Vaclav Havel, Is There a European Identity, Is there a Europe?

The basic set of European values formed by the spiritual and political history of the continent is, to my mind, clear. It consists of respect for the unique human being and humanity’s freedoms, rights and dignity; the principle of solidarity; the rule of law and equality before the law; protection of minorities; democratic institutions; separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers; political pluralism; respect for private ownership and private enterprise, and a market economy; and the furtherance of civil society. These values mirror countless modern European experiences, including the fact that our continent is now a multi-cultural crossroads.

In defining what it means to be ‘European’, a crucial task is to reflect upon the double-edged nature of what we have given the world, to realize that Europe not only taught the world about human rights, but also introduced the Holocaust; that we generated spiritual impulses not only for the industrial and information revolutions, but also to plunder and contaminate nature; that we incited the advance of science and technology, but also ruthlessly ousted essential human experiences forged over several millenniums.

The worst events of the 20th century – World Wars, Fascism, and Communist totalitarianism – were mostly Europe’s doing. During the last century, however, Europe also experienced three auspicious events, though all were not exclusively European accomplishments: the end of colonial rule; the fall of the Iron Curtain; the beginning of European integration.

A fourth great task lies ahead. Through the manner of its being, a unifying Europe must demonstrate that the dangers generated by its contradictory civilization can be combated. I would be happy if the people of my country, who are Europeans, could participate in this process of reflection, of defining a European identity, as Europeans fully recognized by Europe.


21 June 2000

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