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Prioritising Truth and Responsibility A Leader article based on a translation of the Keynote Address delivered in Czech by Václav Havel, in Prague, on the 16th July 2008.

Prioritising Truth and Responsibility

by Václav Havel, Former President of the Czech Republic

During my career, I have witnessed our lives changing enormously in so many ways. Take the mobile phone, which has become an essential part of our lives. With this small device, I can contact people across the world from wherever I am. While I don’t know a great deal about how it works, I know I can transmit images and data worldwide. If you had told me 40 years ago that most people today would have these little machines, I would have envisaged a wonderful world, where different countries and continents would understand each other better. In fact, we find the contrary, with threats hanging over every continent in the world which are even more dangerous than those of the past.

Today, the impression I have is that one part of the human brain - the rational part, responsible for progress and knowledge - seems to have developed far more quickly than the part responsible for human responsibility. We need to do away with the assumption that this first part should be predominant, and allow the other part of our brains to catch up. Today’s priority for all of us in politics, business and our personal lives should be on cultivating a sense of responsibility, the belief that each of us, in our behaviour and our ambitions, have the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better.

The notion of responsibility should be prized as the fruit of European cultural traditions and this is what we should be seeking to export.

With phones, the internet and sophisticated technology, there is a multitude of information flying in all directions. You can find almost anything you want, but with such a proliferation of data, it becomes more important to distinguish between information and truth. Information flows like a virus and can be transmitted freely without signature and without guarantee. Truth differs in that it has your personal guarantee and you take responsibility for its integrity.

Europe is facing huge challenges today. Since the birth of the earliest European civilisations, there has been a struggle to balance the civilisations’ values, knowledge and ideas and export these around the world, often through violence and the eradication of other cultures. Times have changed, and Europe no longer seeks to export its ideas thorough violence. Now, we have the opportunity to inspire people across all parts of the world but respecting different traditions and cultural backgrounds. We should be promoting a Europe which unites the people in each of our countries but without threatening our identity and what is unique to us. Furthermore, the notion of responsibility should be prized as the fruit of European cultural traditions and this is what we should be seeking to export.

In these times, called the ‘Era of Globalisation’, it becomes particularly important to prioritise truth over information and promote responsibility. I have been asked whether I think that the development of the European Union is taking place in way that is consistent with promoting both unity and diversity. I believe Europe is developing in the right way although the journey is a difficult one with many obstacles. The constitutional treaty has not been ratified following its rejection in Ireland and postponement in the Czech Republic, but there have been issues before. These are simply accidents along the way but I would not see them as fatal. In 10-15 years’ time, I would like to see a very simple and brief constitution which is intelligible to everyone and serves those who manage activities on behalf of European citizens to fulfil their practical role. To me, it is obvious that as Europe is in the hands of such exceptional politicians, it has good prospects ahead.

Based on a translation of the Keynote Address delivered in Czech by Vaclav Havel. SunGard Europa, Prague. 16th July 2008

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