Speech of Vaclav Havel in the European Parliament

Thank you for your invitation and the opportunity to speak to you as we mark the twentieth anniversary of the dramatic breaking down of the closed borders, the cutting of the barbed wire, the demolishing of walls between the European nations, and, in the case of Germany, of the wall dividing two parts of the same nation. It was the end of the bipolar division not only of Europe, but, to a large measure, of the world as a whole. At was such a historically important moment that various people had the impression that henceforth calm would reign and the world would simply flourish.

vaclavhavel Vaclav Havel.

That didn’t happen. History did not come to end, of course. And that makes it even more important to treat the present anniversary not only as an invitation to reflect on the present but above all as a challenge to consider the future. I will contribute to that reflection five remarks on the theme of European unification.

(1) No one was completely prepared for such a rapid collapse of the Iron Curtain. Nor could they have been. It would have been unnatural. And so there ensued a phase of perplexity, a search for various alternatives, and uncertainty. Then NATO took the bold step of accepting new members, which had the effect of anchoring them and helped them concentrate on preparing to join the European Union. Subsequently the EU did indeed start to open its doors to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. From time to time those countries cause it headaches of various kinds. But that is perfectly understandable. A democratic political culture cannot be created or renewed overnight. It takes a lot of time and in the meantime there are plenty of unanticipated problems to be solved. Communism ruled just once in modern times (and, hopefully, for the last time), so the phenomenon of post-Communism was also a novelty. We had to confront the consequences of the rule of fear that lasted for so many years, as well as all the dangers related to a redistribution of property without precedent in history. So there were and are lots of obstacles and we are only now acquiring experience of such a state of affairs.

I believe, nonetheless, that the West went about things in the right way. Any other approach would have given rise to even more anxieties for it and it would also have been more costly. Not only could it have seriously triggered a new struggle over spheres of influence, or the actual domination of one group by another, but the states that remained outside the western gates would most likely have turned into a stamping ground for various nationalists and populists, along with their armed militias, and also possibly a place of dangerous local conflicts, which would be all the more dangerous in that, for well-known reasons, no real peace conference took place after World War II to decide on a binding, precise and lasting post-war settlement in Europe. I think that many of those who until recently wielded a flag with a hammer and sickle would be capable, without much ado, of reaching for a national flag instead. We were able to see where that path could lead in the former Yugoslavia. But demons, as is well known, always awaken other demons. So no one can tell whether that contagion would not soon infect the western half of Europe. And we live in a period of history, when, as a result of globalisation, any local conflict could easily develop into a world war.

So the approach adopted was the most natural in historical terms, and the most advantageous in practical terms. Moreover, it was an approach that could also be interpreted as an expression of thoughtful shared responsibility for the way things had evolved in the recent past, which were partly due, in their origins, to short-sighted concessions on the part of the democratic world. To sum up then: however bothersome we might have been to the European Union up to the present, it is worth putting up with it, because any alternative to the course of events to date would most likely have been much worse and more dangerous. In the circumstances, all one can ask of Europe is patience and understanding.

However, the question is what can we offer Europe. It has long been my opinion that after what we underwent at the time of the totalitarian system, we ought – or we are duty-bound even – to explain to others in a convincing manner what we went through, and make specific suggestions based on its various implications. It is not an easy task and I am not sure we’ve made a good job of it to date. The point is that totalitarian or authoritarian forms of government tend to have very inconspicuous beginnings and employ very ingenious means of controlling society. Only now, in hindsight, do many of us realise how deviously they were entangled in the totalitarian web. That all obliges us to be particularly circumspect. It should be the way we can help guarantee that what we endured will never be repeated.

  What does it require?

Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those  confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences– even if only in the long term, or indirectly. One must not retreat in the face of evil, because it is in the nature of evil to take advantage of every concession. Besides, Europe has already had its own unfortunate experience of appeasement policies. Our support can help open-minded people or outspoken witnesses to the situation in North Korea, Burma, Iran, Tibet, Belarus, Cuba or anywhere else, much more than we think. But it will help us too. It will help us build a better world and also to be more true to ourselves; in other words, to put into practice the values that we proclaim in general terms.

