Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I welcome you at today’s ceremony commemorating the founding of the modern Czech state, which happened precisely ninety-two years ago.
There is no lack of topics from our present time that would be worth mentioning tonight. We have to deal with the only slowly fading economic crisis and its consequences which have unpleasant impact on the lives of many of our fellow citizens and on the whole state economy. Our government debt has been growing for many years and is still growing today, and we must not allow it to reach the Greek proportions. We have long postponed reforms in our health care and pension systems which still function reasonably well but whose reform cannot be delayed indefinitely.
Many of these problems are still waiting to be tackled. Measures taken so far are only an indication of solutions, and it would be premature to speak of any distinctive change. However, certain changes are now beginning to take shape. On this same occasion last year I spoke of the persistent economic decline and of the interim government which lacked the mandate – and as we see today with the benefit of hindsight also the courage – to adopt the necessary measures. I spoke of the arbitrarily-postponed elections, and also of a ‘growing discontent’ which was becoming evident in our country at the time.
I don’t want to say this too loudly, but I no longer feel that way today. As a result of the elections in May this year we have a different government and House of Representatives and thanks to the recent senate elections also a different situation in the Senate. Local elections too have brought new personalities to public positions in many cities and municipalities. There is a reason for a degree of very cautious optimism. Although I do not underestimate in the least the fear on the part of some of our citizens of the indispensable ‘belt tightening’ connected with efforts to cure the public finances, last year’s discontent was something different. Hence, I also believe that political forces that might profit from social discontent will weigh very carefully their own short-term benefits against the long-term consequences of loss of fundamental civic solidarity in our country. I wish this becomes evident also in the atmosphere in the Parliament, as well as in the relations between the political parties. These are all serious matters, which however I do not intend to discuss today.
I began by saying that ninety-two years have passed since the birth of the modern Czech state, since the moment when we ceased being a kingdom and became a republic. I should add – only ninety-two years. This period of less than a century when we have had a political system based on a republic is hardly a tenth of the thousand years in which – on essentially the same territory – there has been a Czech state. And so let us not begin in 1918, but much earlier. When we look around at many places in our country, we see that we are surrounded by our own history reaching back much further. Even this hall, called the Vladislav Hall, began to be built two years before the discovery of America – and already then our state had existed for almost half a millennium.
Most of us have probably not asked the question why we have actually gathered here today – so ceremonially and with such a representative group of guests. It is a question we should ask, however. Have we come only to follow the convention that requires us to come together once a year in this beautiful hall of the Prague Castle? Are the historical banners carried by soldiers of the Castle Guard, the Gothic arches of this hall, the festive garbs and uniforms merely gleaming stage props for a performance that we install mechanically each year before the media cameras out of a sense of compulsion? Or should this evening also have a different, much deeper meaning and purpose?
I am convinced that it should. I am convinced that it should be a seriously-intended reminder and a message we send to ourselves that we are not merely a statistical sum of separate and lonely beings, but a community of more than ten million citizens, members of one broadly-branched family, who understand each other not only via a shared language but through traditions, historical experiences, a specific culture, and – at the highest possible level of generality – also common interests.
The high honours that will be received from my hands in a few moments by the outstanding women and men you see around me are not only a ceremonial formality. They are an expression of recognition that the moral qualities, the courageous deeds, the art, or the work of these fellow citizens of ours have surpassed the realm of the personal and become a part of the common heritage which forms a link between the past and the present and heads toward the future – toward those who will take the fates of our country into their hands after us.
Let me repeat my question from a different perspective: Does the state we have taken over from our ancestors as a specific and irreplaceable heritage have a meaning and purpose at all in today’s world? Do we sense it as something deeply embedded in our minds and hearts? Do we not accept it merely as a sort of neutral space, exchangeable with any other space? Is it not becoming for many of us only an ‘administrative unit’ to which we are losing any deeper personal relation?
If so, then today’s celebration of our national day is only an empty gesture and a mystification of the public. Then we should loudly admit that we are a generation that consciously relinquishes the Czech state. That our thousand-year state history has come to an end. That our inherited traditions, customs, culture, way of thinking, and the resulting specific interests are now only a historical museum of interesting folklore relics, because life, as said by an important Czech sceptical writer, has moved on.
However, if this is not the case for most of us, if we continue to perceive our common national existence authentically as something different from the national existence of the Germans, the French, the British, the Russians, the Americans, and other nations, then something follows from this. Then we have a vital need for our anchor, our state. Then it is appropriate that we turn to the legacy, the traditions, and the hard-won experiences of our ancestors. Then we must defend our state’s existence and values. Then we must be aware – with all the consequences – that history has not yet ended, even if some dreamers have tried to convince us of that following the fall of the bipolar world order.
