The Address of the President of the Czech Republic at the Festive Ceremony on the Occasion of Czech National Day on 28th of October


Dear President Klaus, dear President of the Senate, dear President of the Chamber of Deputies, dear Prime Minister, dear President of the Constitutional Court, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope that you will forgive me for delivering my speech from this armchair due to an intense pain in my legs. I also hope to find myself physically fitter next year.

I am highly honoured to be able to welcome you here again this year and I am equally honoured to be able to decorate about forty prominent personalities who have left a real footprint in our society, by which I do not mean a carbon footprint. In any case, let me briefly guide you through the life stories of those personalities who will be awarded the Order of the White Lion.

I will start with General Emil Boček, who has recently celebrated his ninety-sixth birthday in full vigour. However, he had approached me before that and asked me: “I have the Order of the White Lion, but of III Class. Why do I have a III Class?” I accepted his objection and told him: “Mr General, I invite you to the Vladislav Hall once again, and this time it will be I Class.” As a similar honour awaits Mr Jágr imminently, let me express my own opinion that if someone is to be awarded a state decoration, it should always be I Class. Firstly, I do not feel competent to decide on the allocation of Class, and secondly, as the instance of Mr General shows, lower Classes may be perceived in a rather intimidating way.

Regarding the other decorated, I would very much like to oblige to the government and the parliament and decorate three anti-Nazi warriors. Let me at least mention General Ečer who survived the Second World War only to be persecuted by his own people. As you surely know, he was our representative in the Nurnberg tribunal and even interrogated K. H. Frank. He died in 1954, only a day before the State Police were to come to arrest him. His wife was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment. Let this decoration be a humble plea for forgiveness.

I am proceeding to another personality who was also the target of envy, even hatred, and this is Mr Jan Antonín Baťa, the follower of Tomáš Baťa’s tradition. However, he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis, even though he had been living abroad and had been supporting the national resistance financially. Anything was excuse enough to confiscate his property. I would like to highlight the fact, and the Prime Minister knows well, that he was the author of the book “We Are Building a State for 40 Million People” – a visionary book. Jan Antonín Baťa founded two towns in Brazil and helped build a bridge over the Paraná River. A man of his managerial capabilities would have been most welcome after the Second World War, but envy won, his property was confiscated and he was charged with collaboration with the Nazis.

As every year, the decoration of the following person promotes the awareness of the unity of the Czech and Slovak nations. It is the ex-president of the Slovak Republic – Rudolf Schuster.

I am approaching the name of the last but one bearer of the Order of the White Lion today – Helmut Zilk, unfortunately in memoriam. The mature among us will probably recall that Helmut Zilk was to be awarded the Order of the White Lion in his lifetime. Then a campaign was launched accusing him of collaborating with the State Police. At Helmut Zilk’s funeral, Václav Havel apologized for the campaign and said that the Czechs had hurt Mr Zilk. It depends which Czechs. I am happy that although with a delay, I may award this Order to the ex-Mayor of Vienna who was said to be a friend of the Czechoslovaks.

The last person to be decorated, the last of the Order of the White Lion laureates today, is connected to the revolution of 1989, the thirtieth anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. A generation gap here is understandable as the young generation cannot remember the revolution.

Therefore, I would like to pay my tribute and honour to Václav Havel who stood at the head of the November revolution and was also the head of Charter 77. That twelve-year-long arch between the Charter and the establishing of the Občasnké Fórum [the Civic Forum] was filled with imprisonment, disease, but also with making a myriad of new friends who became his collaborators and who participated in the negotiations with the communist regime. They were negotiations which were successful and during which not a single tile was broken nor a drop of blood shed. A couple of years ago, I strived to award a medal to professor Valtr Komárek who was one of the collaborators of Václav Havel. I am happy today to decorate the first Minister of Finance of the post-revolutionary government and a man who has travelled an incredible political journey, as he later became Prime Minister, Chair of the Chamber of Deputies and President twice. I can never catch up with him now as I am never to become a minister of finance.

I would like to point out certain shadowed personnel when it comes to the November revolution, because we often tend to forget about people who took an indisputable part in this revolution and who can answer the well-known question: “Where were you when the lightning struck yesterday?” These people are often played down and replaced with others who were absolutely indifferent to the revolution or even opposed it. Let me present a single example. There is a man who is a record holder because he signed the Anti-Charter twice within a week’s period. This diligent anti-charter signee has recently received a Silver Medal of the Senate. And the very same Senate rejected a Charter 77 signee who stood as a candidate for the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes Board. As Václav Havel would have put it: “Such a paradox.”

These prominent and other personalities who will receive the decorations today, whose selection was not based only upon the proposal of the Parliament or the Government, but upon several hundreds of public proposals, will be introduced to you along with concise characteristics. I tried to deliver a few more detailed characteristics in the case of the highest state decorations.

Karel Kryl once said that Czechia is a country of hatred, and he was right in many ways. A country of envious people who are only able to comment on the work of others without having done their own work. I would like to quote a charming aphorism by Karel Čapek, according to whom a literary critic is a man who mentors a writer on how the critic himself would have written a book if he were able to do so. We have too many critics, but too few people working in the field. Therefore I would very much like to see the ratio of critics reduced in favour of people who create genuine values.

By way of conclusion, I would like to wish the Czech Republic not to be a country of hatred, not even of pathological hatred reverberating in social media, not to be the country of envy. I wish the Czech Republic to be a country of success.

Thank you for your attention.

Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 28th October 2019