The Address of the President of the Czech Republic at the Festive Ceremony on the Occasion of the Czech National Day on the 28th of October
Dear President Klaus, dear Mrs Klausová, 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,
As every year, we meet to learn about the varied life stories of the people who will be delivered the state award. Every single one of these stories bears a piece of our history with it, a piece of the history of our country as well as our society.
Above all, let me greet three important foreign guests, the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Mr Borut Pahora, Mayor of Vienna, Mr. Michael Häupl. Mr Mayor, congratulation on the 35 per cent of your party in Vienna. And let me finally greet my friend, German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Dear Borut, the today’s celebration in the Vladislav Hall will also in a way be a Slovenian celebration as, besides you, an important Slovenian architect will be decorated whose work left an imprint on the final construction, or rather reconstruction of Prague Castle.
I was pleased to oblige to the wish of our army and perhaps for the first time in our history, the President of the Republic awards the ungrateful role of the Chief of the General Staff, even two of them at a time. The first Chief commanded the General Staff of the first republic, thus contributing significantly to enhancing the readiness for action of the then Czechoslovak Army. The second, Mr General, took his merits in the democratization of the army after the November revolution. It is the soldiers who deserve the appreciation of our resistance movement and I am truly happy that I can repay one debt. General Kutlvašr, the chief in command of the Prague uprising, was unrightfully persecuted instead of being awarded for his merits. Therefore he will be decorated with the highest Czech award of the military class.
A person present here, fresh in his nineties, is also a kind of a soldier. He is a former Auschwitz prisoner who fled the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of seventeen, grabbed a gun and fought for the freedom of his country.
However, when we are remembering the past, let me perform a little deeper probe. In New York two years ago, I visited the descendants of an American who had helped Tomas Masaryk at the time when he was long to become our president. We agreed with the descendants that I would also decorate their predecessor with an important medal of merit for the services to the state.
I could present more and more names as there are many this year. I am really happy for this because it is evident that the Czech Republic has quite a number of outstanding personalities. Among others, there is our countrywoman who had worked in the US presidential administration for long years, there is a non-conformist historian and a non-conformist journalist who both float against the mainstream - the mainstream that in my opinion is often trendy and dull.
Of course, I must not forget about an outstanding speed skater or a multiple winner of the Paris-Dakar Rally. I could continue on and on in this way, however, as every year, let me try to find a common denominator of the decorated.
Many years ago, C.P. Snow published a book on two cultures, on the culture of the humanities and the culture of the sciences. And since then, many a polemic has been led about which of the two cultures is better, or whether they are symbiotic or antagonistic. Relying on my own experience, I would like to say that as the difference between the physicists and lyricists, which has been discussed on this level, is indisputable, the art brings us joy and smile. After all Pascal once said that love has reasons which reason cannot understand. On the other hand, the science along with the art brings us international prestige in the personality of such people as Heyrovsky, Wichterle and others, for instance professor Holý. On the contrary, I maintain the idea that they can complement each other suitably. I would like to support it by a single example from my former field of work – the forecasting. I hope that you forgive my immodesty for you will shortly understand that actually it is a humble self-criticism.
Derek Solla Price wrote a book called “Science of Science”. In his book he made a provoking division of scientific disciplines into two groups – a so-called hard science that roughly covers natural and technical sciences - let’s include biology and other disciplines in here; and a soft science that is basically comprised of all humanities.
Now, at least the present economists flare up with holly indignation, am I right, Václav Klaus?, as Solla Price included economy in the group of soft sciences because it studies human behaviour and obviously it cannot be entirely tied up with various equations and simple algorithms.
I am very happy that both the groups are more or less equally represented by the decorated scientists and artists although each of them has been chosen for a different reason.
As I have already said, the arts group delivers joy and smile and at times it confronts misunderstanding on the part of the highbrows who tend to denote artists receiving large attention from the listeners as representatives of commercial culture. Reduced to the absurdity, non-commercial culture would be such that has no attendees and in non-commercial theatre the number of actors would surpass the number of spectators.
Let me return to the academic community. I think that the so-called soft sciences, in other words disciplines concerning social sciences, suffered from some excessive pride, which I would like to document by my humble self-critical example.
In the past, I was involved in simulation modelling of system dynamics. It was a fantastic field the grounds of which were laid in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Jay Forrester as its main representative. Its main product was the book “The Limits of Growth” by Dennis and Donella Meadows. Based on this book the Club of Rome was established. And it was a question whether the Club of Rome was formed by an academic community or a community of snobs. To tell the difference, we have to consider the book with the benefit of hindsight whether the book “The Limits of Growth” has or has not been successful.
When you have read it, you realize that it predicts natural resources depletion, it predicts famines, it predicts population boom as well as environment pollution. Fortunately, nothing has, my friends, come true so far. And we have to ask whether this scientific boasting in which we strived to transfer mathematical methods onto fields that do not quite support the methods did not make the social science itself profane. So I was pleased when I read to find out that my former field had started to prefer what? Scenarios. And here comes the symbiosis of the two branches of our national culture. A scenario is primarily a tool of arts, not a tool of science. Therefore let’s bow with humbleness and think of the failure of mathematical models as they have not captured innovative elements of the society; on the contrary, they have presupposed rigid structures where such structures are dynamic and flexible. Let’s try to speak along with a French futurologist, Bertrand de Jouvenel, about l’art de la conjecture, about the art to foresee, instead of a boasting science that insists on its ability to foresee.
I apologise for this digression, but I was inspired with seeing the author who had been deeply involved in mathematical models, and I was inspired by my own experience. A person should confess to their mistakes and the person will not be forgiven because their mistakes used to be shared with others, even though the mistakes were accepted by the mainstream about which I spoke a minute ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy that I may decorate people who deserve it. I am fully aware that they will be chased by envy; that several submissive individuals who have never achieved anything in their lives will write critiques on who deserved to be or no to be decorated or who else should have been decorated. And I tell the decorated, who have already known it without my telling them, that the envy that is going to accompany them is something that they have to surpass. Envy is a human emotion and although we may not, and even must not approve of it, we have to understand that the decoration is no bed of roses and that any decorated person will suffer from their decoration being depreciated as has happened so many times before. But there is an immense load of work behind you. The artists to be awarded today have given out joy and smile to thousands, even millions of people. And this smile is a much bigger reward than any decoration whatsoever. Thus by way of conclusion, let me also wish joy and smile to you.
Thank you for your attention.
Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 28th October 2017