Pelosi Remarks at Vaclav Havel Bust Dedication Ceremony

November 19, 2014
Speech
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke in Statuary Hall today at the dedication ceremony for a bust of Czech President Vaclav Havel.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good afternoon, everyone.  Mr. Speaker – that is, Speaker Boehner; Mr. Speaker, from the Czech Republic; Mr. Prime Minister, of course; Chairman Royce bringing us the beautiful words of Vaclav Havel; Dagmar – what an honor for us all that you are here today; Madam Secretary Albright – you were the catalyst and a driving force to make today possible.  Thank you for your leadership, and welcome.

[Applause]

“When President Vaclav Havel spoke before a joint session of Congress on February 21, 1990, he reminded us that ‘We are living in very extraordinary times.  The human face of the world is changing so rapidly that none of the familiar political speedometers are adequate.’  His simple presence in the Capitol, as President of, at the time, Czechoslovakia, was powerful testimony to that fact – a stirring tribute to all who yearned for democracy, justice, and human rights.  You recall, Madam Secretary, that being a Californian, we took great pleasure and joy and pride in the fact that Shirley Temple Black was the ambassador at that time.  She was so overjoyed to bring the President to the joint session. Yet what was far more powerful and far more moving were the ways he, himself, had shaped those extraordinary times – the steps he had taken to change the course of world history and the process he led to render familiar political expectations inadequate.

“This was a man whose life story defined the transformations of which he spoke: From noted playwright to celebrated political icon – freedom of expression in the arts, freedom of the expression in government; from imprisoned dissident to father of the “Velvet Revolution”; from silenced conscience of a people to heroic president of a nation.  This was a leader who recognized the power of the powerless, who believed in peaceful, non-violent action, who embraced the blessings of democracy.  This was a public servant who led the Czech Republic to prosperity; who built alliances across the international community; who earned recognition the world over for his commitment to democratic principles.

“If Vaclav Havel’s influence had only been contained within the boundaries of his own country, that certainly would have been a great deal and enough.  Yet his leadership reached far beyond the borders of the Czech Republic.  Even after he left office, he would continue to serve as not just a champion for the rights of his own people, but as a trailblazer for European unity and progress.  He would lend his name and his energy to the cause of human rights in China and Tibet, as his ‘Charter 77’ laid the groundwork for the ‘Charter 08’ of Chinese dissidents – paving the path for another people halfway around the world to demand their own fundamental liberty.

“President Havel was a defender of freedom; a champion of human rights; an apostle of hope.  He wrote plays – and penned a charter for reform.  He spoke out for democracy – and crafted a new chapter of progress for his country and his continent, for people worldwide and for generations yet to come.

“Today, on behalf of the millions Havel inspired, it is once more our privilege to say thank you to his wife Dagmar – thank you again, Dagmar – his family, and his country for sharing him with the world. It’s so wonderful that this beautiful sculpture will grace the halls of Congress.  And I commend the sculptor for his beautiful work and the remarkable likeness.  And this likeness will be viewed by schoolchildren who come from all over the country and all over the world to see, in this temple of democracy, a champion of democracy.  His presence brings luster to the Capitol.  We hope his presence here brings joy and pride to the people of the Czech Republic.

“In that same speech that I mentioned before the joint session of Congress, this was what I remembered most of the speech: Vaclav Havel quoted our Declaration of Independence – that ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’  But then he went on to say, and this is the part I loved especially, he went on to remind us that, ‘what gave meaning to that act…was the fact that the author backed it up with his life.  It was not just his words; it was his deeds as well.’  For the lesson Havel drew from his own experience was that ‘Democracy is not a destination, but a horizon towards which we make continual progress.’

“For his courage and sacrifice, for his words and his deeds, for his friendship with the United States and his inspiration to men and women across the globe, we are proud to welcome this bust of Vaclav Havel to the Capitol.  May his name and likeness long stand in our country’s temple of democracy as a monument to all who strive for freedom – and a challenge to keep making progress toward that horizon of democracy.  Thank you.”