Speeches

17. 11. 2015 23:20

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s address commemorating 17 November

Premiér Bohuslav Sobotka si připomněl odkaz 17. listopadu a uctil Den boje za svobodu a demokracii v rámci pietního aktu u Hlávkovy koleje.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s address commemorating 17 November.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has today remembered the legacy of 17 November and paid tribute to Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day in a ceremony at Hlávka Hall of Residence, where he delivered a speech to mark this significant day:

Ladies and Gentlemen,   

17 November is a day that has dramatically etched itself into our country’s history on two occasions. In 1939, the Nazi occupiers murdered the student Jan Opletal and workman Václav Sedláček. The subsequent demonstrations lead to the closure of Czech universities and many student leaders were executed or hauled off to concentration camps. Fifty years later, during the 1989 Velvet Revolution, we harnessed this unwavering will of the people to fight against totalitarianism, the courage of students to defend freedom and human and civil rights.

17 November is a day which underscores the power of such a mindset. It serves as a confirmation that freedom, the rule of law, as well as humanity, reverence and respect for others’ opinions are the cornerstones of our republic. Our society has proved to be able to protect this legacy of Masaryk’s Czechoslovakia against the destructive forces of two totalitarian regimes. Neither the extermination by the Nazis nor decades of Communist despotism were able to efface our belief in a society of equality, solidarity and liberty. We have always managed to stand up and give voice to these values again.

We do so once more today on this day of remembrance. As an unprecedented wave of migration sweeps into Europe, it brings along the shadow of war, known to the vast majority of our society only from what we have been told. Once again, we are hearing the stories of those who have lost their homes, the hope for a dignified life in their native country, their relatives and most of their property. We need to respond with compassion, solidarity, and also – if only out of respect for our own history – with rationality.

Yet this wave of migration also engenders fear among some of our people, which is exploited by populists and all those whose politics are inhabited by the preaching of intolerance and hatred. As champions of democracy we must not dismiss these everyday concerns of the people out of hand. We must take note of them and respond to them with a realistic and pragmatic solution to the current crisis. With a joint solution, because no European country is able to cope with it on its own.

The answer is to end migrant chaos, restore the European Union’s functioning external borders and peacefully stabilise the regions in the EU’s immediate vicinity. In this respect, Europe needs to be much more decisive. And frank when it comes to naming the problems that have often been sparked by failed integration when past waves of immigrants with a Muslim background have rolled into mainstream European society.  

Today’s migration crisis is primarily rooted in states that have been destabilised and rent asunder by war, where citizens have lost any prospects in life. If we are to come to grips with this crisis, our primary task is to bring peace to countries such as Syria, Libya and Iraq, and to regenerate them economically and socially.

This year’s two brutal attacks by religious fanatics in Paris are another reminder of how dangerous phenomenon of the 21st century terrorism is. Democracy - confronted with ruthless violence - must show its power, and united Europe is duty-bound to guarantee its citizens peace and safety. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated, and we must stick to our democratic and liberal values, including equality and tolerance. Defeating Islamic State terrorists must be a priority for the whole international community.

At the same time, we must not let ourselves be manipulated. While the recent terrorist attacks in Paris have been carried out at a time of migration crisis, we must not lose sight of the fact that the killing is the work of well-organised Islamist militants. Our anger, then, should be directed against those radicals, and not against refugees who have often been driven out of their homes by religious or ethnic violence spread by exactly the same murderous fanatics.   

I am convinced that we must protect and defend democracy and the rule of law constantly and courageously. Just as our forebears did in November 1939. Just as we must defend the distinct value of our membership in the European Union where we were able to return thanks to November 1989. Any authoritarian regime, any isolation of our country outside the EU would work against the intrinsic interests of our nation. It would result in an economic and social decline and, beyond all doubt, the dismantling of today’s freedom and civil rights. 

I refuse to let us give up the courage to be democrats 26 years after the Velvet Revolution. Fear and panic must not be allowed to seize our minds and hearts.

I thank all of you who have found the time to commemorate 17 November today. I am confident that, like me, you are proud of its legacy and the values it symbolises.

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