Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech unveiling a statue of Churchill in Prague

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Prague
Source: Thatcher Foundation: press release
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 813
Themes: Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Mr Mayor, Mr Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am always glad to be able to pay public tribute to one of my greatest heroes - and perhaps our greatest Englishman. But it is especially fitting to do so here in Prague, ten years after your Velvet Revolution.

Churchill's Vision

Churchill was not just an inspiring war-leader; he was a visionary statesman: and, unlike most practitioners of the political arts, he was also a prophet with a fearsome knack of being right. Above all, he prophesied the twin catastrophies that would overwhelm your country, and scar the history and people of my own. I mean, of course, Nazism and Communism - two truly cosmic evils, apparently in conflict, but in their similarity of doctrines and their baseness of appeal, mere mirror images of each other.

In the thirties, Churchill warned of the dangers of appeasing Hitler's Reich. In the forties, he sounded the alarm as communist police states took over Central and Eastern Europe. In the first case, he was ridiculed. In the second, he was reviled. His great speech in 1946 at Fulton, Missouri, predicting the descent of a Soviet "Iron Curtain", drew outraged criticism at the time. Yet within two years, the communists had despatched your country's democracy and plunged you with the rest of Central Europe into a dark night of slavery and anguish.

Churchill did not live to see what we have seen - the crumbling of Soviet power, the liberation of Europe's captive nations, the return of Prague, Warsaw and Budapest to their rightful place at the heart of Europe.

But his broad strategic vision has prevailed. A powerful United States remains firmly committed to the security of Europe and the admission of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to membership of NATO has anchored Central Europe firmly to the West.

Yet Churchill's vision was always more than just strategic. It was, above all, a dream of liberty, the liberty which the English speaking peoples had for so long been fortunate to enjoy and which must be brought within the grasp of others. For freedom is indeed a man's birthright. It is the absolute condition for moral choice. And it is the decisive precondition for lasting prosperity.

Creating the Conditions for Freedom

The trouble is, of course, that creating the practical, concrete circumstances in which freedom can flourish takes more than parroting empty phrases about "human rights". To create or re-create political and economic freedom is a mighty challenge. You have to limit the power of governments, which politicians always wish to expand. You have to ensure that private property is secure, when the egalitarians are fuelling envy. You have to restrain taxation, when pressure groups want more and more expenditure. Above all, you have to devise and administer an honest and clear rule of law, knowing that temptations to sell influence, barter privilege and wriggle round constraints are never greater than in times of fundamental change.

Getting the over-all framework right is rather easier in a country like yours, where the roots of a prosperous, cultivated past were never dug up entirely by the Marxist vandals. Harder, perhaps, is to inject that sense of personal responsibility which the all-pervasive, all-providing, all-controlling state inevitably weakens. Long after socialist economics were discredited, socialist attitudes still persist. The preference for a combination of independence and risk, rather than dependence and security, can only be acquired over time. Indeed, freedom and responsibility have to become second nature before they are truly safe. So it is that the architect of liberty has to be a man of many parts - he must be bold yet patient, principled yet realistic, and most difficult of all, he must be able to keep his eyes on the stars yet his feet on the ground. But cheer up! - for isn't that just what the Czechs, in their rich and rumbustious history, have always been so good at doing?

Churchill's Statue - A Reminder

No visitor to Prague will ever doubt that yours is one of the most beautiful, civilized and charming capitals of Europe. Each time I come here I seem to enter a world of majestic churches, mighty palaces and evocative sculpture. But I confess that I am very glad that you have found a place for this new statue. It will remind you here, as every generation has to be reminded - and amid all this beauty - that the price of freedom can be high, that it may indeed require the sacrifice of "blood, toil, tears and sweat". But this statue of Sir Winston Churchill will also remind you, as it reminds me, of something else - that liberty must never be allowed to perish from the earth, it must forever endure.