Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at official lunch in Prague

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Prague Castle
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1300-1550. The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, spoke first.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1268

Mr Havel

Distinguished Madam Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Guests.

Allow me to extend to you and to your distinguished delegation my welcome to Prague Castle. My pleasure in welcoming you is all the greater in view of the fact that this is your first truly historic visit to Czechoslovakia.

This visit is taking place at a dramatic time in which our long cherished desire for freedom and democracy is becoming a reality. Figuratively speaking, we might say that an entirely new space has opened up before us, we are already beginning to get a feeling of its greatness, but we are only learning to find our way in it.

This may be one of the reasons why our movements in that newly acquired space so far have been somewhat hesitant and uncertain. It is only gradually that we are getting accustomed to the fact that the coordinates of these movements are determined first and foremost by our own will and courage. [end p1]

Fortunately enough, there are a number of points to which we can hold on in this space so that we may now proceed. One of those points consists in our reawakened consciousness of our affiliation with the mainstreams of European civilisation which is giving rise to the need to strengthen our orientation to the countries that have not fallen victim to the communist totalitarianism and that have remained faithful to the well-tried values of the European humanistic and liberal traditions.

The United Kingdom holds an entirely unique position among those countries. Let me therefore express my high regard for the immense civilisation contribution that your country has given to the world. Let me also assure you that the same respect and esteem is shared also by my fellow-countrymen, for whom your culture and your national values have always represented an indisputable positive standard. We could find countless proof of that and it would be too long to enumerate them all.

However, I cannot fail to mention here that it was your country that became at the time of the Nazi occupation the headquarters of the Free Czechoslovak government headed by President Benes and that offered refuge to thousands of our citizens who were fleeing prosecution.

In this year when we are commemorating together with you the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain, we are remembering with hasten intensity those of our people who were fighting against the common enemy in the ranks of your army.

For long decades in the past we were practically isolated from Europe. When I came to visit you in March this year it was a time of opportunities newly opened. Now the time has come for concrete deeds. [end p2]

I am happy to be able to inform you today that our government has already put forward the so much debated scenario of our economic record and that the Parliament is due to consider soon the basic laws on privatisation. The path we have chosen will not be easy, but we realise that this is the only possible path we can go and we also realise that we shall not be alone there.

It fills me with joy that your visit represents a promise for the future in this regard. I expect that it will open up new opportunities for cooperation in trade and economy and that it will make it possible that the Czechoslovak market gradually opens up for British investments and for the products of the advanced British industry, especially your experience in the field of privatisation, of whose crucial significance we are aware are regarded by us as particularly valuable. Hopeful developments have been noted also in the fields of culture, science and education.

Let me take this opportunity to express to you, Distinguished Prime Minister, my thanks for your personal initiative in the organisation of the Know-How Fund, through which experience and expertise, so much needed for the revival of all spheres of our lives, are already coming from the United Kingdom to this country.

Our goal is to achieve full integration into the new Europe. We are interested in concluding an agreement on Association with the European Community. We wish to contribute in an active manner to the development and intensification of the Helsinki Process that is under way within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Now, as before, we shall continue to attach great importance to the question of human rights and individual civic freedom. We have therefore welcomed your vision of a European Magna Carta as a [end p3] sort of cornerstone for a future united Europe. It is not without interest that we in Czechoslovakia, too, are considering an annex of the same kind.

Before the end of this year, in fact in the autumn, all the three parliaments—the Czechs, the Slovaks as well as the federal one—should adopt a fundamental constitutional bill that would guarantee the basic rights and freedoms of our citizens.

Distinguished Madam Prime Minister, let me conclude by expressing to you personally and to your country our gratitude for the principal stance and attention that you have always accorded to human rights. I believe that after years of oppression, this has now borne fruit.

Today we are already dedicating ourselves to the values that have always been our inherent features: tolerance, respect for the individual, for his ideas and his work, for freedom and democracy.

Distinguished Madam Prime Minister, let me welcome you and propose a toast to you and all those who have come with you. [end p4]

Prime Minister

Vaclav HavelMr President, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you very much for that wonderful speech. May I reply briefly because I shall be speaking at greater length tomorrow.

I have long wanted to come to Prague, both personally and representing my country, because Prague for centuries has been at the crossroads of European history. It was so especially in the 17th century, but even more so in this century.

Of my generation, Prague represents something very special—a great European capital—and we are delighted to welcome it back into the comity of free nations. I was really waiting to come until this country had a new re-birth of freedom. And it came, Mr President, and you played such a part, in the very best possible way. It came up as a great swelling up of the feeling and human spirit of the people, it came up on the part of the people, as you said the powerless, to overthrow the great powers and become a free country once again.

As you said, Mr President, this last weekend was the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain which was fought in the air and won by British pilots and also by Czech pilots and Polish who fought with us. And this weekend, under the leadership of Her Majesty The Queen, we honoured all your people who helped us so much in that vital battle.

It was a great joy when you came to visit Britain, Mr President, and British people welcomed you with their hearts both because of everything you had done to establish freedom in Czechoslovakia, and because that once again the people of Czechoslovakia had in fact become free. [end p5]

This has been a remarkable century, it has seen the rise and fall of communism, it saw the rise and fall of [word missing: fascism?] you have been involved in both and have helped to defeat both. Both attempted to say that the collective and the government was more important than the individual. Both attempted to impose their theory by force and by internal oppression. Human spirit defeated both of them and once again liberty and justice will triumph.

You have great decisions ahead, they are exciting, they are a challenge, they involve new attitudes, reviving attitudes which people thought were no longer there.

This last decade of this century will show the true triumph—the triumph of liberty under your great leadership, Mr President, and it is such a great honour, privilege and delight to be here, truly to see it for myself and to share it with you.

Thank you. To friendship and the future between our two peoples. Mr President, your very good health.