Farewell Address to Czech Citizens

2003-02-02 - Vaclav Havel


My dear fellow citizens,

In late 1989, the profound transformation that took place in this country brought me here to Prague Castle. It all happened so suddenly that I did not even have time to properly consider whether or not I was up to the task, and I was sincerely of the opinion that I would just take it on for a few months until the first free elections.

Clearly, things turned out quite differently: I have now been here for more than thirteen years, if we discount the short break in the latter half of 1992.

During this time I have been witness and party to many epochal events at home, in Europe and in the world at large. I consider this to be a great gift that fate has bestowed on me, for which I shall never cease to be thankful.

It is easy to destroy the fine web of civic institutions and relations that developed over the long decades, to place everything under state control and to subject the life of the entire country to a single political entity. But it has been extremely challenging and time-consuming to put everything together again after those decades when time stood still – just as it would certainly take a lot longer to restore a piece of antique furniture than it would to kick it to pieces.

One has to greatly admire the patience with which our society has come to terms with all the challenges of these dramatic times, the extent of which few of us could have anticipated in those heady, revolutionary days.

Let others judge the soundness or error of the measures that I have taken during my long period in office; you judge them too, and the historians will also surely consider them at some time. Of course, I do not mean that I myself will not attempt to publish an account of my work in due course. Perhaps to a certain extent I even owe this to the public. But it needs time, reflection, health and composure. I hope all this will yet be granted to me.

Today I would like to thank from my heart all those of you who have trusted me, sympathized with me or in any way supported me. Without your understanding and goodwill I would not have been able to stay in office for even a few moments. I appreciate your support all the more for the fact that I did not try at all costs to obtain it. I frequently even took what was clearly a minority position and so reaped more opposition than recognition. Sometimes I may have been mistaken in this but I would like to assure you of one thing: I have always tried to abide by the dictates of the authority under which I took my oath of office – the dictates of the best of my awareness and conscience.

To all of you whom I have disappointed in any way, who have not agreed with my actions or who have simply found me hateful, I sincerely apologize and trust that you will forgive me.

The Parliament of the Czech Republic has not yet managed to elect my successor. This is tiresome but it is no great disaster. Presidential powers pass temporarily to the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, two responsible people. I do believe that a President will be elected sooner or later. He or she will be head of state during times which may be less agitated than when I assumed this office but which will in no way be uninteresting. Quite the reverse, only the time which is now at hand will truly show the extent to which we are a fully-fledged part of the democratic world.

My dear fellow citizens,

When I stepped down from the office of Czechoslovak President on 17th July, 1992, I thanked my wife, Olga, amongst others, for standing by me through everything. Olga died, I remarried, and my second wife, Dagmar, has had to perform her role under very unfavourable circumstances. Thus I would also like to thank her today for her patience, solidarity and active acceptance of her lot.

My dear friends,

I bid you farewell as your President. I remain with you as your fellow citizen!