Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2003
Volume 14
Issue 2
Page Numbers 184-87
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Czech Republic

On February 2, Václav Havel stepped down after almost 14 years as president first of Czechoslovakia, then of the Czech Republic. (See Michael Kraus’s article on pp. 50-64 of this issue.) Excerpts from his last two presidential addresses follow:

New Year’s Address on January 1:

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the birth of the Czech Republic as an independent state. . . . I think it would be appropriate for me today to recall the positive things that have happened during the ten years since the emergence of the Czech Republic—especially since most of us no longer even notice them. First and foremost: The world has long ceased to see us as a left-over of some divided country, whose existence or purpose is hard to understand. On the contrary: Today, we are a trustworthy and respected European democracy that . . . engages as a member in many important international organizations, and boasts stability in its politics and creative potential in its citizens. . . . We have become used to newly won freedoms and are using them to the fullest; we are strengthening the democratic order and developing our young market economy. . . . New generations are maturing, generations of people who grew up free and are not deformed by life under communist rule. These are the first Czechs of our times who inherently consider freedom normal and natural. . . .

Our country’s democratic development is irrevocable. That said, our work is not over. We must remind ourselves over and over that democracy is not just a certain institutional structure, but also a spirit, a human capacity, a purpose, and an ideal.

Farewell Address to Czech Citizens on February 2:

In late 1989, the profound transformation that took place in this country brought me here to Prague Castle. It all happened so suddenly that I did not even have time to properly consider whether or not I was up to [End Page 184] the task, and I was sincerely of the opinion that I would just take it on for a few months until the first free elections. . . . Clearly, things turned out quite differently: I have now been here for more than thirteen years. . . .

It is easy to destroy the fine web of civic institutions and relations that developed over the long decades, to place everything under state control and to subject the life of the entire country to a single political entity. But it has been extremely challenging and time-consuming to put everything together again after those decades when time stood still—just as it would certainly take a lot longer to restore a piece of antique furniture than it would to kick it to pieces. . . .

[My successor] will be head of state during times which may be less agitated than when I assumed this office, but which will in no way be uninteresting. Quite the reverse, only the time now at hand will truly show the extent to which we are a fully fledged part of the democratic world.


On February 25, the National Endowment for Democracy awarded its Democracy Service Medal to Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolaños for his outstanding efforts to advance democracy and fight corruption in Nicaragua. Excerpted below is his acceptance speech.

Since the end of the Cold War and the first free elections in Nicaragua, which began a democratic process 13 years ago today, democracy as a form of government has spread to more places on earth than ever before. However, in many of these new or restored democracies, the promise of prosperity associated with a democratic form of government has not been fulfilled. And few bear more responsibility for these shortcomings than corrupt democrats!

Corrupt democrats are [those] affiliated with democratic parties who have been duly elected or appointed to a position in a democratic administration, and who then turn around and rob the poor, stealing the people’s money. Nothing discredits democracy as a form of government faster in the eyes of the governed than to witness government officials stealing from the poor with impunity. So, in one new democracy or restored democracy after another, free election after free election has been held with disappointingly little improvement in the lives of everyday people. Too often, the primary reason for this state of affairs is that democratic leaders are either involved in corruption themselves or tolerate corruption, because they are afraid to pay the political costs of tackling this timeless scourge.

Indeed, corruption is difficult to defeat. . . . Corruption has a constituency of powerful beneficiaries. These beneficiaries have no concern for democracy and take no pity on their fellow citizens who are living under the poverty line. They are thus contributing, with their greed and [End Page 185] arrogance, to undermining the nation’s faith in democracy. Furthermore, these powerful enemies of democracy flourish under a culture of impunity such as the one we had in Nicaragua for so long.

When I became president, a little over a year ago, I knew that if Nicaragua was to advance in the twenty-first century, if democracy was to take root, the rule of law had to become deep-seated. . . . I ought not, I would not renege on my campaign promise, and I could not in essence balk on my deeply held and long-cherished value—that no one would be above the law. . . . Fourteen months later, I can tell you that our faith has paid off. Granted, I am not saying we have solved the quandary of government corruption in Nicaragua—far from it. It is still an ongoing war. . . . [But] we have broken the culture of impunity in Nicaragua. We have shown our people that the rule of law in a democracy applies equally to the rich and powerful and the poor and dispossessed. We have shown that no matter how powerful the position you hold—up to the highest position in the land—if you steal from the people you will face justice. . . .

I will not pretend that the first year of my administration has been easy. . . . I have lost some of my friends; I even lost my party, which is now in opposition. The correct path is difficult, but it must be pursued.


In the November 2002 legislative elections, the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained a majority in the Grand National Assembly. (See “Turkey at the Polls” on pp. 80-107 of this issue.) Excerpted below is AKP chairman (now prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s December 9 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.:

The political weight of our party’s victory in the elections is as important as its numerical weight. I would like to stress in particular the democratic nature of our vote in the elections. Our party received votes from nearly every sector of society, thus ensuring their representation in the National Assembly. Consequently, our party’s vote represents a Turkish consensus.

Turkey now has political stability. I would like to expand on the vision that has brought us here. . . . I believe in the virtue of spiritual ideas. However, at the same time I recognize the value of pluralism, diversity, and tolerance. As an essential part of my beliefs, I define my political ideas within the context of democracy, freedom, tolerance, basic rights, secularism, and political participation. And I also know that we need to match other countries in the world in democratic values. . . . We attach great importance to tolerance. One of the first things we promised, which nobody demanded from us, was to guarantee property rights for Christian churches. [End Page 186]

Turkey provides a unique model. . . . The model is perhaps a product of Turkey’s own unique characteristics. Turkey has a social history in which peoples from all three monotheistic faiths with different cultures have lived in peace for centuries. . . . Ultimately, the [Turkish] model is universal. It is not applicable just to Muslims and Christians, but to the entire world. This model is the democratic, secular, legal and political order that views the world of faith at the level of the individual and treats all faiths equally at the level of the state.

Turkish democracy is not a project but a reality. The Turkish government under the leadership of the AKP is determined to consolidate this reality with the help of the opposition. In this context, it is moving ahead confidently to achieve the highest democratic standards.


Last fall Brazilians elected as their president the founder of the Workers’ Party, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (See Wendy Hunter’s article on pp. 151-62 of this issue.) Below are excerpts of his January 1 inaugural address:

Change. This is the key word. It was the great message from Brazilian society in the October elections. . . . In the face of the exhaustion of a model that, rather than generating growth, has produced stagnation, unemployment, and hunger . . . Brazilian society opted for change; and has itself taken the steps to promote such change. It was for this that the Brazilian people elected me the president of the Republic. . . .

We shall not allow corruption, tax evasion, and waste to continue depriving the population of resources that are its due and which are sorely needed to assist in the grim struggle for survival. Being honest means more than merely not stealing and not allowing others to steal. It also entails efficiency, transparency, and eliminating all waste of public resources, with the aim of achieving concrete social outcomes. . . .

Under my leadership, the executive branch will maintain a constructive relationship with other branches of the republic, paying exemplary respect to their independence and the exercise of their high constitutional functions. . . .

The greatest priority of our foreign policy during my government will be the building of a politically stable, prosperous, and united South America, founded upon ideals of democracy and social justice. . . . The democratization of international relations, without hegemonies of any kind whatsoever, is as important for the future of mankind as the consolidation and development of democracy within each state. We shall exalt the value of multilateral organizations, and especially of the United Nations, which has the prime mandate for preserving international peace and security.