November 17, 1989, which marked a turning point in modern history of the both, Czech Republic and Slovakia, deserves our respect and active remembrance. Freedom is rare and important. It is the basis of the dignity of the human person and a precondition of the dignified life.
Communism was totalitarian – it denied freedom for all in the name of a fairer society for all. After years of red terror, hopes for reforms in Czechoslovakia had arrived, suppressed by the military invasion of the Warsaw Pact and occupation, normalisation and emptied real socialism with growing calls for openness and perestroika. The relatively peaceful fall of communism across the Central and Eastern Europe brought hope for life not only in freedom but also in justice. Let us remember the martyrs of freedom in gulags and prisons, people murdered by the State Security, the victims of violent collectivization, persecuted for political and religious beliefs.
In Slovakia a wave of anti-communist resistance was rising already in the 1980s. Its star moment was the Candle Manifestation of March 1988 in Bratislava. We became an active part of the European struggle for freedom. What encouragement was the fall of the regimes around us and in here, the liberation of the Bratislava Five, the opening of the borders, the establishment of Christian Democratic clubs and the entry of civic and Christian democrats and citizens in general into public life, and our return to Europe! Without freedom, neither democratic Slovak statehood nor the Slovak star on a European flag would exist! Without reunification of Berlin and Germany we would not have European unity!
While freedom and democracy are rare for the elderly, they become self-evident for the young. Today, if we see the great disappointment or rejection of November ’89, there are two main reasons. One of them is nostalgia for a system that on the basis of materialistic ideology and class struggle, “took everything and decided everything.” It is a call for order and a strong leader, even at the cost of weakening freedom and democracy. The second, deeper cause is the disappointment by deficits accompanying Slovakia’s development. The politics is largely corrupted, health-care is ill, education in decline, regional disparities are growing, modern infrastructure is missing together with billions of euros for its dynamic development. Eurofunds are often accompanied by abuse or even theft. Mafia and crime have grown into the Slovakia’s judiciary, prosecution and police. Its difficult to defend the truth and enforce one‘s rights…
All of this can be changed, although it is a demanding struggle. There is no true freedom without effective justice. And there will be none of them without bravery and courage. Do we remember repeated encouragements from a great person – St. John Paul II to not be afraid? The courage and braveness of people are the foundations of responsible democracy, a strong nation and a healthy civic society. While the challenge is addressed to everyone, the answer is always personal.
The November ’89 anniversary represents the moment and reason for the maturity of our freedom – both personal and collective. It is an invitation to a new determination to further efforts to restore confidence in our democratic capacity, in our own state and in ourselves. We must firmly reject the oligarchization of politics and manipulation of public opinion, and social indifference. We need to go to the elections and strive for positive changes aimed at responsible, sensible solutions, effective justice and common good. Defeats must not disgust us. Defeats are reason for seeking a new unity and for a stronger creative effort for Slovakia to become a state of justice, solidarity society and modern, developed country in the united Europe. It is a realistic and achievable vision.
The speech by Jan Figel took place in the Old Parliament in Bratislava on the 9th November.