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 on the occasion of the National Day to reward the work of those who have helped the Czech Republic and its citizens. On such an occasion, I always remember the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And all those decorated today have helped their country in numerous ways and in various professions.
Nevertheless, there is a certain common denominator which underlies the decorated group. The denominator was bravery and courage last year. You undoubtedly remember the moment when we rewarded the brave act of a sixteen-year-old boy – Petr Vejvoda - who sacrificed his life to rescue his schoolmate. Similarly, we will decorate a man today who proved his courage in facing the terrorist attack in Uherský Brod.
When I was pondering the common denominator of today’s decorated, I found a different topic, this topic being the tradition of our society. If you prefer a more poetic example, then roots, because we may, to an extent, compare our society to a tree whose deep roots bring it life-giving force; on the contrary, a tree with week roots or even uprooted can hardly resist outer pressure. Let me quote the words of Eduard Beneš who used a similar analogy after the Munich betrayal, saying: “The crown of our tree is pruned somewhat, however, if we descend to the roots, the tree will spring afresh with new twigs in time.”
Let me make an attempt to outline certain phases of the Czech statehood, or the Czechoslovak statehood of the past, based on the examples of the decorated today. I will start with the Legionnaires. I am truly happy to deliver the state award to the Chairman of the Czechoslovak Legionary Community, although he belongs to a new generation of legionnaires, of course. To a generation who fought in foreign missions against an external enemy, against international Islamic terrorism.
And let me remind you in this context of the fact that it was the Czechoslovak Legions who fought in France, Italy and namely in Russia, where they governed the Trans-Siberian Railway at the end of World War I. I raise the fact because President Masaryk in his talks with Karel Čapek pointed out that these legions in Russia constituted a strong argument for the acknowledgement of an independent Czechoslovakia. Please forget not that Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen original points only presumed the autonomy of our countries in the framework of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To a large extent, such a shift was caused by our legions rather than by nice words. This results in the conclusion that independence and freedom are also created and maintained by armed forces.
The second decorated personality relates to another root and another tradition of our statehood - it is the Sokol movement. I am pleased that I have the opportunity to hand the award to a representative of the Sokol movement who by large contributed to the restoration of the Sokol movement in our country. As early as the times prior to the First World War, Sokols created the backbone of Czech community organizations that helped strengthen the national self-awareness; and their importance was revealed in 1919 when they defended the newly constituting Czechoslovakia against Hungarian invasion into Slovakia. During the First Republic, the Sokols contributed immensely to national pride and patriotism, for example in the form of Sokol general gatherings or so-called Slety.
Now let me proceed with the third tradition, this tradition being the fight against Nazism. Today, I deliver the highest military award, the Order of the White Lion, of the first class to a veteran of the Second World War who is a living participant of the “Platinum” parachute landing force into the Protectorate and I admire the fact that, in his ninety-fourth year, he is still full of health and vitality. Mr. General, congratulations!
Of course, there are others who are equally decorated, unfortunately in memoriam, who had fought in the British Royal Air Force and one of whom became a Marshal of the British Royal Air Force.
I will now omit the period when I paid attention to the past by decorating priest Mr. Toufar as well as the last political prisoner, Pavel Wonka. I will only mention one decorated who was a philosophical representative of the Prague Spring reform movement in 1968 - the philosopher Karel Kosík. Many of us have read his outstanding book ‘Dialektika konkrétního’ (Dialectics of the Concrete, 1963) and Karel Kosík is a representative of those who succeeded in merging the fate of an intellectual and a fate of a politician.
I will now proceed to the year 1989. It is sometimes said that a revolution devours its own children. It is even worse - the revolution simply forgets some of its children. And therefore I am honoured to deliver an award in memoriam to Valtr Komárek, one of the faces of the November revolution and primarily an immensely amiable, tolerant and wise man. I was in the hospital at his bedside when he was dying and I realised what a distinctive personality was leaving us. Contrary to various rumours, I was not the only employee of the pre-revolutionary Institute of Business Forecasting. However, Valtr Komárek succeeded in creating a tolerant environment for left-wing as well as right-wing opinions, for example for the late Miloslav Ransdorf as well as for the present Václav Klaus. As tolerance and a sense of humour, hand in hand with kindness, are not inherent in politicians, the more we should value these qualities.