Recently the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to Memorial, the Russian association that monitors how human rights are respected in Russia. I think that was an important act. I recall how important it once was in my country when the French President invited us – the opposition – to a working breakfast during his state visit  – against the wishes of the state leadership. These are only seemingly superficial matters. That is how things operate in totalitarian regimes: a single breakfast or a single suppressed student demonstration can – in certain circumstances – set history moving

(2) Our identity is created not only by what is unique to us as individuals, but also by certain so-called shared layers of identity. The identity of each of us is moulded, to a greater or lesser extent, by our membership of family, community, region, firm, church, association, political party, nation, sphere of civilisation, and, last but not least, of the planetary community. All this has to do with various sorts of homes we can have: based on geographical location, or on opinion, language and ethnic or other grouping. These all help create us. It is also connected with our various types of ownership, our goals, our affinities, inclinations, our sources of pride, our emblems, traditions, customs, habits and peculiarities. In short, the world is full of diversity, and that is equally true of humankind and each one of us.

  These shared affiliations are also the origin of shared sovereignty, of course. At each level of our identities we have a certain measure of sovereignty, but at none of them do we have absolute sovereignty, nor can we have. The only thing that matters is that these sovereignties should be mutually complementary and that, as far as possible, they should not contradict each other.

I’m sure you have an inkling of why I am following this train of thought at this particular time: after all, to a large extent, the debates about the European constitution and the Lisbon Treaty centre on the issue of what should be the relationship between national and European sovereignty.

  The answer is obvious: the two should complement each other.     After all, the fact that I feel myself to be a European doesn’t mean that I stop being a Czech. On the contrary: as a Czech I am also a European. I tend to say somewhat poetically that Europe is the “homeland of our homelands”.

At the same time I am convinced that European sovereignty will gradually grow stronger in the future. At what tempo I cannot say. Nor do I know what sort of circuitous route it will take. But I do know that the process of integration must continue, because it is in the fundamental, nay existential, interest of everyone, not just the Europeans.

  The reasons are obvious: we are part of a single global civilisation in which it matters little whether the owner of a fishing business in Greenland lives in Taiwan and owns part of a bank in Brazil, or that the owner of mines in the Czech Republic runs his operations from a computer in Iceland. In such a context various supranational or continental associations will play increasingly important roles. This is not the end of nation states, neither now nor in the future. They will simply continue to associate and act together in many respects. Technological and economic developments will quite simply demand it. On the other hand, at a time when the world is heading for ominous unification, the establishment of various smaller associations of states and nations, sharing certain affinities, can be instruments for ensuring better protection of their national or regional identities.

The gradual and non-coercive grouping of states naturally strengthens peaceful coexistence as well. Or perhaps the majority of wars in recent centuries were not wars between nation states? How better to restrain various national demons than by practical co-operation among nations?    However, the only way the principle of multilayer sovereignty can be accepted is if there is civic and political identification with it. I have observed that in our country – and most likely in many other countries too – people talk about “us” - in my case Czechs – and “them”, “them” meaning some wicked foreigners in Brussels – as if we weren’t in Brussels too! This division into “us” as people who are by definition good, on the one hand, and some evil “them”, who want to harm us at all costs, on the other, is evidence of just one thing: scant understanding of the very principle of integration. So that too is something that needs to be tackled with patience.

We are all in the same boat and that boat is steering a good course. And it will continue to do so, so long as all its passengers share the responsibility and do not play their own game and are follow their private interests. Shouting about unspecified national interests, which is simply a cover for lack of self-confidence, is not the way to acquire prestige or a unique position in an existing community. That can be achieved only by purposeful interaction with others and involvement in the common cause. 

(3)  For many centuries Europe was the centre of civilisation on this planet, and even if it wasn’t, it definitely thought it was. It therefore felt entitled to export its culture, its religion and its inventions to the entire world regardless of whether or not anyone wanted them. Besides, on numerous occasions, the export of those values was linked with violence. In fact one can go so far as to say that the entire civilisation of modern times originated in Europe, not only in terms of the splendid things it has done for the world but equally as regards its present short-sightedness.  

