“Helping and serving the society is the best life purpose.”
Mr. President, having the opportunity to talk to you at the 20th anniversary of the Forum 2000 conference, what are the biggest challenges the today’s society faces?
I am going to share with you several topics that I find very relevant and therefore I used the opportunity to discuss them with his Holiness Dalai Lama. The first broader topic that we discussed was the globalisation and the fact that we are closer to one another. The second topic was how to engage young people to become more active and engaged in politics to change the world. The third topic was dedicated to the situation in Europe. We have witnessed the rise of nationalism, extremism and racism. It seems that Europe might not be the continent where every citizen and visitor could enjoy a high level of prosperity and protection of human rights anymore. Many of us feel deeply worried today. Our societies just got used to living good and peaceful lives. As it is often said, every generation has to fight its own battle for future and freedom, so it is our turn now to do so.
Despite a rather pessimistic mood of the wide public, both general trends as well as statistics are quite promising and optimistic. Isn’t it rather the case that politicians fail and forget to deliver the good news and spread optimism?
Yes, you are right. Politicians play with fire. On a global level, there are fewer wars and people kill each other less frequently than ever before. More people have access to healthcare, girls attend schools more than ever in the past. We see people more interested and engaged in volunteer work. The assistance programmes to help the sick, poor and needy have been attracting large resources, coming not only from the government but also private donors. Have we ever read the headlines in the news that the scope of generosity and humanity in today’s world in unprecedented in history?
Besides you being a very optimistic politician rather than one who scares people and makes them feel less secure, you are also known for your positive attitude to the European Union. Have we forgotten one important lesson that leadership is about – that you grow when facing difficult and challenging moments rather than when you are in your comfort zone?
I still believe that the European Union, Schengen and Eurozone are shining examples of successes. That does not mean we have not faced two crises. The first one was the financial one, the other was the migration one. And still, I believe that we are doing fine and when looking at predictions, I do not see a single objective reason why we should not continue doing fine. It is not all sunshine and rainbows but I also see the threat that is present; in using fear and politically fuelled animosity, criminalisation of Muslims who are fleeing their home countries to Europe to save their lives or the increasing number of strikes on Brussels, and the EU in general.
You mentioned that “words can be very powerful, words can bring joy but they can also harm”, “they can make peace but also the war”. You have raised your concern about the level of rhetoric following Brexit.
Populists in the United Kingdom have repeatedly referred to the Poles, Slovaks and Czechs as the biggest problems they face. They even argued that our people should go home as they are the cause of the problems British public is now facing. These populists’ words of politicians inspired action. Young people from our region living in the UK were killed there. And it is precisely the words behind the violence. Words by politicians, so now we are afraid of using words against any religion, against group of any people, because after the use of words bad reaction can follow very easily.
Let us now turn to Václav Havel, as the founder of Forum 2000. What part of his legacy do you see most relevant for today?
I will continue to answer along the lines of my previous thoughts. Shortly before the Velvet Revolution, Václav Havel mentioned that historical horrors can follow words. Applying his warning to the current situation, even in the hands of democrats, the genuine purpose of the right to vote, free elections and referendum is getting weakened and twisted.
I have already mentioned Brexit. I do not intend to question the free will of British people who made their decision. However, at the same time I dare say that the proponents of the idea of Brexit, had a different outcome in their minds. Many British citizens were fairly shocked about the outcome of their will. This can apply to other cases, such as when the Dutch voters who blocked the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine in the referendum. They also had different motives and reasons in their mind while making the decision than the European future for Ukrainian people. By the same token, I could mention the case of my country, Slovakia, those voters who made the decision to send the fascist to the parliament during the parliamentary elections did not intend to introduce the fascist regime in Slovakia.
Can we say that popular votes are bringing the opposite outcome than desired, and instead of strengthening democracy, they are weakening it?
Election and referendum campaigns have turned into a festival of negative emotions amplified by modern communication techniques. I find very disturbing how many so-called standard democratic politicians are willing to both adopt and inspire an irrational emotional trend in public discussions and campaigns. Just notice how many politicians are ready to raise emotions which are in deep contrast with the spirit of our democratic constitutions. And they are in sharp contrast with the founding values that our European civilisation was based on and also against the goals of our European integration.
Sociologists are more and more discussing the phenomenon of communication bubbles and the danger of parallel parts of societies not speaking to each other…
Let me mention a specific example from Slovakia where 30% of Slovak citizens believe that vaccination is a conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies. This is thanks to social networks. We live more and more in a virtual reality, we have lost perspective and the scope of the variety of parallel worlds our neighbours, friends and relatives live in. I would say we now live in parallel universes which fail to communicate with each other, refuse to understand each other, and step by step are losing the ability to agree with each other on the question of common public interests. This is all happening at the time when Europe is under a heavy crossfire of the information war, a war we observe but yet do not fight back.
Let us end on a positive note and mention one more quote by Václav Havel. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
I got the same answer from his holiness Dalai Lama, or my inspiration from father Srholec, a priest imprisoned during the totalitarian period. I believe that there are many people who ask the same question – what we should do, what our place in the quest for better world is, how to behave. And the answer is rather simple: that we need to get aligned with our values and that people with the same values should stay united. Father Srholec used to say: “I do not know what will happen in the future, what will happen tomorrow, but today I know how I would behave.” Our values define our actions so if we stick to them, we should know how we will behave in the future.
Mr. President, thank you very much. And also, thank you for being also a strong role model for many Czech people. Many of us follow your leadership and comments very closely. Just to mention one case among many – remembering Věra Čáslavská with your famous tweet: “With her victories, dignity and courage, she will stay in our hearts forever. Thank you Věra Čáslavská”.