President Havel in U.S. Congress in 1990 (video)

Vaclav Havel in the United States Congress in 1990
Vaclav Havel in the United States Congress in 1990

President Havel came to the U.S. shortly after the Velvet revolution in February 1990. He met with president George Bush Sr. and gave speech to the joint session of Congress. The speech was important because Vaclav Havel was the first head of state from former communist block to visit the US after the fall of the Berlin wall. Of course the visit seemed more important to Czechoslovaks than it was to any American. According to my Texas friend, who was Congressional page at the time, there were many empty empty seats during the joint meeting so he and other pages had to fill them at last minute.

The discourse is remembered by scholars mostly for his “Consciousness precedes Being” remark, which I don’t think majority of the Congress people really understood. However I think it was clear to them that after the years of trying to export democracy to many countries (and for example in case of Latin America getting mostly bunch of crazy and/or corrupt dictators) here from the east (ironically voted in still by communist Federal Assembly) was a philosopher who was inspired American Declaration of Independence, U.S Constitution and by Founding Fathers.

Havel starts his speech by saying: “My advisors have advised me, on this important occasion, to speak in Czech. I don’t know why. Perhaps they wanted you to enjoy the sound of my mother tongue.” The speech is then translated by his advisor and press secretary Michael Zantovsky. Although Zantovsky used to work as translator I find it odd that they would not have native speaker read the text instead. Also I don’t think it was advisors who advised Havel about the use of the language but Havel himself decided to read his speech in Czech. Although he comprehends English well he is not happy with his pronunciation. At the Colombia University lecture in 2006 he stated: “I have one bad message for you. I don’t like my English. I am not sure if it is understandable. Sometimes I hate it.”

The speech and the Havel’s presidents visit to the US helped to restart Czech-US relations, which were mostly frozen from 1948 and Czech diplomacy gained quite a few allies. Havel became good friend of president Bush Sr. his successors Bill Clinton.

The speech:

Phone calls and discussion after:

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