Havel at Columbia

Kraft Program Series

Challenges of New Democracies: A Conversation with President Havel and President Clinton

Photo: Challenges of New Democracies: A Conversation with President Havel and President Clinton Moderated by President Lee Bollinger
Nov 15
Alfred Lerner Hall

More than 1, 200 students, faculty, staff and local media representatives crowded into Roone Arledge Auditorium on November 15 to hear President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and U.S. President Bill Clinton discuss the challenges facing today's emerging democracies, part of an event series being sponsored by the Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness.

Kraft Program Series

President Lee C. Bollinger announced the establishment of The Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness in April 2005 with support from Trustee Emeritus Robert Kraft, CC'63, and his wife, Myra Kraft, and a matching gift from Columbia University. The fund supports a program series that fosters open debate and civil discourse on a wide range of topics, including issues of race, religion and culture. It demonstrates the University's commitment to critical inquiry and academic freedom.

Also available:


This live webcast was one of the best ever. Kudos to you. So clear. Thank you

Zdravm Vs pni Expresidenti.Pro pana Clintona p?ed ?asem
jsem ?etl Vi zdravici pro svobodn obchod Amway.Kde bych
tutro informaci op?t zskal.Pro m? to m?lo a m p?tele
zsadn vznam pro budovn byznisu.Moc Vm d?kuji za V ?as a ochotu Pospil Kutn Hora ?esko

It was really nice to watch the debate on the internet - thanks for that guys !
As my own biggest concern is with the US approach to the ecological issues, I was pleased to hear Mr Clinton using exactly the same arguments I'd use.

Some comment on the translation.
The translator made a great job, 99% was translated to the last bit not in the right words only, but in very acurate meaning translation - as you can see - my English is not as good as the translator's Czech, however there was a moment - at the end - when Mr. Havel spoke about Iraq: "when we see a big strong muscly guy beating up a defendless old women ..." and so on, but then Mr Havel made a comparison to the Iraque people: "It seemed inpropriate to me that the intervention to Irag was presented not as beining motivated by this kind of solidairity, for the victim of violence, >> for the repressed (Iraque) nation,

I'm not trying to be the smart one, just got a feeling that if this was missed out, [ for the repressed (Iraque) nation,] it might be not clear to everyone that Mr Havel made this comparison of the deffendless victim TO the Iraque nation. Maybe I'm wrong, but without this being mentioned, its missing the link and looks like an izolated statement.

Anyway - thanks again - and come to Prague ! It's beautiful city.


Pane prezidente,

sledoval jsem dnes na internetu Vai debatu s panem prezidentem Clintonem.
Po del dob? jsem op?t poctil hrdost nad vystoupenm n?jakho naeho sttnka na zahrani?nm fru.
Za ten pocit Vm d?kuji.
P?eji Vm p?jemn a plodn pobyt ve Spojench sttech a samoz?ejm? hodn? zdrav.

Zden?k Hork

I thought the whole event was really 'fluffy' and had no substance to it. the participants didn't go into any specifics and remained in the realm of broad statements of support for democracy and general critiques of current policy. The audience was actually really disrespectful to Havel and laughed openly when he said "Ya" with a heavy Czech accent. The vocal majority were clearly just there to see Clinton and bask in his aura. He was being really restrained in his answers, failing to go into specifics on topics that were discussed (redistribution of government spending from military to humanitarian missions or education, Iraq, and supporting the creation of democracy). If we could ever say that Columbia was a hotbed of left-wing jihadis this was the event to prove it: we need to be able to appreciate good speeches, discussions and analysis without blindly supporting our champions when they come to speak in front of us. People were in complete awe of Clinton, laughing with him and praising him for his views in which he didn't give any specifics. Being a liberal myself and normally quick to criticize right wingers for their attacks on us for not asking fellow liberals the 'hard' questions that we ask conservatives I am beginning to see truth in these statements. Havel was the only one who gave some specifics on the problems and opportunities of emerging democracies but people were clearly more interested in Clinton for Clinton's sake. Knowing how brilliant, soundly opinionated articulate Clinton can be i thought this event was a huge disappointment. It was also a disappointment in that Havel, a man who has engineered and guided as president a peaceful democratic transition was not asked to talk about the issues he faced and the solutions he found.

