and political—which they reveal to the world each day through their actions. This is true as well of Czechs and of Slovaks. Our identity is something that other European countries have long recognized, and will continue to recognize through our everyday deeds. We should talk about any eventual changes in our identity as a state the moment we genuinely want to change it. After all, we will have a right to do so at any time.

Marxists considered everything that was not material production as its “superstructure.” I personally have never agreed with a division of human affairs into what is primary and what is secondary. I’ve spent many years of my life participating in “material production,” but I never had the feeling that my spirit, my intellect, my consciousness—in other words, what makes me a person—was somehow determined by that. On the contrary, if I produced something, I produced it as a person—that is, a creature with a spirit and a conscious mastery of his own fate. It was the outcome of a decision made by my human “I,” and, to a greater or lesser extent, that “I” had to share in my material production.

In a way, what Marxists understand as social being really does determine social consciousness. In another way, however—and for me this is far more decisive—it is social consciousness that determines social being. Even communism first had to be thought up; only afterward could it be brought into existence.

If I have left my thoughts on what spiritual and intellectual life will be like at the beginning of the next century to the end of these reflections on the future, it is not because I perceive that life as a “superstructure.” In fact, just the opposite is true: I want to talk about it last because it seems to me the most important.

All my observations and all my experience have, with remarkable consistency, convinced me that, if today’s planetary civilization has any hope of survival, that hope lies chiefly in what we understand as the human spirit. If we don’t wish to destroy ourselves in national, religious, or political discord; if we don’t wish to find our world with twice its current population, half of it dying of hunger; if we don’t wish to kill ourselves with ballistic missiles armed with atomic warheads or eliminate ourselves with bacteria specially cultivated for the purpose; if we don’t wish to see some people go desperately hungry while others throw tons of wheat into the ocean; if we don’t wish to suffocate in the global greenhouse we are heating up for ourselves or to be burned by radiation leaking through holes we have made in the ozone; if we don’t wish to exhaust the nonrenewable, mineral resources of this planet, without which we cannot survive; if, in short, we don’t wish any of this to happen, then we must—as humanity, as people, as conscious beings with spirit, mind, and a sense of responsibility—somehow come to our senses.

I once called this coming to our senses an existential revolution. I meant a kind of general mobilization of human consciousness, of the human mind and spirit, human responsibility, human reason.

Perhaps, in light of this view, it makes sense that I cannot consider upbringing, education, and culture as mere ornaments to decorate and beautify life, and enrich our leisure time.

So how do I see our future in this sphere?

I hope it won’t be taken as further proof of my crypto-socialism if I say that our state—regardless of how poor it may be—should not stint in cultivating its spiritual and intellectual life, in cultivating education. In the most advanced countries, government investment is directed first and foremost toward education, science, and culture. Every crown the state invests in those fields will return to it a thousandfold, though the profit cannot be measured by standard accounting procedures.

The methods of achieving such cultivation will obviously be varied, and will correspond to market conditions.They will be subject to public control but will be separated, as far as possible, from the civil service, and designed to achieve maximum plurality. Along with grants, there will be charitable foundations, tax write-offs and relief, funds, grants, and so on.

The most basic sphere of concern is schooling. Everything else depends on that.

What will our schools be like? I think that in ten years they should be fully reformed and consolidated. The point, understandably, is not just the reconstruction of school buildings or the supply of computers and new textbooks. The most important thing is a new concept of education. At all levels, schools must cultivate a spirit of free and independent thinking in the students. Schools will have to be humanized, both in the sense that their basic component must be the human personalities of the teachers, creating around themselves a “force field” of inspiration and example, and in the sense that technical and other specialized education will be balanced by a general education in the humanities.

The role of the schools is not to create “idiot specialists” to fill the special needs of different sectors of the national economy, but to develop the individual abilities of the students in a purposeful way, and to send out into life thoughtful people capable of thinking about the wider social, historical, and philosophical implications of their specialities. All those who today seriously and deeply concern themselves with scientific disciplines—from chemistry or mathematics, all the way to zootechnology—must somehow be touched by basic human questions such as the meaning of our being, the structure of space and time, the order of the universe, and the position of human existence in it. The schools must also lead young people to become self-confident, participating citizens; if everyone doesn’t take an interest in politics, it will become the domain of those least suited to it.

The universities will not select students; everyone must have access to education. But all students must, at the same time, reckon with the fact that they may not pass muster, and even if they do, and finish their studies, their lives after that will be chiefly in their own hands. No one will guarantee them work in their field. The state will no longer regulate the admission of students and the employment of university graduates according to the needs of some five-year plan. The more citizens who complete university, the better. I do not see what harm it can do for a businessman, a restaurant owner, or an official of the state to have studied law.

