Margaret Thatcher Toasts Vaclav Havel
On March 21, 1990 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hosted a delegation from Czechoslovakia, including the newly elected president Vaclav Havel. One of Prime Minister Thatcher's major initiatives following the collapse of communism was the creation of the "Know How Fund," a fund created to assist economic, political, and cultural development in Eastern Europe. Relative to what other Western countries were investing in Eastern Europe, the British contributions were small. in the first two years, the fund sponsored over 200 projects costing around 18 million pounds. The Know How Fund's decisions on sponsorships were tied to these factors: progress toward economic and political reform, supporting British business interests, and that there be some funds provided by the private sector.
From Thatcher's remarks, it is clear that she is interested in reconnecting with the Czech people and including Czechoslovakia within a new definition of Europe. This policy of expanding the membership of the European Community was consistent with her general approach towards the EC (of which she was skeptical).
The remarks by Vaclav Havel echoed those of Thatcher, but added that the most important thing that Czechoslovakia needed during its transition period toward democracy and economic reconstruction was "know-how". To this end, he was eagerly looking toward cooperating with the UK in areas of industry and education.
Margaret Thatcher Toasts Vaclav Havel
21 March 1990
[ Vaclav Havel] Mr. President, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies
First, may I welcome you, Mr. President, and your distinguished
delegation very warmly to No. 10 Downing Street on this your first
official visit to London. For us, it is a visit of very special
significance and we hope it is also for you and that you will very
much enjoy your brief stay with us in London.
Mr. President, nothing has more distinguished and dignified our
age than the struggle for human rights and freedom in Eastern
Europe and the Soviet Union. It was a campaign conducted against
tremendous, sometimes overwhelming odds; it demanded courage
and conviction of the highest order.
The battle was won by the heroism in the face of persecution and
torment of countless thousands whose names we shall probably
never know but among those fearless men and women a handful of
names stand out as a symbol of all that is finest in the human spirit:
Dr. Andrei Sakharov, Anatoly Shcharansky in the Soviet Union, Lech
Walesa in Poland and you, Mr. President, and the student Jan Palach
in Czechoslovakia—we honour you all (applause).
During the darkest years of Stalinist oppression, you were an
inspiration to your people. In your plays, you exposed and opposed
the deceits and injustices of totalitarian rule. You stayed true to
your principles through long periods of imprisonment and illness
and among our guests tonight are several, led by Bernard Braine,
who worked tirelessly during those years for your release.
When freedom triumphed, it was with astonishing speed. Five
months ago, we were protesting at your arrest. Two months ago, we
were celebrating your election as President. Today, we welcome you
here as leader of your country. Rarely in history can the power of
ideals have been more convincingly demonstrated.
Tonight, we pay warm and genuine tribute to you and your
colleagues in ‘Charter 77’ who pointed the way to freedom and
brought Czechoslovakia to its rightful place as one of the free and
democratic nations of Europe.
In the soaring language and thought of your speeches as President,
above all in a New Year's Address whose message of hope and plea
for tolerance and responsibility moved us all, you have displayed a
passion and vision before which the rest of us can only feel very
humble indeed. You ended that speech, I recall, with a declaration
which sums up everything which has been achieved in Eastern
Europe and in the Baltic States and we hope will be achieved in time
in the Soviet Union. You said: "People, your Government has
returned to you!"
That phrase is adapted from the words of the great Czech scholar
and reformer of the 17th Century, Comenius. He, of course, was an
exile in Britain. One of our greatest poets—Milton—described him
as "a person sent hither by some good providence of a far country
to be the occasion and incitement of great good to this island."
That, Mr. President, was an age when they really knew how to pay
compliments! (laughter) But we would like to say the same to you in
the same language.
But Comenius was only the first of several great figures of
Czechoslovak history who spent time in Britain. Thomas Masaryk,
the father of modern Czechoslovakia, worked here in London as a
Professor at the School of Slavonic Studies in the early part of this
century. His son, [ Jan Masaryk] Jan, was Minister at the Court of St.
James for 14 years, then Foreign Minister of the Government-in-Exile
during the War. His regular broadcasts from London gave
heart to his compatriots during their darkest hours.
The third great figure to come here was President Benes, who spent
most of his time in exile between 1938 and 1945 in Britain. Winston
Churchill wrote of him:
"In all his thoughts and his aims, he consistently sustained the
main principles on which Western civilisation was founded and was
ever true to the cause of his native land".
