Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990
"New Year's Address" (January 1990) was Havel's
first major public address as president of Czecho-
slovakia. It was delivered on New Year's Day and
broadcast on Czech and Slovak Radio and Televi-
sion. It was widely published abroad. This transla-
tion appeared in
January 27, 1990.
The translator is not identified.
Y DEAR fellow citizens,
For forty years you
heard from my predecessors on
this day different variations of the same theme: how our country
flourished, 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.
of industry are
of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we
need. A state which calls itself a workers' state humiliates and
exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little
energy we have available. A country that once could be proud
of the educational level of its citizens spends so
little on ed-
ucation that it ranks today as seventy-second in the world. We
have polluted our soil, our rivers and forests, bequeathed to
us by our ancestors, and we have today the most contami-
nated environment in
Europe. Adult people in our country
die earlier than in most
other European countries.
Allow me a little personal observation: when I flew recently
New Year's Address
.to Bratislava, I found time during various discussions to look
out of the plane window. I saw the industrial complex of Slov-
naft chemical factory and the giant Petrzalka housing estate
right behind it. The view was enough for me to understand
that for decades our statesmen and political leaders did not
look or did not want to look out of the windows of their
airplanes. No study of statistics available to me would enable
me to understand faster and better the situation into which
we had gotten ourselves.
But all this is still not the main problem. The worst thing
that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell
morally ill because we became used to saying
ferent from what we thought. We learned not to believe in
anything, to ignore each other, to care only about ourselves.
Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, or
forgiveness lost their depth and dimensions, and for many of
us they represented only psychological pecularities, or they
resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little
ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships. Only a few
of us were able to cry out loud that the powers that be should
not be all-powerful, and
special farms, which
ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them, should