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NATO: Havel Backs Continued RFE/RL Broadcasts From Prague

Prague, 26 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel today expressed support for continued broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from the Czech Republic.

Havel said it was the Czech Republic's duty to enable the message of freedom to continue to be heard in those countries where authoritarian regimes or dictatorships remain and where citizens do not have access to objective information.

Havel made the remarks during a visit to the Prague headquarters of RFE/RL. The visit came eight days after security measures were tightened at RFE/RL in response to a report of a threat received by the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

It is a busy day for Havel, who is also presiding over a conference in the Czech capital on the role of non-governmental organizations. Later today (17:45 Prague time), Havel and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski are due to sign accession documents in simultaneous, televised ceremonies in Prague and Warsaw enabling their countries to join NATO.

Havel says the document is of historic significance for present and future generations. In his words, "after centuries of dramatic developments in the history of our nation, its security is now finally, firmly and effectively guaranteed, becoming an integral part of the security of the entire Euro-American world."

Havel says the Czech Republic perceives membership as an assurance as well as a commitment. As he puts it, NATO membership gives hope to the country that any aggressor will never again conquer it. Havel said this move demonstrates the country's determination to meet its share of responsibility for the freedom of nations, human rights, democratic values and peace in Europe.

Havel added a personal remark noting that ten years ago he was in prison and did not expect that two years later, speaking in Prague on behalf of the Warsaw Pact, he would announce the Pact's dissolution; and that another eight years later, he would sign on behalf of the Czech Republic the instrument ratifying its entry into NATO.

The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary will legally join NATO next month.

Fifty-one years ago this week, the Czechoslovak Communist Party seized power in a coup. Czechoslovakia was a founding member of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and remained an active member until the collapse of Communist power in 1989.

The Warsaw Pact ceased to exist in 1991, the same year the last Soviet occupation troops left Czechoslovakia and 23 years after the Soviet-led invasion that ended the 1968 Prague Spring liberalization era and shifted the balance of forces in Central Europe.

After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992, the new Czech Army began a gradual reorganization according to NATO models and made membership in the alliance a priority.

During his visit to RFE/RL today, Havel drew a parallel between Western radio broadcasts to the region during the Cold War and its aftermath, and today's signing of the NATO accession documents.

"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."

Havel says RFE/RL broadcasts were of tremendous importance for his country for decades by being a contact point between the opposition and the population at large as well as what he terms "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."

RFE/RL president Tom Dine praised Havel for having recognized the continued relevance of the radios' mission after the Cold War and having invited the radios to move to Prague from Munich in 1995 rather than shut down entirely.

"Essentially, Mr. President, you are the architect of the renewed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty."

Also present at today's ceremony was former German president Richard von Weizsaecker who praised RFE/RL's mission.

"I am grateful for everything which you have done and 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 that it is necessary to prove that freedom and responsibility, whenever we have achieved freedom, are quite inseparable."

The former German president concluded, "we should think of all those who wait for your next message".