Let me now mention a tradition which is the deepest and longest. As Masaryk would say, subspecie aeternitatis - from the viewpoint of eternity, it is the tradition of Christianity and Christian values. A tradition which connects European nations and which is inherent in the Czech nation. My predecessors awarded Czech cardinals. I am happy that I may continue in this tradition and deliver the highest state award to the Archbishop of Prague and Czech Primate Bishop.
Let me make one remark at this point because, as you have noticed, I often recourse in my speech to Masaryk as an inspiration from our history. Even a great politician may sometimes be mistaken. Recollect the polemic of Tomáš Masaryk and Josef Pekař. Masaryk hoped to create some kind of an arch between the Czech Brethren and the new Evangelic Church based on the idea of a personal God, but in his polemic Pekař was much closer to reality. Recently, when I met Pope Francis, he told me a wonderful sentence: “Church is a service” and I would like to see the society where there are still many ill, suffering and dying, have a Church perform such an important service in a close collaboration with the state.
I am nearing the conclusion as the last but one tradition poses a thin and weak little root that sprang in 2004 by our entering the European Union, which has, however, been slowly gaining ground. And here, for the cooperation on entry I would very much like to thank the ex-European commissioner Günter Verheugen who performed an incredible job on behalf of the Czech Republic, notwithstanding his help at solving the Austro-Czech conflict regarding nuclear energy. Lieber Günter, lieber Freund, herzlich willkommen in Prag und mein herzlichsten Dank für Ihre Mitarbeit und Ihre Freundschaft*.
Regarding the European Union, we encounter a contradiction of a dream and reality. The European dream as it has been presented by Jean Monnet or Jacques Delorse is worthy of attention. This dream encompasses the independent, sovereign and national states which are seeking a common interest in the field of foreign or defense policies. It is not a dream of a European Union overwhelmed by red tape. It is not a dream of a European Union that is estranging itself from its citizens more and more. And I strongly believe that somebody of the new generation of Europeans as well as our politicians will pick up the idea of this big dream and will relieve it of the faults that occurred in the past.
And now I am really nearing the conclusion, this conclusion being a tradition that is hardly ever mentioned. It is a tradition of Baťa-like entrepreneurship. Politicians often ask me why I award successful entrepreneurs so frequently and I do it exactly because the hard work of these entrepreneurs is the core of our economic growth. It is not the work of those practicing asset stripping. One of the decorated has built his family business from scratch and he now has five hundred employees. What a contrast it stands to a company that went bankrupt with twelve thousand employees because its ex-owner was either totally incompetent or, to the contrary, capable of anything.
I think that, were I allowed to continue, I would mention the fact that Baťa has always called his employees ‘colleagues’, never ‘employees’. And this also poses one of the reasons why I decided to deliver the state award to a successful union leader in Škoda Auto Mladá Boleslav whose efforts pushed through an average pay of forty thousand Crowns per month in this company. To moderate your incidental euphoria, I would like to point out that this amount equals the minimum wage in neighbouring Germany. There is a lot for us to catch up with.
Of course, I could speak about the other awarded personalities and I apologize that due to the lack of time this will be done during the act of decoration. Nevertheless, by way of conclusion, I would like to say that there is a huge variety in the structure of their professions. Somebody sings, another helps children be born, somebody plays an instrument, another is an entrepreneur, as I have already mentioned. We have three outstanding diplomats here and it rarely happens that diplomats earn any award, isn’t it, Mister Minister of Foreign Affairs? Similarly, for the first time, we have two successful local politicians here – the First-Republic Mayors of Pilsen and Vsetín. And I could continue in this manner on and on, however, that would be too long an outline.
To conclude with, as I have mentioned Tomáš Baťa, let me quote one of his mottos, one that is not quoted very often as it is too cruel and some would say even offending. The motto goes: “Do not say it is impossible, say that you cannot do it.” And I would very much like to thank all the decorated who proved by living their lives that they can do it.
Thank you for your attention.
Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 28th October 2016