The Address by the President of the Czech Republic at the Festive Decoration Ceremony
Dear Mr President Klaus, Dear Mr Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentleman,
I am happy that again we can meet here today at the occasion of the awarding of state decorations to the outstanding personalities of our society.
It has been difficult due to my illness as well as the Covid pandemic in the past two years. This makes it all the more important to acknowledge the times and days we meet here today. A war is raging not far from our borders - a war triggered by Russian aggression against Ukraine. I think that it is important to remember the people of Ukraine just at this very occasion. This is the reason why the Ukrainian flag has been raised in the castle yard today, why the Ukrainian anthem has been played for the first time and why in the invitation to today’s meeting, we asked you to help the Ukrainian refugees financially, for instance by means of the Catholic Charita organisation.
However, this is not the only thing. A female deputy of the Parliament of the Czech Republic placed a proposal to award the highest Czech decoration to Ukrainian President Mr Zelenskiy. I have decided to accept this proposal. The reason being that the Ukrainian President has shown courage and bravery, and even though the United States granted him evacuation, he remained in his country’s capital, from where he commands its defence.
This brings me to the topic that has always united us in previous years - to the topic of awarding outstanding personalities prevailingly of, although not only of, the Czech society. I am fully aware that there are far more of these personalities than we can decorate at this occasion in the Vladislav Hall. I am glad to accept proposals of both the Chambers of our Parliament. But I am equally mindful of proposals from the Czech public. And there at least several hundred such proposals every year. I always regret that it is beyond the capacity of this hall to be able to decorate them all, although they all would indisputably deserve it.
I do not wish to let the tens of today's honourees hear their biographies as they know them fully well themselves. Nevertheless, allow me to make a few observations. Among those decorated is also a man who has proven his courage. To start in the more distant past, I will commemorate the year 1938, the year of the Munich Agreement, when a member of the British Government, Duff Cooper opposed the Munich Agreement as the only minister of the British Government. It definitely required a certain amount of courage at the time.
However, courage much more significant, that meant risking one’s life, was displayed during World War II. Unfortunately, we cannot pay our homage personally to those who will obtain the Order of the White Lion today, because they are among us no more. So let us at least commemorate that they fought against German Nazism, both on the Western and Eastern Fronts. They both deserve our thanks, admiration and respect. Among the honourees there is a participant of the Prague uprising who has turned an admirable 90 years of age. There is a number of those who are celebrating their 80th birthday. Let me congratulate them from all my heart. A special tribute belongs to Professor Veselá, who is also present here today, and who is nearing an admirable 100 years of age. Unfortunately, we do not only celebrate those whose lives were marked by success, but we also remember those who suffered for their bravery. In addition to the heroes of World War II, there is, for example, general Heliodor Píka, who was executed in the year 1949, and many more personalities who were subject to discrimination and persecution by the Communist regime.
As we reach more joyous times, the present day, I am glad to bestow the highest honours on an outstanding actress, an outstanding singer, an outstanding entrepreneur or an epidemiologist who managed to cope with the first pandemic wave of Covid, and many others. I would like to say that the lives of these people, their life stories, were and have been fulfilled beyond measure. To paraphrase the Bible – their lives have been filled to the brim. I would like to thank them for that and express my profound respect, and I do believe along with the admiration of those present as well, for what these personalities have achieved.
I must mention one more aspect that Karel Kryl, among others, pointed out, and it will be no pleasant thing to hear. Karel Kryl once referred to Czechia as a country of envy; and unfortunately, there are a number of examples that prove his point. I have been astounded to learn of two somewhat bitter journalists in Lidové Noviny [a Czech newspaper] questioning the decoration of Jiřina Bohdalová [an actress] or Karel Gott [a late singer]. However, I realised that these two envious critics are basically very unhappy people as they personally have achieved so little in their lives. As one psychologist has observed, their envious criticism is a kind of revenge for their own insignificance.
There is a child psychologist among the honoured who has recently been ostracised for his statement that Greta Thunberg is a sociopathic child. I assumed that thirty years after the Velvet Revolution nobody would be ostracised for their opinion. Therefore, I do also hold Greta Thunberg to be a sociopathic child.
The most important thing is the way to approach these unhappy critics. You, who are receiving the state decorations today, will undoubtably be exposed to this criticism, and it may even hurt you. Let me give you a piece of advice - ignore them. Do not engage in any polemics with them, for as my friend and a former Minister of Culture Pavel Dostál used to say: “You do not reason with the landlady”.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we can now proceed to the decoration of the individual laureates. I do not want to trouble you with a long outline of their lives, however, let me mention one thing at the end of my speech - a paradigm that encapsulates this view. The British historian Arnold Toynbee understood history as the life achievements of prominent individuals. I dare note that these achievements could also have been of a negative nature, were they the stories of criminals. Whereas we were exposed to another philosophy of history for forty years in the past - a philosophy that understood history as an anonymous depersonalised regularity, even compared to natural causality. I am glad that era is over and we can again enliven history with its own personifications.
It is no coincidence that we have chosen the birthdate of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk for the decoration day this year. I dare claim, somewhat heretically, that there would be no independent Czechoslovakia without the activities of this undoubtedly most important political personality of our modern history. The same is true of other creators of our independency. Let us pay them our tribute and homage alike.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you all the best and I hope that we will meet again on the 28th of October this year - in a more peaceful time.
Thank you for your attention.
Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 7th March 2022