Havel, Vaclav: The Power of Dreaming

Speech to Council of Europe Assembly, Strasbourg, 10 May 1990.

havel[The collapse of Communism in central and eastern Europe revealed a deep longing among the newly liberated populations to reunite with the European mainstream. This longing was articulated by Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and dissident leader, in a speech which he made as President of Czechoslovakia to the Assembly of the Council of Europe. His concept of a European Confederation did not materialize, but all the former Communist states, except Serbia, became members of the Council of Europe, and ten of them (including the two successor states to Czechoslovakia, which underwent a ‘velvet divorce’ in 1993) subsequently applied for membership of the European Union. Membership negotiations began in March 1998 for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, and in February 2000 for Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. The first of these candidates will probably be admitted in 2004.]

The 12 stars in the emblem of the Council of Europe symbolize – among other things – the rhythmical passage of time, with its 12 hours in the day and 12 months in the year. The emblem of the institution in which I now have the honour of speaking strengthens my conviction that I am speaking to people who are acutely aware of the sudden acceleration of time that we are witnessing in Europe today, people who understand someone like myself who not only wants time to go faster but actually has a duty to project this acceleration into political action.

If you will bear with me, I shall once again try some thinking aloud on this subject in a place that is perhaps the environment best suited to such reflections. Let me start with my personal experience.

Throughout my life, whenever my thoughts have turned to social affairs, politics, moral questions and life in general, there has always been some reasonable person ready to point out sooner or later, very reasonably and in the name of reason, that I should be reasonable too, cast aside my eccentric ideas, and acknowledge that nothing can change for the better because the world is divided once and for all into two worlds. Both halves are content with this division and neither wants to change anything. It is pointless to behave according to one’s conscience because no one can change anything and those people who do not want a war should just keep quiet.

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