That should all be a lesson for Europe, which should find a new way to draw inspiration therefrom. In other words, not imposing things on the world but simply by seeking to be a source of inspiration. Quite simply by offering an example that others can follow, but are not obliged to.

It would be hard to find on this planet a region where so many nations or ethnic groups are concentrated, not to mention all the minorities and minorities within minorities. Nevertheless over recent decades Europe has managed to create maybe the firmest supranational union in the world today. And yet – and this is the most important thing – this union did not come into existence - as invariably in the past - as a result of the conquest of the weaker by the mighty. On the contrary it was the product of pragmatic agreement. Thus integration shifted from the battlefield to the conference hall. If nothing else, then this alone can serve as a challenge to the rest of the world.   I have mentioned the increased significance of supranational entities in today’s world. What I see as the optimal political order in the coming decades is the creative co-operation and partnership of these larger supranational or continental entities based on a certain common minimum, one that is more moral than political.

  However, if these relationships are to be meaningful, they must be based on two fundamental principles: total mutual equality and maximum sincerity. A relationship in which, for some practical reasons – such as fear that deliveries of crude oil or gas might be disrupted – people place blinkers on their eyes and forget about all the open-minded journalists who have been murdered or about many other similar negative phenomena - even though in other circumstances they would readily speak of them - is not a relationship of partnership, because it is based on duplicity. Real partners must be capable of speaking their mind fully to each other, speaking the whole truth, in other words, and they must also be capable of listening to it all.

European integration, thanks to which the greater part of our continent has lived so long at peace, truly is a unique attempt at the democratic union of states. It is not a pure federation, let alone a traditional confederation, nor will it be soon. It is simply something new. Hopefully it is an experiment that will prove instructive for others too!

But that’s not the main thing. It is my belief that the European Union has a chance to inspire the rest of the world with something much profounder than its model of international co-operation I refer to the consistent striving to remedy all the questionable things with which Europe predetermined or influenced the entire character of contemporary civilisation. It is a trend that is possibly beginning to happen.

What I have in mind is the shift away from the cult of profit at all costs and regardless of its long-term and irreversible consequences, a shift away from the cult of quantitative growth and “growth of growth”, a shift away from the primitive ideal of catching up with or outstripping America or China or anyone else, as well as a shift away from the perilously haphazard settlement of the Earth and the mindless plunder of the planet without regard for the environment or the interests of future generations. I’m referring, of course, to the ingenious saving of energy, when the success of a state is not measured by the growth of its consumption but its reduction.

This is only conceivable, however, if something starts to change in the very soul of present-day Europeans. In the light of the latest cosmological discoveries they really ought to show a bit more humility, and give some thought to what will happen after their deaths. They ought to show deference to the mystery of the universe and of being per se – in short, they ought to renew a greater relationship with eternity and infinity, as was once the case in the initial phases of European development. We should give serious thought to the fact that nothing that has happened can unhappen, that the memory of everything is retained somewhere, even if only in the form of flying light – and therefore nothing is forgiven for ever.

But to return to the question of Europe as a partner of others: the overwhelming majority of wars in the known history of humankind were wars over frontiers or territorial boundaries. This is an important lesson: not only nation states but also supranational communities should have a clear awareness of the extent of their territory. Fuzzy or disputed boundaries are often the source of misfortune. That is something the European Union should bear in mind too. That is why it should also be clear about its external borders. If it wants to break down borders then it must first realise where it is located. So it should support the idea of geographical self-identification on a broader, i.e. planetary scale. That would also constitute an important and very specific contribution towards what we all yearn for: peace among the peoples and nations of this planet.

(4) In European debates, the topic of shared sovereignty is most frequently raised in connection with the institutional organisation of the EU. I respect the energy devoted by the EU to this issue in recent years, as well as the successes it has achieved. For that very reason I will make so bold as to view this question as well from a longer term perspective.

 This parliament in which you sit, is directly elected, and the number of seats held by the individual states is intended to correspond to their size. I think the European Parliament should have somewhat greater powers than it does at present, since it is the only body elected directly by all Europeans. Thus legislative activity should shift more distinctly from the executive authority to the legislative authority. The European Parliament must not be allowed to appear to anyone as some costly embellishment of the EU.

