`We've lost something special'

SUN JOURNAL

Speech: The Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel left the presidency this week, evoking memories of the Velvet Revolution and his country's spirit as communism fell.

February 07, 2003

A huge heart was hung atop the 1,000-year-old Prague Castle in November, and it beat in a great splash of red neon until Czech President Vaclav Havel left office Sunday.

Jiri David, the artist who created the 56-foot-by-56-foot neon sculpture, installed it over the president's headquarters to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in what was once Czechoslovakia.

"A heart is a symbol of love, understanding and decency," Havel said when he switched on the heart, "and that was something that accompanied our Velvet Revolution."

Havel, a playwright who was imprisoned for five years for his political views, was widely credited with keeping the Velvet Revolution peaceful. While being jailed, harassed and pressured to emigrate, Havel had electrified the nation with writing that radiated courage and truth, the Associated Press wrote in a recent dispatch.

In December 1989, Havel went from dissident spokesman to president-elect after the revolution brought about the collapse of the Communist regime.

The ensuing years were difficult as the Czech Republic tried to throw off the effects of 40 years of communism.

As time passed, journalist Jana Ciglerova told the AP, Czechs' reaction turned cynical, to something like: "Stop talking about all the love you have in your heart and explain to me instead why oranges are so expensive."

Ciglerova looked at the past 13 years with Havel this way: "Over the years, he lost his innocence, as have the Czech people. Everything is more pragmatic now. Only after he leaves will we realize how different he was, how different we were, and how, with him gone, we've lost something special."

Following is an excerpt from Havel's address to the nation as he assumed the presidency Jan. 1, 1990:

My dear fellow citizens, for 40 years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.

I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nation is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need.

A state which calls itself a workers' state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as 72nd in the world.

We have polluted the soil, rivers and forests bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and we have today the most contaminated environment in Europe. Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries. ...

But all this is still not the main problem. The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore one another, to care only about ourselves.

Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships.

Only a few of us were able to cry out loudly that the powers that be should not be all-powerful and that the special farms, which produced ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them, should send their produce to schools, children's homes and hospitals if our agriculture was unable to offer them to all.

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 this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own country, to the nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning was not clear to anyone. It could not do more than slowly but inexorably wear out itself and all its nuts and bolts.

When I talk about the contaminated moral atmosphere ... I am talking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all - though naturally to differing extents - responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery. None of us is just its victim. We are all also its co-creators.

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