In the present, post-modern and post-democratic world, characterized by confusion of values and by artificial relativization of many until recently undoubted foundations of our lives, including our statehood, for many of us the answers to these questions are not clear. I dare say that ninety-two years ago, on the threshold of a new era in our state’s history, for most people the answers to these questions were clear. At that time society agreed on the need for a state and the need for renewal of full state sovereignty. That was why the Czech Kingdom, a subordinate member of a multi-national state entity centred in Vienna, taking advantage of favourable international circumstances, became the sovereign Czechoslovak Republic.
To remember that event as a still-valid source of inspiration is the real and serious reason why we have gathered here today in a ceremonial atmosphere, amidst symbols of our statehood. I hope and believe that I am not the only one who sees it this way.
Some are probably expecting that now – when I speak of Czech statehood in this way – I shall add my standard philippic against Brussels. But I shall disappoint them. Not because there is nothing to talk about critically, but because there are at least two reasons for not discussing the European Union today in any depth.
One is that the problems, risks, and dangers of artificial and hasty European integration, about which I have been warning for many years and which the worldwide financial crisis and economic recession have revealed and intensified, have become in many ways a reality that is clearly visible, more-or-less to everyone. To speak of them today is no longer something courageous or original. It has also been clearly shown that the officially-proclaimed cohesion, solidarity, and altruism of the European project are more a wish than a reality. That every state – large and small – has its own interests that it immediately remembers as soon as any problem arises, giving them preference over the interests of a broader international grouping.
This year, more people in Europe have realized this fact. That is why my opinions held over a long period of time, for which I was upbraided for years both at home and elsewhere in Europe, are becoming part of the mainstream of today’s European discussion.
But the second – even more serious – reason why not to speak of the European Union when reflecting on the further existence and international position of the Czech state today is quite different. I wish to draw attention to a problem of which our politicians and the media have not yet taken much note, although it has fundamental importance for the future of our nation and of our state and for freedom and democracy in all of Western civilization.
It is impossible not to notice that efforts toward ‘integration’ on the part of the political elite of the largest countries of the world are shifting more and more, and at an increasingly rapid pace, from social engineering projects within countries and continents toward an intercontinental, actually global scope. Even in this respect, the present economic problems occurring in many parts of the world are serving as a catalyst and accelerator for a very problematic trend.
We are witnesses to the fact that the group of economically strongest and politically most important states of the world strives to become an informal preliminary stage of a global government. A government completely removed from democratic legitimization by the citizens – voters. A government that – whatever formal structure it might have – will de facto decide about our lives with no possibility at all for us to participate or exert any influence.
In such a world order the concept of citizenship will rapidly become extinct. However, democracy without the citizen is a contradiction in terms, and the casually proposed ‘world citizenship’ is only a mystification, a confusion of concepts, and a manipulation. History knows countless cases of a nation existing without its state. However, there can be no state without a nation. There can be no state without citizens. There can be no state without a political people that changes or corrects its present and its future via a democratic process through its elected representatives.
It is precisely toward that end, toward a world without democratic political legitimization of governments by citizens renewed again and again, that the ambitions of the deciding political, economic, and media elite of today’s world are tending. That is precisely where a new, greatly-changed future world order is now taking shape in very particular and practical ways.
If we do not take note of these tendencies in time, if we do not enter into discussions about their dangers, risks, and costs, we soon will be faced with a fait accompli. Then any reflections on the Czech statehood will be only a historical reminiscence.
To begin this serious debate is our historical obligation to the thousand-year history of our country, to previous generations who often made the highest sacrifices to it and who left us as a heritage the results of their abilities, their talents, the work of their hands, and the wealth of their thoughts. It is our obligation to the current generations, as well as to those of the future, who will progressively take over from us the relay baton of Czech statehood.
I believe that despite the complicated world in which we live the Czech state and its citizens do have a future. A future in a democratic country which, aware of its modest size and its very limited influence on European and global processes, does not overestimate its strengths, but has its pride and its self-confidence. A country which has in its democratically-elected representatives, in its political, cultural, economic, and social elite enough strength and determination to defend the space and the legacy built for us by our ancestors.
It is our obligation to ourselves, as well as to those who will come after us. And it is precisely the awareness of this obligation that should be the meaning and purpose of the Czech Republic’s national day. On which other occasion should we think about these serious issues if not on this festive day.
Václav Klaus, Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, 28 October 2010