Margaret Thatcher Toasts Vaclav Havel
On March 21, 1990 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hosted a delegation from Czechoslovakia, including the newly elected president Vaclav Havel. One of Prime Minister Thatcher's major initiatives following the collapse of communism was the creation of the "Know How Fund," a fund created to assist economic, political, and cultural development in Eastern Europe. Relative to what other Western countries were investing in Eastern Europe, the British contributions were small. in the first two years, the fund sponsored over 200 projects costing around 18 million pounds. The Know How Fund's decisions on sponsorships were tied to these factors: progress toward economic and political reform, supporting British business interests, and that there be some funds provided by the private sector.
From Thatcher's remarks, it is clear that she is interested in reconnecting with the Czech people and including Czechoslovakia within a new definition of Europe. This policy of expanding the membership of the European Community was consistent with her general approach towards the EC (of which she was skeptical).
The remarks by Vaclav Havel echoed those of Thatcher, but added that the most important thing that Czechoslovakia needed during its transition period toward democracy and economic reconstruction was "know-how". To this end, he was eagerly looking toward cooperating with the UK in areas of industry and education.
Margaret Thatcher. "Speech at dinner for Czech President (Vaclav Havel)," speech, No. 10 Downing St., London, England, March 21, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).
[ Vaclav Havel] Mr. President, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Mr. President, nothing has more distinguished and dignified our age than the struggle for human rights and freedom in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It was a campaign conducted against tremendous, sometimes overwhelming odds; it demanded courage and conviction of the highest order.
During the darkest years of Stalinist oppression, you were an inspiration to your people. In your plays, you exposed and opposed the deceits and injustices of totalitarian rule. You stayed true to your principles through long periods of imprisonment and illness and among our guests tonight are several, led by Bernard Braine, who worked tirelessly during those years for your release.
When freedom triumphed, it was with astonishing speed. Five months ago, we were protesting at your arrest. Two months ago, we were celebrating your election as President. Today, we welcome you here as leader of your country. Rarely in history can the power of ideals have been more convincingly demonstrated.
In the soaring language and thought of your speeches as President, above all in a New Year's Address whose message of hope and plea for tolerance and responsibility moved us all, you have displayed a passion and vision before which the rest of us can only feel very humble indeed. You ended that speech, I recall, with a declaration which sums up everything which has been achieved in Eastern Europe and in the Baltic States and we hope will be achieved in time in the Soviet Union. You said: "People, your Government has returned to you!"
We also want to see Czechoslovakia return once more to Europe. In a speech in Bruges 18 months ago, which generated some slight interest, I urged the European Community not to be too introspective and not to forget that Prague, Warsaw and Budapest are great European cities which have traditionally been at the centre of our Continent's history.
I hope we can rapidly develop a closer association between Czechoslovakia and the European Community which will restore those links and you will have our enthusiastic support too for your intention to join the Council of Europe.
We also want to join with Czechoslovakia in strengthening the Helsinki Accords as a framework within which democracy and human rights can be made more secure and permanent from the Atlantic right across to the Pacific and the elections in East Germany last Sunday are the latest and most important step towards that goal.
Mrs. Thatcher has been very right when she stressed that what we need most is to know how to do things. The tasks we are facing are immense and difficult indeed and we shall very much appreciate any assistance and advice—more so than money actually!
Being confronted with the tremendous problems that history has piled up in my country, we are finding that these problems can be resolved only by educated people. That is why we want to encourage in our country most of all culture, training and education because only people with a comprehensive education will be able to cope properly. England is a country with a famous educational system. Any assistance will be of importance for us.
May I conclude my words of gratitude by saying that we see this visit as a follow-up to the ancient traditions that have existed between our countries and the friendship that we have enjoyed.