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Opening address to the formal sitting of the European Parliament celebrating the 20th anniversary of democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe

Brussels -
Wednesday 11/11/2009
Jerzy Buzek and Václav Havel at the formal sitting of the European Parliament celebrating the 20th anniversary of democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe 
Jerzy Buzek and Václav Havel at the formal sitting of the European Parliament celebrating the 20th anniversary of democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe

Dear Colleagues,

Before we begin, I should like to say that I have exchanged views with President Havel, and I can assure you that we could not have imagined something like this 25 years ago.

(Applause)

Colleagues,

I hereby open this formal sitting celebrating the 20th anniversary of democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe.


President Havel,
President-in-Office of the European Council, Prime Minister of Sweden,
President of the European Commission,
Fellow Members,
Colleagues,
Distinguished Guests,

Today we are celebrating a very special anniversary and welcoming here to this House a man who has had a major influence on Europe's history.

Two days ago, we watched the Wall fall for a second time in Berlin. This time, in the symbolic form of dominoes. Today, Parliament is playing host to a man who was one of those who, twenty years ago, set those dominoes falling - a writer, an intellectual and a wonderful human being. A friend to all those fighting for freedom and human rights wherever they do not exist - President Václav Havel. Dear Václav, welcome!

(Applause)

Let us not forget that communism was overthrown by ordinary people: workers, academics, writers; millions of people behind the Iron Curtain who never gave in to oppression. Their only weapons against the tanks were a strong heart and great determination. They took many risks during the decades of subjugation, but triumphed in the end. Because people's dreams are stronger than concrete walls; than murderous political systems. But an important role was also played by those who helped them from the other side of the Iron Curtain, letting those in the East know that they were not alone. It was thanks to all of those many people that the historic reconciliation between East and West, the reunification of Europe, was possible. Václav Havel was, and remains, a hero to them all.

In 1989, students in my country came out into the streets to call for Václav Havel's release. Václav Havel became soon after the President of a free Czechoslovakia; President of both Czechs and Slovaks and a hero to both.

Just as 21 years previously, in 1968, when independence was emerging in Czechoslovakia, the common hero of both Slovaks and Czechs was the Slovak Alexander Dubček.


Mr President, Dear Václav,

In 1987, an underground press printed two of your plays. The cover has lodged itself in my memory, with its sketch of a small, sad man, who looks bereft and poorly equipped for life. He is holding two fingers up in a victory sign. A small, totally insignificant man. The clear message is that every human being is born free and should be entitled to live a free life. That is the major challenge for our Parliament - a parliament representing free Europeans.

I should now like to show you a short film reminding us of the events that took place in Europe two decades ago.


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Václav Havel is here with us today.

Václav Havel started writing at a very early age, and never stopped, not even during his four terms of imprisonment covering a total of five years. His writing has always been straightforward and honest; sensitive and beautiful.

Charter 77 was born as a means of cooperating between the Czechoslovakian and Polish opposition movements, and later those of other Eastern Bloc countries. Václav Havel was the main driving force behind the movement. He pursued the truth with courage and great modesty. Just like Zbigniew Herbert, a poet who opposed the regime and who wrote: 'We had a shred of the necessary courage, but fundamentally it was a matter of taste'.

I congratulate you, Václav, on never having lacked good taste!


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Václav Havel!

(Applause)

* * *

(Address by President Václav Havel)

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If the Sacharov Prize had existed thirty years ago, Václav, you would have been the obvious candidate for it. Fortunately, today you no longer need this prize, because there is no old Europe and new Europe any longer. There is just one Europe. It is our duty today as politicians to honour the values of reconciliation and solidarity on which the Union has been built. Let us do all we can to ensure that we do not forget them.

Thank you very much once again, President Havel. Thank you, Prime Minister, Minister, President-in-Office of the Council, President Barroso and Madam Commissioner, for being with us.

Václav, your visit to the European Parliament is very important for us. Our doors are always open to our European heroes. Thank you very much for coming. We will remember your address. All the best to you.

(Applause)