On the 10th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution

PRAGUE - Ten years ago today the Czechoslovak Communist power brutally intervened against a peaceful demonstration of students who had decided to pay tribute to the memory Jan Opletal, a student who was one of the first victims of Nazism. That intervention became the proverbial snowball that set off an avalanche. Shortly thereafter our squares filled with hundreds of thousands of people who made it clear that they had had enough of life without freedom. The regime that possessed every fathomable tool of power and controlled both the media and the entire economy began to crumble like a house of cards in the face of a peacefully, yet resolutely expressed will of the people.

Those excited days of nation-wide solidarity, courage to make sacrifices, enthusiasm and boundless joy accompanying the fall of the totalitarian regime are long gone; the ensuing years have found us grappling – sometimes more successfully, at times less so – with all the grievous consequences of the decades of Communism in our country. Myriad difficulties emerged as we reconstituted and developed political pluralism; engaged in the pursuit of a genuine rule of law; built up democratic institutions; and proceeded to transform a wholly nationalized economy into a free-market economy. Moreover – and this has proved to be the hardest part of all – we have had to deal with the pernicious legacy that the Communist period left behind in our souls and to confront all the bad things which had lain dormant in us, and which our newly acquired freedom brought to the surface of our lives.

All these day-to-day troubles, which often make us feel hopelessly vexed, are but a negligible trifle in comparison with the historic significance of the fall of Communism across the world, which was the background of the Czechoslovak November 1989. Our revolution, if I may call it that, did not fall from heaven. It was an organic component of a major process associated with the unstoppable disintegration of a system based on lies, hatred and coercion; a system that deprived people of their most fundamental rights, contravened the very essence of life and attempted to forcibly halt the progress of history under the banner of an appealing but false utopia.

It is only today, ten years later, that we are becoming fully aware of the magnitude and multiplicity of the challenges that originated in those epochal developments. The bipolar division of the world collapsed, and there came a time for the building of an entirely new, more equitable order for the world's security, politics and economy, one better befitting the new era of human liberation that followed Communism's fall.

The present calls for a new perception of the contemporary world as a multipolar, multicultural and globally interconnected entity; and, for a consistent reform of all international organizations and institutions in order that they might reflect this new understanding and are able to meet the formidable tasks of the coming period with this new spirit. Bold endeavors are needed to combat all the many evils that have resurfaced, in all their width and depth, as an aftermath of the collapse of the old structures.

I am speaking of callous nationalism and hatred amongst different communities living on this planet; organized crime possessing hitherto unseen technological means; international terrorism; the spreading drug trade; the dehumanizing effects of the fast growth of urban agglomerations; the danger that our civilization will lose control over the nuclear weapons or information systems that it has invented and over the environmental consequences of its own development; widening social differences combined with a rapid population growth and with our inability to regulate the various sophisticated forms of the globalized market economy in order that its products help to genuinely cultivate human life instead of confine it.

In short, I am convinced that the fall of Communism meant not only the liberation of millions of oppressed and humiliated human beings but, as a result of many different reasons, also a major challenge prompting our contemporary civilization to undertake a renewed and profound self-examination; to reconsider its direction and the threats it is facing; and, to look for ways of generating, or resurrecting, a sense of responsibility for itself. It is not true that there is no base to start from: Somewhere deep in the very heart of all the major religious systems of the contemporary world lies, hidden or enthralled, the same primary inspiration that gave us the courage to seek our freedom in the face of so overwhelming a monolith as the Communist system. All we need is to comprehend and embrace it.

Today, ten years after we regained our freedom, it is simply insufficient to commemorate and recapitulate those dramatic times when the old world was falling apart and a new burst of freedom appeared. Instead, we must focus on the broader implications and effects of that liberation. The first concern in our thinking must be the future. If, however, such thinking is to have a solid foundation we must not forget the past either. Nor can we forget those to whom we owe all the good things which the past bequeaths to our future.

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