Our universities will be decentralized and richly diversified. The recently established regional universities will be breathing more easily. Each school will develop its own speciality, something unique to attract students, such as a reputation for a high level of academic achievement in a particular discipline, an important scientific team, or a remarkable pedagogue or researcher who is known for his own “school.”

Many of our students will complete their studies abroad, and then return and start teaching in our schools. Teachers from abroad will be welcomed to teach here as well, of course—something that is already happening.

Since time immemorial, a part of human culture has been man’s care for himself, for the body in which the spirit resides—that is, for his own health. The culture of healing may be a less visible aspect of life, yet it is perhaps the most important indicator of the humanity of any society.

Therefore I pose this as my last question: What will our health-care services look like in this new world I’m trying to imagine?

A whole new health system should be built by then. It will be a liberal system, which means that patients and doctors will have a choice. State and university health facilities will be interconnected with local and private systems, and with systems run by churches and charities. A large proportion of doctors will have private practices, and this—among other things—will help to decentralize the health-care system. Hospitals, clinics, and the present national health institutes will also be partially privatized, with part remaining public, and part remaining under state ownership but leased to private practitioners and their teams. Getting medical care will no longer be the bureaucratic nightmare it has been for the past forty years.

Doctors will be paid for their services through a new system of general health insurance, and in some cases they’ll be paid directly. If this prospect worries some people, let me remind them that health care is not free today: we all pay for it through our taxes. The difference is that until recently we didn’t have any control over the money we paid out. (Who could tell how much of our taxes went to pay the dentist, and how much to build the Palace of Culture?) Nor did we have any say in the level of services provided. We will continue to pay for health service as we do today; the only difference will be that we will know precisely how much we are paying, to whom, for what, and why. Yet the health-insurance system will make up for the ironies of nature, through which a rich person may never be sick a day in his life and a poor person may require expensive heart operations.

The most important aspect of health care, however, is the same as in everything else: the personal relationship between doctor and patient. People are not just racks on which to hang various organs—kidneys, stomach, and so on—that can be repaired by specialists, as you would repair a car. They are integral beings in whom every part is intimately interrelated, and in whom everything is mysteriously connected to the spirit. That is why we are best treated by a doctor to whom we are not just anonymous biological mechanisms, but individual, unique, and familiar human beings. In short, hospitals and doctors’ offices will no longer be either state institutions that dispense prescriptions and certificates of incapacity, or state repair shops for broken-down robots. And it’s not only patients who dream about the state of affairs I describe here; doctors long for it as well.

There is also much to be done in the area of care for the disabled. The state will offer incentives to enterprises that offer jobs to the disabled. They must be guaranteed the supportive devices they need. New homes must be built for the elderly and for mentally incapable children; such institutions are now in a shocking condition. Some of these functions may be taken over by the church, others will be undertaken by private institutions and foundations, yet others will be run by the community, and some will continue to be operated by the state. The main thing that must be changed, however, is our attitude to the physically and mentally handicapped. We have too often pretended they don’t exist. We have looked on indifferently while they were pushed out to the margins of society.

I will not go on about my dreams and imaginings for all the areas that have little to do with material production, but without which a genuinely dignified human life on earth is unthinkable. I will only summarize what many wise people are thinking about every day, in far more specific terms than I can employ here.

All these areas have one thing in common. Today, everything is in preparation: projects, concepts, draft legislation; in ten years or so, much of all that could well be realized. For the time being, the educational system, scientific research, the health service, social welfare, and culture are all badly off. Almost no one has any money for anything, and often the feeling prevails that everything is falling apart. In a way this is true. The former centralist, bureaucratic, and dysfunctional system of support for what cannot be self-supporting is collapsing. The new system, in all its aspects, is being born, prepared, thought through. But it is not yet up and working.

In ten years it will be working—it must be. It is vitally important for all of us that it should be. I have said on various occasions that none of the big problems in this country, from ecological, economic, and technical matters to political ones, will be resolved quickly and successfully if they are not undertaken by educated and cultivated people who are at the same time decent people. And the basic measure of the general state of decency is how a society cares for its children, its sick, its elderly, and its helpless. In other words, how it looks after its own.

The state is not something unconnected to society, hovering above or outside it, a necessary and anonymous evil. The state is a product of society, an expression of it, an image of it. It is a structure that a society creates for itself as an instrument of its own self-realization. If we wish to create a good and humane society, capable of making a contribution to humanity’s coming to its senses, we must create a good and humane state. That means a state that will no longer suppress, humiliate, and deny the free human being, but will serve all the dimensions of that being. That means a state that will not shift our hearts and minds into a special little niche labeled “super-structure,” tolerated and developed for decorative purposes only.

Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

Copyright © 1992 by Václav Havel. English translation copyright © 1992 by Paul Wilson.

This Issue

June 25, 1992