More than a month after the event itself, a CT reader of Czech descent sent me a hand-typed transcript of the inauguration speech delivered by Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia, on New Year’s Day. I decided I could do nothing more worthwhile in this month’s column than to quote selected portions of Havel’s speech:
“For the past 40 years on this day you have heard the same thing, with variations, from the mouths of my predecessors: that our country is flourishing; that so many million tons of steel have been produced; that all of us are happy; that we trusted our government; and that beautiful prospects were opening up before us.
“I imagine that you did not propose that I should take this office to hear similar lies from me.
“Our country is not flourishing. The great creative and spiritual potential of our two nations [Slovak and Czech] is not being meaningfully exploited. Whole branches of industry are producing products in which nobody is interested while we have shortages of products we need. The state, which is called the workers’ state, has been humiliating and exploiting the workers. Our outworn economy has been wasting energy that is in short supply. The country that in the past was justifiably proud of the education standards of its people has been spending so little on education that nowadays we hold seventy-second place in the world.
“We have spoiled the soil, the rivers, and the forests inherited from our ancestors, and today we have got the worst environment in the whole of Europe. In our country, life expectancy is lower than in most European countries.… The existing regime, armed by its haughty and intolerant ideology, degraded man into a unit of production, and nature into a production tool. Thus it attacked ...1
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