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Czech Republic: Presidents Say Threats Will Not Intimidate Broadcasters

  • Jolyon Naegele



Prague, 26 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following is a transcript of remarks made today at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Prague headquarters by RFE/RL President Tom Dine, Czech President Vaclav Havel, and former German president Richard von Weizsacker.

RFE/RL President Tom Dine made the welcoming speech:

"Good morning, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It is an honor and a privilege to introduce three men of distinguished and distinctive achievements, a president, a former president, and an ambassador.

These three have much in common. In their lives, all three men have pursued causes representing moral authority and conscience, applied both words and deeds, displayed physical and spiritual courage in the face of danger, supported free speech as a value, and the free flow of ideas and information as an essential practice to a functioning democratic society. All three have given renewed credibility to the old concept of patriotism.

First, I would like to introduce to this audience the Ambassador of the United States, John Shattuck. John is a learned activist and a learned advocate for just causes. An outspoken champion of democracy and human rights, as a lawyer and as a diplomat. And in fact, today, the State Department will issue its annual human rights report, John was the author of that report for several years, his hand is in this report, his leadership is in this report, and this is a very important document for all journalists -- certainly at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty -- to report on. He is now President Clinton�s new and able representative to the Czech Republic.

John, this is your first visit here, officially. Your daily support of our mission is deeply appreciated. Come often, come back, we welcome you, and I say over and over, thank you for extending your hands and your heart of friendship.

Five years ago, when many thought that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had accomplished its Cold War mission, and should go off the air, President Havel saw through the ephemeral euphoria of that particular time. He recognized the mission was still relevant, he recognized that the end of history was not true, and that our mission was far from over. He invited us to come to Prague. Essentially, Mr. President, you are the architect of the renewed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

It is your vision and your generosity that put us here, in these magnificent facilities at the top of Wenceslas Square, and as you know, we remain very grateful. But your invitation to come to Prague represented something more than just a building. It highlighted your personal struggle for freedom for �and in� the Czech Republic. It brought us to the city, which, if John F. Kennedy were still alive, I believe would associate with the cause of freedom of the Czech people and Prague, just as he did in Berlin, forty years ago.

And you, sir, are linked to our radio station with your own heroism, and that of the Czech people, a tie that helps all of us continue the struggle. Two weeks ago, we learned that there was a significant terrorist threat to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty would have to close down, some speculated, or at least shut down some of its broadcasts. Thanks to the wonderful cooperation of the Czech authorities, of John Shattuck and the American embassy, and the devotion and discipline of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty people that are here today, we did not stop broadcasting for even one minute. All our programs went out on schedule, and none of our listening audience of approximately 25 million people a week, scattered throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and now into the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Iran, were left without their listening programs.

So like you, President Havel, we know that being on the front lines in the continuing struggle for freedom is to be at risk. Like you, we know that we must never stop fighting those who would crush freedom to serve their own evil ends. Like you, we will never give in to terrorism. Radio Free Europe will continue to broadcast, regardless of what any enemy of freedom may try to do. And like you, we know that standing up to terrorism in this way is the best way to achieve freedom and defeat terrorism. And because you are standing with us here today, we know that we will be able to fulfill our mission, that you and we share: spreading the values of a free society across a region of the world that until recently, has known too little of any of them. Mr. President, again, welcome to our Radios. You know that they are your Radios as well. We are delighted that you are with us today, and we look forward to your good words."

President Havel said:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot fail to recall at this time one moment 24 years ago. At that time, I had signed an open letter to Gustav Husak (Czechoslovak President 1975-1989, Czechoslovak Communist Party General Secretary 1969-1987) which after a long hiatus was an attempt at a more thorough analysis of the sad condition of our country. I had made copies of the letter and distributed them to various friends.

The moment that I recall is when I heard the letter being read on Radio Free Europe. When the announcers beautifully read out the letter, I had the feeling that it was better than it had seemed to me when I had read it in written form. But that is not the main thing. The main issue was that I had the feeling that it had a purpose, because my fellow citizens were hearing it, that if they were to jail me for that letter, I would know that it made sense to let myself be locked up.

For decades, Radio Free Europe was of tremendous importance for this country. Not only in that it mediated contact (acted as an intermediary) between the opposition and fellow citizens, but also as a source of objective information, interesting commentaries and analyses. It was a kind of message of freedom and hope which rung out to us and which strengthened and helped us.

History carried on and today, by coincidence, I will sign the documents on our entry into the North Atlantic Alliance. This means that by this act we are becoming a part of the democratic and free world. I think that the work of Radio Free Europe, BBC and VOA contributed by their measure to history reaching this moment.

I have always thought that we should not just accept gifts while not giving anything in return. And I thought that it is our duty, since the message of liberty had helped us so much that now in a situation when freedom in our country is fresh and young, in this situation one should not forget about others but rather enable this message of liberty to continue in the direction of those countries, where there are authoritative regimes or dictatorships and where citizens do not have the same kind of access to objective information.

That is why I pushed for Radio Free Europe to be able to be based in Prague and that is why I am happy that you are functioning here and spreading the message of freedom further. It is a matter of our feeling of responsibility for the world that gives our country the opportunity to do this. I would like to thank you for your work so far and wish you much success in your future work. And in closing I would like to express my deep conviction that no one is going to toss a little bomb in here. Thank you."

The third speaker was former President of Germany Richard von Weizsacker who said:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is quite a moving moment for me, because I have been listening so often to the voice of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, but I never knew whether it really existed somewhere. So to find you in this rather extraordinary building proves to me what a wonderful institution Radio Free Europe is.

I am very honored and glad to be included in this reception for President Havel, my old and distinguished friend. I am grateful for everything which you have done, and which you are still doing. Not only to give free information, to serve free speech, and to spread freedom, but also to remind all of us that it is not enough to fight for freedom, but also to prove that freedom and responsibility �whenever we have achieved freedom� is quite inseparable. And that is why I am impressed with your work, and I do wish you all the best, and I think that there are so many listeners in the world who are grateful for your work, that we should think of all those who wait for your next message.

All the best to your work here in Prague. And I am also very grateful that your headquarters in Prague once more links two neighboring countries. Munich and Prague. And I think -I don�t know whether some of you have been in Munich. In any case, we in Germany feel ... very close to you here in Prague, although we cannot match the beauties of this city. Thank you very much."
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