Václav Havel – 2004 Delta Prize Recipient

The Delta Prize for Global Understanding was established to recognize individuals whose extraordinary ability to promote fruitful communication and social change has rendered the world a better and a more peaceful place. Former President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic is such an individual.

President Havel is a man of courage, integrity, and vision, who employed his talents, including his literary talents, to challenge the Soviet communist regime of Czechoslovakia. By his relentless nonviolent efforts to bring freedom to Czechoslovakia, at great personal cost, President Havel set a standard for honorable, successful political action in the face of extraordinary injustice.

Václav Havel first won recognition in communist Czechoslavakia as a dramatist and dissident intellectual. He published his first play, The Garden Party, in 1963. And he has continued publishing plays and essays throughout his life. The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice, which includes speeches and essays from 1990-1996, came out in translation in 1997.

In 1977, Havel co-founded the Charter 77 human rights initiative. And in 1979, he helped form the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Oppressed, which protested the oppressive practices of Czechoslovakia’s communist government. For his political activities, he spent almost five years in prison.

As a consequence of his leadership in the bloodless revolution of 1989, Havel won election to the presidency of Czechoslovakia. He conducted free elections in the summer of 1990 and won election a second time on July 5, 1990. After the establishment of the Czech Republic, on January 26, 1993, he was elected by the Chamber of Deputies to be the country’s first president.

In his New Year’s address of 2003, one of his last addresses in office, President Havel proudly declared that Czechs and Slovaks had learned to cooperate with each other. He said that their common goal was “to gradually forsake some of their countries’ sovereignty in favor of increasing influence in the life of communities vastly larger and more powerful than countries are.”

President Havel concluded his address with an eloquent statement of the principles for which he believed his people stood. He said:

I am not certain whether the Czech Republic has its own special, fundamental ideas that could be named, let alone proclaimed. But I am certain that many great men and women of our history formulated a set of wise principles of coexistence to which we should always return, which should be remembered, built upon, propagated and reflected into our lives and our work. These principles include responsibility not only for oneself and to oneself, but also for and to one’s fellow citizens, not only for and to a community or country, but also for and to the broader human society. …I thus think that we do not have to use the words nation, or national interest in every sentence, but that we should concentrate instead on our neighbors, be they on our street or on the other side of the world. Yes, I am indeed saying that we will serve our national interests best if we simply treat each other well, treat the country we live in well, treat other nations well, and think of human history, human fate and our human mission in this world without prejudices. May humility, interest in others, responsibility for mankind, and a sense of justice and solidarity be that which can be called ideas underlying the Czech state!

These ideals that President Havel has articulated as principles by which all peoples of the world should live are the ideals which the Delta Prize for Global Understanding was established to honor. We hope that by naming President Václav Havel the recipient of the 2004 Delta Prize for Global Understanding we will bring attention to these values in our troubled world.