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The Federal Republic in Central and Eastern Europe (February 17, 1995)

In a speech delivered in Prague in 1995, Czech president Václav Havel broached the difficult subject of German-Czech reconciliation and discussed the important role that Germany played in his country’s history. For his compatriots, Havel explained, Germany symbolized both hope and danger, but he himself was optimistic. He expressed faith in Germany and in its readiness to help integrate Central Europe into the Western alliances.

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"Czechs and Germans on the Way to a Good Neighborship," Charles University, Prague, February 17, 1995

Your Magnificence,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Our generation is living at a time that may well be seen one day as a time of a great historic change. It is a time when, not without difficulty, a new international order is coming into being, when many states are making efforts to redefine their character, their identity and their position on the international scene, when a quest for a whole new spirit in the coexistence of peoples, nations, cultures and entire spheres of civilization is under way on this planet. We can say that we have arrived at a crossroads and find ourselves confronted with a great challenge. Inevitably, the present is also a time of new reflections, including a review of history, and a new stocktaking.

It is not only that the upcoming 50th anniversary of the end of World War II invites us to think about what conclusions we can draw, in hindsight, from that war, the most atrocious one in human history. Nor is it just that the fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War and the bipolar division of the world makes us consider what these recent developments have brought, what they mean and what tasks they set before us. More than that is needed now: we have to place all these events in their broader and deeper historical context and try to formulate the challenges of our time against the backdrop of underlying reflection.

I should like to contribute to that with a few remarks on the Czech-German relationship. I am happy to be able to do so at a site that reminds us like no other of the centuries-long intellectual coexistence of Czechs and Germans: on the academic ground of Charles University.

Our relationship to Germany and the Germans has been more than merely one of the many themes of our diplomacy. It has been a part of our destiny, even a part of our identity. Germany has been our inspiration as well as our pain; a source of understandable traumas, of many prejudices and misconceptions, but also of standards to which we turn; some regard Germany as our greatest hope, others as our greatest peril. It can be said that the Czechs define themselves, both politically and philosophically, through their attitude toward Germany and the Germans, and that the nature of this attitude determines not only their relationship to their own history but also their actual conception of themselves as a nation and a state. Obviously, the Czech-German relationship does not have the same fundamental importance for the Germans; nevertheless, it may be more important to them than some Germans might be prepared to admit: traditionally, this relationship has been one of tests that also reveal their own conception of themselves. Let us be mindful that Germany's relationship to us has at many times mirrored its relationship to Europe as a whole! At present, as the newly united Germany tries to find its new identity and its new position in Europe and the world, this relationship is all the more important.

What does this mean for us? No more and no less than that we should talk about the Czech-German theme publicly, candidly, in a matter-of-fact way and, in so doing, be fully conscious of the fact that as we speak about it, we speak about ourselves.

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