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Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic

September 16, 1998

President Havel, Mrs. Havlova, members of the Czech delegation, my fellow Americans. Mr. President, it is a joy to welcome you to the United States and to the White House. Your remarkable life embodies a great lesson, that people who love their country can change it, even against tremendous odds; that words can be powerful instruments of change; and that, together, words and deeds can be the pillars of freedom.

Ten years ago, the world was a very different place. Like half of Europe, Czechoslovakia lay shrouded beneath a failed ideology. Human hopes were suppressed. Debate was stifled. And you spent years in jail for standing up and speaking out for liberty and human rights.

Today we celebrate the dramatic movement out of that very different, darker world, toward freedom and self-determination. We celebrate ideas, not ideologies. From South Africa to South Korea to South America, societies are redefining themselves, removing barriers to the imagination, struggling to find a new balance in a new world, cultivating the limitless resources of their people. This is a universal phenomenon, neither American nor European but, instead, universal. Nonetheless, it owes a very great deal in our time to the inspiration provided by a single man, Vaclav Havel, who for years spoke when it mattered and often at enormous personal cost.

Now we are poised to build a world of the new century. More people than ever are free to pursue their own destiny. And we are grateful for the unprecedented achievement of this century we are about to leave. We are also aware, however, that far too much of the 20th century saw division and dislocation and destruction, and nowhere more so than in the heart of Europe.

In the last decade, Europeans have gone far toward repairing the damage wrought by a century of war—rebuilding old relationships, unifying the hopes and dreams of people who were arbitrarily separated for far too long. No President, no person, has done better work toward this end than President Havel.

Since assuming office, Mr. President, you have provided a voice of dazzling eloquence to the debate over Europe's future and the future of the world, a voice of both humility and great power. You have addressed issues large and small, regional and global, material and spiritual, but always in the most human way. You have articulated a politics of hope, reminding us that all nations form a community on our small planet. You have spoken forcefully about our collective obligation to the future. And for our children's sake, we must do all we can to back up your vision with real deeds.

Since 1989 the Czech people have taken enormous strides to build that better world. You have made concrete contributions to the search for peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia, your soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ours. You have strengthened cooperation with your neighbors. You have taken steps to heal past wounds with Germany and Russia. You are providing humanitarian assistance to Chernobyl victims in Ukraine and sharing with other states the lessons you have learned in building a vibrant free-market democracy. You have stood with the community of nations against military aggression in the Gulf, sent peacekeepers to Africa and the former Soviet Union, and promoted efforts to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Soon you will be members of the most successful military alliance in history, NATO.

Of course, many challenges remain. Economic and political reform is a bumpy road; it does not happen overnight. And there are many new challenges to this new century we are about to enter. But together, we are building a stronger foundation for peace and prosperity.

I want to especially commend you now for looking toward the new millennium, for taking some time in each of these years leading up to the millennium to think about the future and plan for it in your Forum 2000 program, which you have invited the First Lady to participate in in the next couple of weeks.

Mr. President, at the end of your historic speech to Congress in 1990, you remembered that the people who founded America were bold in word and deed. Today there is not a leader on Earth whose words and deeds have meant more to the cause of freedom than your own. They will live forever in the hearts and minds of people who care about human dignity and the power of the imagination to shape the soul and the future.

On behalf of all Americans, I am deeply honored to welcome you back to the White House. Thank you very much.

NOTE: President Clinton spoke at 9:52 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House, where President Havel was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. In his remarks, President Clinton referred to President Havel's wife, Dagmar Havlova. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of President Havel.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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