1990 New Year’s Speech
One outcome of the Velvet Revolution, which began twenty-five years ago this month, is that in late Deccember, 1989, Havel was elected president of his country. On New Year’s Day, 1990, he gave his first “state-of-the-nation” address to the country on national television.
“New Year’s Address to the Nation,’ January 1, 1990
“For forty years on this day, you heard, from my predecessors, variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many millions of tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspective were unfolding before us.
I assume do did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.
Our country is not flourishing. . . . Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state that calls itself a workers’ state humiliates and exploits workers. . . . A country once proud of it educational standards now spends so little on education that it ranks seventy-second in the world. We have contaminated the soil, rivers, and forests bequeathed to us by our ancestors. . . . Adults in our country die earlier than in most other European countries. . . .
But all this is not the main problem. The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we got used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only for ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, and forgiveness lost their depth and dimensions. . . . The previous regime . . . reduced man to a force of production and nature to a tool of production. . . . It reduced gifted an autonomous people to nuts and bolts in some monstrously huge, noisy, and stinking machine, whose real purpose was not clear to anyone. . . .
When I talk about the contaminated moral atmosphere . . . I am speaking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unalterable fact of life, and thus we helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all––though naturally to differing extents––responsible for the operation of totalitarian machinery. None of us its just its victim; we are all its co-creators. . . .
Masaryk based his politics on morality. Let us try, in a new time and in a new way, to restore this concept of politics. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics should be an expression of the desire to contribute to the happiness of the community rather than of a need to cheat or rape the community. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics can be not only the art of the possible, especially if “the possible” includes the art of speculation, calculation, intrigue, secret deals, and pragmatic maneuvering, but that it can also be the art of the possible, that is, the art of improving ourselves and the world. . . .
You may ask what kind of a republic I dream of. Let me reply: I dream of a republic independent, free, and democratic, of a republic economically prosperous and yet socially just; in short, a humane republic which serves the individual and which therefore holds the hope that the individual will serve it in turn. Of a republic of well-rounded people, because without such people it is impossible to solve any of our problems, human, economic, ecological, social, or political.”
“The Art of the Impossible,” pp. 3-9