Speech of the President of the Republic Petr Pavel at the Forum 2000 Conference
Well, thank you for the generous introduction.
Dear President Sandu, Minister Lipavský, distinguished guests and all the friends of democracy,
I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this well renowned conference.
Forum 2000 has always played a unique role in the public debate. Not only as a legacy of Václav Havel, as mentioned, one of the founding fathers. But also as a crucial platform for raising our voices and speaking out in defence of universal human rights around the world.
In the early years, the goal was to bring together the world’s thinkers and leaders to identify the complex challenges facing humanity at the turn of the millennium. The list of speakers who had the privilege of attending the Forum is still impressive today.
The Forum has brought key debates on the value of democracy even at the time when our own politicians sometimes downplayed the visibility, or even the importance, of human rights and democracy, a long-standing pillar of the Czech foreign policy.
Fortunately, Czechia has always been built on a strong and engaged civil society. A civil society committed to the responsibility for supporting human rights and human rights activists, free media and independent journalists and prisoners of conscience around the world. Just as other countries supported our own struggle for democracy under communism, after its fall in Czechoslovakia in 1989 we soon realised that it was, and still is, our time to help others.
By working closely with many domestic and international NGOs, we have shared our own unique experience of transformation from a totalitarian to a democratic society. It was never a straightforward path and we certainly made some mistakes. But we have learnt our lessons and that I believe makes us credible.
Looking out to the audience, I see many brave people who do not hesitate to stand up for their rights – and the rights of others – granted by international law but denied to them by their own governments. You are the ones who understand and define the true cost of freedom. It is your personal courage and sacrifice that remind us of how precious and fragile the concept of democracy is.
The enemies of freedom might argue that spreading the ideal of democracy is actually an attempt to decide the fate and future of other countries and thus the undesired interference into their domestic developments. But this has never been the case, because in democracy, this power is reserved exclusively to the people. However, it is our moral obligation to do everything we can to help create the best possible conditions for good and inclusive governance.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of founding of my country, the Czech Republic. It may seem like a long time ago. But our own current experience with disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare shows that democracy is vulnerable and under permanent pressure and can never be taken for granted.
Over the last decades, Czechia has focused its effort on development and transformation of cooperation in countries, which have gone through a similar process as we did in the 90s. However, more and more, the need to defend democracy is growing also within our own democratic societies.
Critical debate and fact-based decision-making are constantly disrupted by narratives based on lies, the rapid spread of disinformation and incitement of hatred. This is extremely dangerous. Not only do they undermine the cohesion of our societies based on mutual respect, trust and the rule of law, but in the long term, they also undermine our security and prosperity.
Yet, the current challenges in defending democracy should not have come as a surprise. Václav Havel foretold this predicament when he spoke of “the natural disadvantage of democracy, which ties the hands of those who wish it well and opens up unlimited possibilities for those who do not take it seriously”.
To untie our hands, we need to improve engagement with our citizens, rebuild trust, invest into better education. And I am convinced that our goal is not a mission impossible. History has proven that the longing for freedom is stronger than desire for oppression.
Our fundamental rights and freedoms have always been the cornerstone of our prosperity and security. We need to have a substantial discussion on how to preserve our freedom of speech and open society while strengthening the resilience of our democracies – in particular with the growing influence of technologies on our perceptions of reality. We also need to make it absolutely clear that freedom of speech goes hand in hand with responsibility and can never be taken as carte blanche.
Looking at the programme of this conference, I am very pleased that these are exactly the topics that will be addressed this year.
Throughout my career, I have learnt that you can achieve much more if you cooperate with others. I believe this applies not only to people, but also to the governments. The end of globalisation as we know it requires that we do not isolate ourselves and put even more emphasis on working with all our partners around the globe.
Promoting an alliance of democratic societies will lead to a more proactive and cooperative approach in areas of our strategic interest.
New challenges such as climate change and cyber threats require increased efforts and capabilities.
At the UN General Assembly, I had an opportunity to listen to and to speak with number of the world leaders and learn first-hand about the complex realities of other countries they are currently facing. My own lesson learned is that we must keep telling our story to other people. And at the same time we have to carefully listen and try to understand their own stories.
Sharing our unique experience is the best way how to explain our views and policies without patronising. It is also the best way not to allow anyone to rewrite, erase or alter our history.
Like many of you, I truly believe in the universal concept of freedom, human rights and democracy. Our strategic competitors are working hard to undermine these values. Unity, dialogue and cooperation is what make us stronger and resilient against any kind of threat.
Our values are the same values that Ukraine is fighting for right now and I hope that President Zelensky will soon return to this forum in person – as President of a free, sovereign and whole Ukraine. Terror is unacceptable, be it in Ukraine or in the Middle East, and needs to be resolutely confronted. Hatred and violence have never led to lasting peace and prosperity. And we must ensure they will never prevail in our world.
Ladies and gentlemen, preserving democracy is our common responsibility. Its future is in our hands. Together, we should strive to ensure that next year, we will meet under more positive circumstances. I wish you a very productive, thought-provoking debate.
And I promise that as a President I will do everything in my power not to let democracy down.
Petr Pavel, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague, 16th of October 2023