Sign Up

The Globalist’s Person of the Year: Vaclav Havel

How did the former Czech president view Eastern Europe’s role in the world?

December 21, 2011

How did the former Czech president view Eastern Europe's role in the world?

1. How do you view Eastern Europe’s overall progress?

“The basic goals for which we fought have become reality. All of the formerly Communist countries, including mine, appreciate that we live in political freedom and that our economies have been privatized.”

2. Was it a homecoming of sorts?

“We are now an integral part of the European civilization — something of which we had part of all along.”

3. How do you answer those who claim that your writings have often tended toward the darker, more pessimistic side?

“Hope is a state of mind — not a prognosis for the future. I have been hopeful all my life, that’s an integral part of my personality. But that cannot mean that I am not at liberty to issue warnings.”

4. Who then is the real pessimist in your eyes?

“One doesn’t lose hope when one serves as a critic. One loses hope when one no longer cares about anything.”

5. And what is peculiar about politicians who become beacons of hope?

“Judging from my own experience, the more a politician becomes a vessel of hope, the more angry people become toward that political leader when not everything succeeds.”

6. What world leader should be concerned about that very risk?

“I told Barack Obama when we met here in Prague that the person presumed to be people’s savior will become a subject of hatred, if for whatever reason he doesn’t manage to fulfill the aspirations projected onto him.”

7. What was Obama’s reaction?

“He told me that he is slowly, but surely experiencing the first signs of that backlash.”

8. What is the main challenge facing Europe?

“Europe’s mission today is to regain its conscience and its sense of responsibility — not only with regard to its own political architecture, but also vis-à-vis the whole world.”
(Financial Times, January 2004)

9. How do you view relations with your neighbor, Germany?

“Germany has been our inspiration as well as our pain. It is a source of understandable traumas, of many prejudices and misconceptions — as well as of standards to which we turn.”
(Washington Post, February 1995)

10. And finally, what is your view on globalization?

“Globalization by itself is morally neutral. It can be good or bad, depending on the kind of content we give to it.”
(New York Times, August 2000)

Editor’s Note: Unless indicated otherwise, all quotes presented above are excerpted from an interview with Mr. Havel published in the October 1, 2009, edition of the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit.