The international service of Czech Radio 
11-8-2020, 09:59 UTC
President Vaclav Havel & NATO
 
Return to the main page
About NATO Current Members
& NATO Candidates
Past NATO Summits President Vaclav Havel
& NATO
The Czech Path to NATO Membership Czech Forces in
International Operations


Before he became President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, as a dissident and member of Charter 77, signed the so-called Prague Appeal in March 1985. Among other things, the document stated:

"We suggest that NATO and the Warsaw Pact begin talks to dissolve their military organizations and remove all nuclear weapons both in Europe as well as those aimed at Europe from foreign territory. Furthermore, any remaining American and Soviet military personnel should leave the territory of their European allies."

NATO Secretary General George Robertson and President Vaclav Havel That was at a time when the idea that the Warsaw Pact could disintegrate on its own was unthinkable, and it is important to see Mr Havel's words in the context of the time. Mikhail Gorbachev's conservative opponents were still trying to win the upper hand in the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovak dissidents were keen not to fire the flames of conservative opposition to reforms in Moscow. Even in the early days after the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in November 1989 Mr Havel continued to speak in favour of dissolving NATO. Here he is, speaking on December 16, 1989, two weeks before he was elected Czechoslovak President:

"I believe that in the future we will live in a free and peaceful Europe void of political blocks."

Once he became president, Mr Havel rapidly began to change his tone, especially once the Warsaw Pact willingly signed its own death warrant. He was increasingly uneasy at being identified as a NATO opponent. Speaking in November 1990, Mr Havel does not go so far as to say that Czechoslovakia (at the time - technically speaking - still a Warsaw Pact member) should join NATO, but he is no longer speaking about the dissolution of the Alliance.

"I consider NATO to be a pillar of European security from which a future European security system will grow and prosper."

President Havel was the first leader from the former Soviet block countries to visit NATO HQ in Brussels in March 1991. He began his address with the following words:

"Since my youth, in my country, the only thing we heard about NATO from official sources was that it was wrought with imperialism and that it was the embodiment of the devil that threatens peace in our homeland,"

Mr Havel has made no secret of the significant shift in his attitude towards NATO. By the mid-1990s he was one of the Czech Republic's most vocal advocates of NATO membership, and he lobbied actively in the final years before the country joined in 1999. Here he speaks in an interview from September 1998:

"If Europeans want to take advantage of this chance to create a more just peace than ever before in history, they have to start with reality, and with the expansion of the alliance as the only functioning defense and security structure."