Remarks by Václav Havel and Two Members of China’s Charter 08 at the Ceremony for the Homo Homini Award

This is an online-only supplement to the April 30 issue of the Review.

Opening of the One World
Human Rights Film Festival,
Prague, Czech Republic,
March 11, 2009

I offer my congratulations to the recipients of this year’s Homo Homini Award and I am happy they came here from China. Allow me to make a few remarks. First, I think I will be speaking on behalf of most signatories of Charter 77 if I say that we are both pleased and honored to have inspired the Chinese Charter 08.

Secondly, I would like once more to point out our experience, one that our Chinese friends should adopt in one way or another, the experience that one may never reckon with success, one may never reckon with the situation changing tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or in ten years. Perhaps it will not. If that is what you are reckoning with, you will not get very far.

However, in our experience, not reckoning with that did pay in the end; we found that it was possible to change the situation after all, and those who were mocked as being Don Quixotes, whose efforts were never going to come to anything, may in the end and to general astonishment get their way. I think that is important. In a peculiar way, there is both despair and hope in this. On the one hand we do not know how things will end, and on the other, we know they may in fact end well.

Thirdly, it is our experience—and this is perhaps more an appeal to our ranks—that international solidarity is very important and valuable. It helps, even if only as an encouragement to us, rather than as an argument convincing the powers that be. Having had firsthand experience with a totalitarian system and dictatorship ourselves, it is thus our duty to help those who are yet not able to enjoy freedom.

My final remark is altogether personal. I am deeply moved that the awardees present here were engaged in translating and circulating, in what manner was available to them, my texts.

Thank you.

Václav Havel
Writer and former President of the Czech Republic

Dear Representatives of People in Need, Dear President Václav Havel, Dear Foreign Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,

We would like to thank the organization People in Need for giving the 2008 Homo Homini Award to the signatories of Charter 08. This award is an expression of support and encouragement for all those who are being persecuted for having signed the Charter, for all people in China who strive to exercise their legal rights, and for Dr. Liu Xiaobo, who was arrested and is still being detained for collecting signatures for the Charter. Doctor Liu Xiaobo has long pursued the ideals of human rights and democracy and has paid for this with a long-time confinement. It is for us an honor and a pleasant duty to accept the award in his stead.

Different people may see the significance of Charter 08 in different ways but all its signatories agree…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.