President Benes had been forced into exile as a result of the Munich
Agreement which Churchill and a few others condemned. I think
each of us still feels some sense of shame over that Agreement and
we still feel unease that the Western World watched as the Prague
spring of 1968 was crushed by Soviet tanks. Yet it was from this
modest house, which has seen so much history, that the great
illusion of "Peace in our Time" was broadcast to the British people in
1938, but remember too that it was from here—downstairs in the
Cabinet Room—that only 12 months later our nation was called to
fight a war against tyranny and oppression. That was and is the true
spirit of Britain and in the event of that year—1938/39—there is no
shadow of doubt in anyone's mind that our cause was morally right.
Other Czechoslovaks—airmen and soldiers—also came here and
fought valiantly alongside British forces throughout the Second
World War. We honour their memory and you, Sir, will be paying
your own respects to them at Brookwood on Friday. They fought for
a freedom which Communism then denied to Czechoslovakia after
For over 40 years, Czechoslovakia—as you yourself have put it—
slumbered under the pall of Socialism, but then your humanistic
and democratic traditions burst out once more in those two
remarkable months last autumn in which a government which had
ruled by fear and by force was swept away as your people
demonstrated the invincibility of the human spirit.
Now, you face the even more difficult and formidable task of
restoring a full life to your people. You have said, Mr. President,
that Czechoslovakia needs ideas, cooperation and investment rather
than charity and those things—ideas, cooperation and investment—
we can provide.
We have today announced the start of a programme under our
"Know-How Fund" and I am sure our guests this evening
representing the business and financial world will be giving very
serious consideration to investing in Czechoslovakia. They will have
in mind the tremendous reserves of skill and enterprise which made
Czechoslovakia in the 1930s one of the great industrial powers of
Europe, reserves which will soon be harnessed to renew her
We also want to see Czechoslovakia return once more to Europe. In
a speech in Bruges 18 months ago, which generated some slight
interest, I urged the European Community not to be too
introspective and not to forget that Prague, Warsaw and Budapest
are great European cities which have traditionally been at the centre
of our Continent's history.
I hope we can rapidly develop a closer association between
Czechoslovakia and the European Community which will restore
those links and you will have our enthusiastic support too for your
intention to join the Council of Europe.
We also want to join with Czechoslovakia in strengthening the
Helsinki Accords as a framework within which democracy and
human rights can be made more secure and permanent from the
Atlantic right across to the Pacific and the elections in East Germany
last Sunday are the latest and most important step towards that
We do not see this as an alternative to NATO. Experience has taught
us that we need the presence of American forces in Europe
alongside our own armed forces to safeguard stability and security
at a time of great uncertainty and change.
Mr. President, we welcome you here as we welcome
Czechoslovakia's return to the mainstream of Europe. We shall do
all in our power to support and further the efforts of your people
and to renew the friendship which brought our two nations together
under your great predecessors and, Sir, together, along with our
fellow Heads of Government and those they represent, we shall
strive to shape a peaceful and fulfilling future.
May I ask all our guests to rise and drink a toast to you, Mr.
President, to the happiness and prosperity of your people and a
further flowering of our longstanding friendship. To you, Sir, your
people and friendship! (applause)
Madam Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and
May I thank Mrs. Thatcher for her kind introductory words. I should
also like to thank Mrs. Thatcher for her invitation to visit England
and third, I thank her for offering me this opportunity to make her
acquaintance and to talk to her.
After spending in England no more than one hour, my delegation
and myself were already able to feel the spirit of democracy
prevailing here everywhere. This has been a moving experience for
us and we have felt our visit here as a visit of a delegation from a
country where democracy is re-emerging to a country where
democracy has existed for centuries.
I have been delighted to have an opportunity to compare with Mrs.
Thatcher—and later in the course of my visit also with other British
statesmen—our respective ideas about the future of Europe.
My country is situated in the very centre of Europe so that it has to
concern itself with the future of the Continent even if it did not
want to! (laughter)
We are pleased to receive the generous bilateral offers that have
been made to us here.
Mrs. Thatcher has been very right when she stressed that what we
need most is to know how to do things. The tasks we are facing are
immense and difficult indeed and we shall very much appreciate any
assistance and advice—more so than money actually!
Being confronted with the tremendous problems that history has
piled up in my country, we are finding that these problems can be
resolved only by educated people. That is why we want to
encourage in our country most of all culture, training and education
because only people with a comprehensive education will be able to
cope properly. England is a country with a famous educational
system. Any assistance will be of importance for us.
May I conclude my words of gratitude by saying that we see this
visit as a follow-up to the ancient traditions that have existed
between our countries and the friendship that we have enjoyed.
Earlier today, I had an opportunity for the first time in my life to
have lunch with your Queen. May I therefore offer a toast to the
good health of Her Majesty The Queen and to the good health of
the people of Britain (applause)
Margaret Thatcher. "Speech at dinner for Czech President (Vaclav Havel)," speech, No. 10 Downing St., London, England, March 21, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).