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  • "People, Your Government Has Returned to You!"
  • Václav Havel (bio)

My dear fellow citizens. For the past 40 years on this day you have heard my predecessors utter variations on the same theme: how our country is prospering, how many more million tons of steel we have produced, how happy we all are, how much we trust our government, and how bright our prospects are. I do not think you appointed me to this office so that I, too, should lie to you.

Our country is not prospering. The great creative and spiritual potential of our nation is not being used to its fullest. Whole sectors of industry are producing things which no one wants, while the things we need are lacking.

The state, which calls itself a state of the working people, humiliates and exploits the workers. Our antiquated economy squanders energy, which is in short supply. A country which could once be proud of the educational attainments of its citizens today spends so little on education that it ranks seventy-second in the world. We have spoiled the land, rivers, and forests that our forefathers bequeathed to us, and we now have the most contaminated environment in the whole of Europe. Adults in our country die younger than in most other European countries.

Allow me to tell you about a little personal experience of mine. [End Page 99] Flying to Bratislava recently for various meetings, I found time to look out the window. I saw the Slovnaft chemical complex and the suburb of Pertrzalka immediately beyond it. The sight was enough for me to understand that for decades our political leaders had not looked—or did not even want to look—out the windows of their planes. None of the statistics available to me would have enabled me to understand more quickly or more easily the situation we have gotten ourselves into.

Yet none of this is the main problem. What is worst of all is that we are living in a debased moral environment. We have become morally ill, because we have become accustomed to saying one thing and thinking another. We have learned not to believe in anything, not to have consideration for one another, and only to look after ourselves. Notions such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, and forgiveness have lost their depth and dimension. For many of us, they are now little more than psychological idiosyncrasies, or stray relics from times long past, somewhat laughable in an age of computers and spaceships. Few of us managed to cry out that those in power should not be all-powerful, and that the special farms which produce ecologically pure, high-quality foodstuffs for them should send their produce instead to schools, children's homes, and hospitals, since our agriculture is not yet able to offer this kind of produce to everyone.

The previous regime, armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology, reduced man to a force of production and nature to a tool of production. In so doing, it attacked their very essence and the relationship between them. The regime reduced a talented people, capable of managing their own affairs and making an enterprising living in their own country, to cogs in some kind of monstrous, ramshackle, smelly machine whose purpose no one could understand. The machine was capable of nothing more than slowly but inexorably wearing down itself and all its cogs.

When I talk about a debased moral environment, I do not only mean those gentlemen who eat ecologically pure vegetables and fail to look out their airplane windows. I mean all of us, because we all had become accustomed to the totalitarian system. We accepted it as an unalterable fact, and thereby kept it running. In other words, all of us are responsible, each to a different degree, for keeping the totalitarian machinery in motion. None of us is merely a victim of it, because all of us helped to create it.

Why am I saying all this? It would be very unwise to see the sad legacy of the past 40 years as something alien to us, handed down by some distant relatives. On the contrary, we must accept this legacy...


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pp. 99-105
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