|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at the Presentation of the 1997 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding to Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel
Dean Acheson Auditorium, Department of State
Washington, DC, October 3, 1997
Released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Thank you very much. What a tremendous pleasure it is for me to be here at this particular ceremony today, for all the reasons that you all can imagine and some of which I will state.
Dr. Geier, thank you very much for your introduction and, President Havel, it is wonderful to have you here. Mr. Isdell, it is very good that you are here for this very special occasion which you are making possible. Director Duffey. Distinguished guests.
Welcome to the State Department. It gives me great pleasure that you have made our home yours on this wonderful occasion. I am so very glad that the Fulbright Association has bestowed this year's prize on President Havel. I am happy because he is a man with whom I feel a special sense of kinship.
I think there are a lot of people who may think that I have known President Havel forever, but I didn't know him until I arrived in Prague in January, 1990. At that stage, my good friend, Jiri Dienstbier was Foreign Minister and he said, "Would you like to meet President Havel?"
I said, "Of course I would." I had gone heading up a delegation of the National Democratic Institute to look at how we could help in the first elections, and I had taken with me a book that my father had written on 20th Century Czechoslovakia. President Havel had been told that there was an American delegation coming, and I'm handing him my book of my father's and he said, "I know who you are. You're Mrs. Fulbright." And I said, "No, I'm Mrs. Albright." And so began a great friendship.
We began our lives, this wonderful man and I, in the same land with many of the same hopes. And though the circumstances of my life carried me far from the trials Vaclav Havel endured, somehow the our mysterious currents of fate have brought us together as friends and countries together as partners in a way that neither of us could ever have imagined.
We are giving him a prize because, for many years, he was considered by the authorities of his country and their bosses elsewhere to be the most dangerous kind of criminal. That's right. Vaclav Havel was a serial truth-teller, a recidivist champion of human rights, a man who so stubbornly stuck to his principles that he resisted every effort at rehabilitation until the Czech people intervened and sent him up the river to the Presidential Palace. We are giving Vaclav Havel a prize because we are the beneficiary of his wonderful crimes. Because his nation and his neighbors are free, we too are free; free now from the icy grip of the Cold War, free now to bring the world together around basic principles of democracy, open markets, law and peace.
But we do not honor Vaclav Havel simply for his role in bringing down the Berlin Wall; even more, we honor him for what he has helped to build in its place. The concrete and barbed wire that once imprisoned and suffocated Central Europe has been supplanted by the brick and mortar of democratic institutions, elected assemblies, accountable leaders, and laws that respect human rights and give civil society room to breathe. These changes are a product of political choices, yes, but also of moral choices. And it is your journey, President Havel, for moral leadership in one historical era to political responsibility in another that we honor today.
Indeed, we honor you for showing us that it's not only possible to combine these qualities, but necessary. As Senator Fulbright was famous for understanding, leaders are judged not by their power but by their use of power. It is Vaclav Havel's use of power that we applaud today.
After Vaclav Havel was elected President, he said, "Destiny has played a strange joke on me, as if it were telling me, `Since you think you're so smart, now is your chance to show everyone you have ever criticized the right way to do things.'" Vaclav, don't worry so much. Your country has restored its democratic tradition and built a modern market economy. Soon it will be a member of NATO and the European Union. Through its achievements and your eloquent voice, it has lifted our hearts and given hope to all those still striving for freedom. As we say in Washington, that's good enough for government work.
Let me also suggest to you today that the Czech Republic's journey mirrors your own, for it too is traveling a road from moral leadership to political responsibility. The Czech Republic is rejoining the community of democratic nations we used to call the West. As President Havel knows, belonging to the democratic family requires more than membership in institutions, much more than cultural affinity, even more, I dare say in this company, than drinking Coca-Cola. It requires taking responsibility for the freedom and security of others. That is what the Czech Republic will do as a full member of the NATO Alliance. That is what the Czech soldiers are doing today in Bosnia.
President Havel, you were right to remind us some years ago that the war in Bosnia was waged against our values, against our vision of what Europe should become, and I am so happy that we are now defending our values and vision together.
Once, leaders of nations came to Prague to offer the young Czech democracy reassurance, encouragement and support. Now, thanks in no small part to you, President Havel, others can look to your nation's example, encouragement, and help as well. You are a pathfinder and so is the Czech Republic and the road you are blazing. The road we are traveling together leads us as far as our common aspirations will take us and as far as the frontiers of freedom will reach.
As all of you know, I was born in Czechoslovakia, but for many years it was not a source of pride. Once President Havel took over, I was very proud to be born Czech. Congratulations, Mr. President.
[End of Document]
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