Sorry, I don't speak Czech. I have to say it's a great honour for me to be here today, in the presence of the Prime Minister, Ministers, a former Minister, but especially family members of Jan Patočka and Max van der Stoel. Exactly 40 years after this historic event.
I have to tell you, for those of you who don't know, Max van der Stoel was my political father. I worked with him for many years, when he was High Commissioner on National Minorities we travelled together to all parts of Europe for many years and he taught me everything. Sometimes a person can be lucky enough as I was to be allowed, by a giant, to stand on his shoulders.
The meeting with Jan Patočka is something that Max kept with him for the rest of his life, and something that kept him unsure whether he made the right decision because of the tragic end. He always felt a bit of guilt. He didn't like to discuss it, but sometimes he did. And he would recall every single word that was exchanged in the meeting.
I remember, this is something I wanted to tell you today, accompanying him on one of his visits to Václav Havel. Who opened the door, picking up the newspaper, in his slippers, and again I felt the presence of one of the greatest men of our time, and I was humbled by being in that presence. They started talking about Charta 77 and about those years, and Max didn't raise the issue of Jan Patočka, but Václav Havel did. And he said, very kindly: "Max, I can understand you feel bad about this, but you shouldn't. You shouldn’t, because we were so proud and happy that you were the first Western politician who had the courage to meet one of us." And I really saw that for Max this was a moment of great relief. He didn't bring it up himself. I will always admire, Václav Havel for his sensitivity to the issue of Max feeling guilty for Jan Patočka's death. If there was this feeling, Václav Havel took it away, in that meeting.
I think about this meeting a lot. I think about Max all the time, obviously, being so close to him. But I also think about Václav Havel a lot in these days. I remember I was here in Prague for a speech he held for a NATO summit, years ago. And he said something that has inspired me ever since that I come back to all the time. He said: "One of the great successes of the end of the Cold War, the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, is that East and West are no longer moral denominations, but purely geographical denominations.”
I think this is something we should remember. Also when there is still, with our different histories in West and East, sometimes different reactions to the same situation, sometimes misunderstandings about each other's intentions, sometimes also the fear here and there that we might go back to the past. Then I think we should be inspired by Václav Havel to understand that in this Europe, which is now united, in this miracle of a peaceful Europe, where my kids can now travel to Prague with more ease than my parents could travel from Maastricht to Amsterdam when they were young, this is now the natural state of affairs.
We will probably never know to what extent we owe the debt of gratitude to Jan Patočka and all the heroes of Charta 77. It is my profound belief that without Charta and without Solidarność, Europe would have been divided much longer, still, than it was. Because sometimes we might indulge in believing that it was the West that won the Cold War. But the actual truth is of course that the people of the East won the Cold War, and this is something we should never forget and this is what I would like to commemorate on this very important day in this very important place. In the name of the people who believed in a peaceful future. People who dared, who had the audacity, to believe that for human rights and dialogue, we could take down the Iron Curtain. This audacity was rewarded in 1989 and we will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jan Patočka and all the other heroes. Thank you very much.