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

As every year, the celebration of the 28th of October is associated with the delivery of the state awards. It is good because the picture of our society is a reflection of fates of personalities who create and shape the society. I dare as usual be your guide through the description of at least several life-stories of the forty-one decorated personalities today.

To pay tribute to the soldiers fallen in Afghanistan, let me start with their life-story. A story which has triggered a multitude of discussions as any tragic issue does. It is a matter of course for the President of the Republic to pose his clear standpoint. Let’s ask a simple question: if our soldiers fell in Afghanistan what will become of their memory if we succumb to the cowardice and leave Afghanistan? It is true that we have often been victims of the cowardice of others, but it never justifies becoming cowards ourselves. We often invent various enemies these days, however, in my opinion the only and true enemy is the world terrorism which murders innocent civilians, which strives to destroy European civilisation that we have been building for centuries. Therefore this sacrifice was not made in vain and I would very much wish us to realize that we must preserve our civilisation, which requires fighting the terrorism instead of retreating and negotiating with terrorists, or even running away from them. And if our soldiers in Afghanistan continue in fulfilling their role, then the sacrifice of our soldiers is not vain either. Honour their memory.

Let me now move to other personalities and I will try to proceed along the timeline as usual. We shall begin at the start of our modern statehood. When I was reminded to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of our independence as early as March during my inauguration speech, I would like to point out that German army attacked France in March and, were it not for the American troops that were disembarking at that time, the war could have ended in an entirely different way and we would be living in a completely different world. Even the attempt of the 14th of October 1918 to proclaim independent Czechoslovakia resolved in failure. As late as today, on the 28th of October, can we really commemorate personalities who contributed to our independence as of this date.

I know that besides other individuals there were organisations of Sokol and the Legionnaires, of course. However, both the Sokol and Legionary Communities were decorated in the past years.

Let me therefore commemorate the beginnings of a politician whom Tomáš Masaryk designated as the head of the home resistance. It was Antonín Švehla – a multiple prime minister, a minister of defence, a brilliant strategist, a master of compromise. Remember the Committee of Five. I would like to mention a trait of his which we equally tend to forget. Švehla was a consistent promoter of the partisan political system; of something which is not very popular today. And when we experience vague movements about whose aims and long-term programme in the local elections we do not know, it is worthwhile remembering Švehla’s idea that every dictatorship begins with the destruction of political parties.

Let me mention other personalities on that timeline who formed our history. On the occasion of the promoting act to the rank of a General, I remembered three soldiers. General Čečka, who was the commander of President Masaryk’s Military Office, and Generals Husárek and Bílý. Yes, we are commemorating victims and General Bílý, who was in command of the resistance organisation Obrana národa (Nation’s Defence), belongs to such victims for he was executed by the Nazis. Similarly to the case of Antonín Švehla, I would like to draw your attention to an overlooked personality of General Husárek. Do you know why? He was a man who constructed border fortifications of the first Czechoslovak Republic. It was none of his fault that this fortification did not fulfil its purpose because the Anschluss of Austria bared our southern border where there was no fortification. Nevertheless, remember with honour these soldiers along with those who built and strived to build the modern and democratic army of ours.

Let me proceed to another phase of our history and I am happy indeed that I may welcome a person who takes merits in the preserving of free broadcast of the then Czechoslovak radio. He has celebrated ninety-five years and I will be highly honoured to decorate him with the greatest, highest Czech medal.

To continue, I would like to again mention the Charter 77, this time in a slightly different context. Today, Mr President Kiska, I decorate a Czech signatory of the Charter 77 as well as a co-founder of the “Bratislava/nahlas” movement, of which we spoke on our ride by historical train to Topol’čianky. I would like to remind you that Václav Havel called the movement the “Slovak Charter 77”. I would be grateful if you could consider this decoration as a symbol of the Czech-Slovak mutual interest.

I could speak about the other decorated, but we are in a situation where the forty-one of them are sitting here, thus let me mention at least a few of the examples.

Although we are a happy and flourishing country, it does not mean that we do not have problems of our own. I see an extensive economic criminality as one of the biggest problems, be it tax evasions, tunnelling or anything else of that kind. Therefore I am very pleased that I may decorate three personalities who have tried to fight various forms of criminality be it the case of light fuel oils, which the younger of us have already forgotten, be it solar barons who can never be forgotten, or the recent case of the tunnelling of the Ostrava-Karviná mines. Economic criminality is like a cancer. We have to fight it even though its cure is immensely difficult.

There is a historian among the decorated, a true political scientist, a dendrologist with a charming name Větvička (transl.: “Twig”), nomen omen, and many sportsmen, artists and other personalities. I will be honoured to award them accordingly soon.

On the other hand, I would like to remind us of people who show a certain disrespect for the decorated ones; they are often people who have not reached any achievements in their lives. It is where the Karel Čapek’s aphorism applies defining a literary critic as a person who advises a writer on how to write a book that he himself would write only if he were capable of it.

Pars pro toto, I would like to present at least one example of the decorated and his work. It is the ex-minister of agriculture. While performing his duties of a minister, he put through a considerable extension of vineyard areas prior to our joining the European Union. As you know, after our becoming an EU member, it would not be possible. Besides that, he is a founder of the Wine Fund. Thus his work is imprinted into the face of our countryside which is now covered in new vineyards. It is an achievement which this person may look back to unlike other forgotten ministers of agriculture who cannot boast such a piece of work.

I would like to appeal to all of you, do not let yourselves be disgusted with rabid and envious dwarves who only begrudge other people’s success. Hold in esteem those who have made achievements in life and try to respect their work.

Ladies and gentleman, by way of conclusion, let me congratulate all the decorated on the awards and some of them on the celebrating a beautiful age of eighty. I wish you a happy and content life in a society and country where people are able to speak with each other, where they can bring arguments and exchange opinions, for Masaryk said that democracy is a discussion, but Masaryk also said that anger is no programme. As an ex-forecaster I wish you a happy future.

Thank you for your attention.

Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, 28th October 2018