Havel's New Year's Address to the Nation, 1990
The dissident Czech writer Vaclav Havel endured decades of political persecution before being elected Czechoslovakia's (later divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia) first post-socialist president. That Havel, who had been imprisoned multiple times for his participation in the Prague Spring of 1968 and the signing of Charter 77 Manifesto, became president is an important indicator of the immense changes caused by the collapse of Eastern European socialism. His inaugural address to the nation in 1990 was notable for its frankness. He described the country's economy, educational system and environment as being effectively in ruins. He also used his inaugural address to promise transparency, the restoration of the country's important institutions from decades of neglect, and respect for all citizens.
Vaclav Havel, "New Year's Address to the Nation," speech, Czechoslovakia, January 1, 1990, Czech Republic Presidential Website, Speeches Czech Republic (accessed March 1, 2007).
Prague, January 1, 1990
My dear fellow citizens,
For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.
I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.
Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly... A state which calls itself a workers' state humiliates and exploits workers. . . .
Three days ago I became the president of the republic as a consequence of your will, expressed through the deputies of the Federal Assembly. You have a right to expect me to mention the tasks I see before me as president.
The first of these is to use all my power and influence to ensure that we soon step up to the ballot boxes in a free election, and that our path toward this historic milestone will be dignified and peaceful.
My second task is to guarantee that we approach these elections as two self-governing nations who respect each other's interests, national identity, religious traditions, and symbols. . . .
My third task is to support everything that will lead to better circumstances for our children, the elderly, women, the sick, the hardworking laborers, the national minorities and all citizens who are for any reason worse off than others. . . .
You may ask what kind of republic I dream of. Let me reply: I dream of a republic independent, free, and democratic, of a republic economically prosperous and yet socially just. . . .
People, your government has returned to you!