However, it is my belief that in the future another, smaller body could come into existence, to which national parliaments would elect representatives, with each member state represented by the same number of members. In this or a similar fashion it would be possible to solve two issues at once: Firstly, it would eliminate the feeling manifested  in various national parliaments that they are excluded from European decision making. Secondly, it would ensure there existed one EU body  in which the absolute equality of all member countries would be guaranteed. A body such as this would meet only on the rarest of occasions, of course, only when a certain number of members requested it, and only in respect of matters requiring a consensus. Moreover, such a solution would mean that the composition of the Commission would not have to be based on a complicated national ratio, and the Council of Europe would not have to count its votes in such a complicated fashion. I must admit that, as I far I personally am concerned, it is more important for the commissioners to be proper specialists in their fields than for them to be my compatriots at all costs, let alone fellow party members.

As far as the Council of Europe is concerned, it is currently an odd amalgam of executive and representative authority. Its status should also be clarified. It seems to me that it ought to be something like the specific status of heads of state in a parliamentary democracy, in other words, it should be a sort of semi-concealed and semi-overt collective head of the union of states, whose visible representative, intelligible to all, would naturally be an individual, the President, whose existence is already reckoned on in the Lisbon Treaty, and who is of great importance: we should bear in mind that wherever some sort of collective state leadership emerges, there is generally a risk of its collapse. I don’t suggest that this necessarily applies to supranational communities, but I feel nonetheless, that somewhere there should be just one single human face representing that entire complex machinery, one that would ensure a better understanding of it all.

On numerous occasions I have indicated that I think it would be splendid if, sometime in the future, there existed a short, intelligible and readable European Constitution, understandable even to schoolchildren, while the rest, which already amounts to thousands of pages, would simply be addenda to it. Naturally, part and parcel of such a constitution, or even the very first section of it, should be a Charter of Fundamental Rights, in the shape of a text setting out the values and ideals to which the EU is attached, which it seeks to be in accord with, and which it bears in mind when taking its decisions.

 (5) Seen from a distance, the European Union looks like a very technocratic body dealing solely with economics and money. That never-ending quibbling over the budget, quotas, customs duties, trading rules and the various regulations is probably necessary and I do not disdain it in the least. What is more, I actually think that the proverbial recommendations or standards regarding the cooking of goulash – the usual target of Eurosceptic scorn – are intended more as protection of something Czech or Hungarian, rather than an attack on a given member state and its identity.

Nevertheless, I believe that the EU should place greater and more evident stress on the things are truly of foremost importance, namely its spiritual foundations and values. After all, this is an unprecedented attempt to build a large and original supranational community on the basis of respect for human freedoms and human dignity, on a foundation of genuine and not simply ostensible or formal democracy, trusting in common sense, decency, and the power of equal dialogue within this community and with anyone else. And also based, of course, on respect for individual nations, for their traditions and achievements, for to the lands they inhabit, for their homes and the landscape in which they are located. And also, of course, on respect for human rights and on human solidarity.

Europe’s rich spiritual and cultural history – combining elements of Antiquity, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment - has created an array of indisputable values, to which the European Union pays lip service, but which it often regards simply as pretty packaging for the things that really matter. But aren’t these values what really matter, and are not they, on the contrary, what give direction to all the rest?

I’m not advocating anything revolutionary or radical here. I am simply advocating deeper reflection about the very foundations of European unification, a more emphatic cultivation of our Europeanness, and an articulated relationship to the moral order that transcends the world of our immediate benefit, or a world of mere prosperity going in no particular direction and determined solely by quantitative indicators.

For twenty years now, Europe is no longer severed in half. I firmly believe that it will never again allow itself to be divided, but, on the contrary, it will provide scope and initiative for ever deeper solidarity and co-operation. My wish is that Schiller’s Ode to Joy should cease to be for us and our descendants simply a poem celebrating friendship among people and be transformed instead into a powerful symbol of our common striving for a more humane world.

Brussels, 11.11.2009Vse objave