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'WE HAVE BECOME MORALLY ILL' CZECH PRESIDENT DROPS USUAL GOVERNMENT LINE

'WE HAVE BECOME MORALLY ILL' CZECH PRESIDENT DROPS USUAL GOVERNMENT LINE

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Vaclav Havel is the long-banned playwright who last month became president of Czechoslovakia. The following is excerpted from his New Year's Day speech. By VACLAV HAVELDear fellow citizens:For the past 40 years on this day you have heard my predecessors utter different variations on the same theme, about how our country is prospering, how many more billion tons of steel we have produced, how happy we all are, how much we trust our government and what beautiful prospects lie ahead of us. I do not think you put me into this office so that I, of all people, should also lie to you.

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

The state, which calls itself a state of the working people, is humiliating and exploiting the workers. Our outdated economy is squandering energy, of which we are in short supply. A country which could once be proud of the standard of education of its people spends so little on education that today it occupies 72nd place in the world.

We have laid waste to our soil and the rivers and the forests that our forefathers bequeathed to us, and we have the worst environment in the whole of Europe today. Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries.

But not even all of that is the most important thing. The worst thing is that we are living in a decayed 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, and for many of us they represent merely some kind of psychological idiosyncrasy, or appear to be some kind of stray relic from times past, something rather comical in the era of computers and space rockets.

Attacking our very essence Few of us managed to cry out that the powerful should not be all-powerful, and that the special farms which produce ecologically sound and high-quality foodstuffs for them should send their produce to the schools, children's hostels and hospitals, since our agriculture is not yet able to offer this to everyone.

The previous regime, armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology, denigrated man into a production force and nature into a production tool. In this way it attacked their very essence and the relationship between them.

It made talented people who were capable of managing their own affairs and making an enterprising living in their own country into cogs in some kind of monstrous, ramshackle, smelly machine whose purpose no one can understand. It can do nothing more than slowly but surely wear itself down, along with all the cogs in it.All of us have become accustomed to the totalitarian system, accepted it as an inalterable fact and thereby kept it running. In other words, all of us are responsible, each to a different degree, for keeping the totalitarian machine running. None of us is merely a victim of it, because all of us helped to create it together.

Don't forget the legacy Why do I mention this? It would be very unwise to see the sad legacy of the past 40 years as something alien to us, handed down to us by some distant relatives. On the contrary, we must accept this legacy as something which we have brought upon ourselves.

If we can accept this, then we will understand it is up to all of us to do something about it. We cannot lay all the blame on those who ruled us before, not only because this would not be true but also because it could detract from the responsibility each of us now faces-the responsibility to act on our own initiative, freely, sensibly and quickly.

Throughout the world, people are surprised that the acquiescent, humiliated, skeptical Czechoslovak people who apparently no longer believed in anything suddenly managed to find the enormous strength in the space of a few weeks to shake off the totalitarian system in a completely decent and peaceful way.

We ourselves are also surprised at this, and we ask where the young people, in particular, who have never known any other system, find the source of their aspirations for truth, freedom of thought, political imagination, civic courage and civic foresight.

How is it that their parents, the generation which was considered lost, also joined in with them? How is it even possible that so many people immediately grasped what had to be done, without needing anyone else's advice or instructions?

Man isn't just a product I think that this hopeful aspect of our situation today has two main reasons. Above all, man is never merely a product of the world around him, he is always capable of striving for something higher, no matter how systematically this ability is ground down by the world around him.

Second, the humanistic and democratic traditions - which are often spoken about in such a hollow way - nonetheless lay dormant somewhere in the subconscious of our nations (ethnic groupings) and national minorities, and were passed on quietly from one generation to the next in order for each of us to discover them within us when the time was right, and to put them into practice.

Of course, for our freedom today we also had to pay a price. Many of our people died in prison in the '50s, many were executed, thousands of human lives were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of talented people were driven abroad. Those who defended the honor of our nations in the war were persecuted, as were those who resisted totalitarian government, and those who simply managed to remain true to their own principles and think freely.

None of those who paid the price in one way or another for our freedom today should be forgotten. Independent courts should justly assess the appropriate guilt of those responsible, so that the whole truth about our recent past comes out into the open.

Neither should we forget that other nations paid an even higher price for their freedom today, and thus they also paid indirectly for us too. The rivers of blood which flowed in Hungary, Poland, Germany and recently also in such a horrific way in Romania, as well as the sea of blood shed by the nations of the Soviet Union, should not be forgotten, primarily because all human suffering affects every human being.

Great moral stake But more than that, they must not be forgotten because it was these great sacrifices which weaved the tragic backdrop for today's freedom or gradual liberation of the nations of the Soviet bloc, and the backdrop of our newly charged freedom too.

Without the changes in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and the GDR, the developments in our country could hardly have happened, and if they had happened, they surely would not have had such a wonderful peaceful character. The fact that we had favorable international conditions, of course, does not mean that anyone was helping us directly in those weeks. For centuries, in fact, both our nations have risen up by themselves, without relying on any help from more powerful states or big powers.

This, it seems to me, is the great moral stake of the present moment. It contains the hope that in the future we will no longer have to suffer the complex of those who are permanently indebted to someone else.

Now it is up to us alone whether this hope comes to fruition, and whether our civic, national and political self-confidence reawakens in a historically new way.

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