[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 16, 1998]
[Pages 1590-1591]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for President Vaclav 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 
    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.

[[Page 1591]]

    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, 
    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 
    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