Numerous dignitaries of all nationalities and beliefs have been the honoured guests of the Council of Europe. These men and women, often instrumental in the implementation of political, social and cultural initiatives, illustrate the dynamism and values which, since the 1950s, have governed the work of the Council of Europe
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Václav Havel [1936 - 2011]
President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic
29 June 1995
The Council of Europe obviously cannot put an end to this war. But the states united in the Council possess the strength to do so
It is a great honour for me to be
invited to speak, on behalf of the country which now holds
the chair in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of
Europe, on this very special day when the Council of Europe
inaugurates the Human Rights Building. I firmly believe that
this house will soon become a materialised symbol of the
values the sharing of which has been the driving force
behind European unification.
A few hundred kilometres away from here, a dreadful war frenzy is raging; and we are all helplessly watching, waiting to see who will win – the Serbs or the others. What we are completely forgetting is the fact that this is not just a war between the Serbs and the others. This is a war for our own future – a war of those to whom their tribal otherness is the ultimate value against all those who embrace higher values than the blood group which they happen to belong to. This war is waged against us all, against human rights, against the coexistence of people of different nationalities or religious beliefs, against the civic principle; it is a war for what divides us, and against what brings us together. The war in Bosnia is in fact a war against meaningful human coexistence based on the universality of human rights derived from the universality of the primeval human experience of the universe. It is an attack of the darkest past on a decent future, an attack of evil on the moral order.
The Council of Europe obviously cannot put an end to this war. But the states united in the Council possess the strength to do so. The responsibility of the Council of Europe, a maker and guardian of European and universal values, consists in throwing light on this war, in calling it by its right name, in saying outright that this is a war against all the values which the Council has enshrined in its documents, which it cherishes and which it has tried to nurture and cultivate.
Europe – like the whole world today – currently finds itself at a crucial historical crossroads. It shall either succeed in embracing a new sense of responsibility, or that will grow out of the universal spiritual experience of the human race and heed the moral message which this experience holds for us, or it shall again commit the same fatal error for which it paid such a terrible price twice before in this century – the error of closing its eyes to the emerging evil of nationalism which, like any evil, is contagious.
Let me conclude by voicing my enduring hope that human reason, decency, solidarity and preparedness to seek understanding and to live together in fairness will triumph over everything which threatens them. I have no doubt that the Council of Europe and its various institutions, including those to reside in this Building, will make a major contribution towards achieving this – not by using instruments of power, which the Council does not have, but by pursuing further the great endeavour which it undertook several decades ago, that is, by continuing to promote, intensify and spread a good spirit of co-operation among nations.