I am responding to the "Jarda" Pospisil posting. I do not speak Czech. I do not know how good the translator was. But it was seemed evident to me that Mr. Havel expressed solidarity for the Iraq people (the old woman) who were long repressed by their dictator (big strong muscly guy). I also thought that it was implied that he approved of, at least or at most, the U.S. decision to support Iraqi human rights by toppling the big strong muscly guy. Whether he approved of other U.S. motives for their invasion was unclear. What do you think?

thank u columbia for your interest of vaclav.
my list of things i would like to say is too long.
but really happy to see this debate.
didnt know bill is such a nice guy.
he really impressed me.
no arogancy at all.
i love americans who are not arogant.
and he also touched me in one moment when he did that "promo of havel".
was too bad that the service around the translation was so cheesy looking and sometimes badly working - the laughing???
vaclav would deserve better service if he decides to speak in his natural language.

thank u bill for the comparation of havel to dalaylma.
that said a lot about him in one sentence (for those young kids who laughed about his accent)

the discussion could be deeper tho.

message for vaclav havel:
vaclav if u will have a mood (mood is the key i think right vaclav?) please WRITE POLITICAL PLAYS as one book about all that problems we are going thrue now last 20 years globally.
just an idea to give u inspirations.

only for vaclav and his couple milions of roud neighbours:o)
vasku diky za tu cestinu, zase mi nabehl pocit, kteremu se rika HRDOST.
skoda ze i to prekladani bylo "po cesku"

snad se sejdeme po novem roce v praze.
preju tobe a tve rodine krasny a plodny pobyt.
klidne napis elektronickym dopisem .

thank u again columbia
wish u great future
sorry if my english is not perfect.

prof. Jan Houska

PS. Have u heard something about Brno?

It was an inspiring event. I felt once again that full fledge democracy and the protection of individual rights is still important to a few powerful people and that both Clinton and Havel are committed to it. A rare thing for powerful people in this decade.

Krsn den pane prezidente,m?l bych na vs dv? otzky.Ta prvn se tk nzoru a mn?n ameri?an? na ns,na takov ekonomicky mal stt.a ta druh na jak tma budete pst sv nov dlo?D?kuji vm za v drahocenn ?as a p?eji vm i va manelce mnoho zdrav.

To Billy:
First - please note there are 2 comments - one by Pospisil one by me. I wouldn't bother to differentiate, but Mr. Pospisil's comments is - let's put it this way - out of scope.
Thanks for your reply. I think I can answer both questions at once. Mr. Havel in a nuthsell said - I (would) support the intervention if it's because of the human rights, but the other reason - the mass destruction weapons "was made up". In other words - Mr Havel - I think - would not have any problem to express full support to it, if there is "just" the human rights protection reason.
Don't take me wrong - I think he would be able to support both reasons, but they would have to be both proved 100% (as there are no doubts about murdering, torturing during the Saddam era ).
If you remember, Mr Havel also supported the US driven attack on former Yugoslavia - as he knew clearly that the Milosevic troops and paramilitary units are killing and torturing people.
Mr Havel in early 90's said - no wars, no weapons - and based on this philosophy he managed to dismantle the military industry in Czechoslovakia. Later - based on events in Belorussia and Yugoslavia he has changed his opinion, he event said - I was wrong, saying - if necessary, the democracy must be protected "with a weapon in our hands".
Anyway - sorry for my "czenglish", I wrote it in one draft. :-)

I appreciated Clinton's distinction between a majoritarian government and a democracy. It seems as though without a balance of power and interests in the congress, our democracy strongly resembles majoritarianism.


I personally thought it was a beautiful event, and I disagree with some of the comments on this site. I thought they were asked difficult questions -- for example, the first (in my opinion excellent) question was a direct attack on the tendency for powerful democratic states, especially the USA, to impose their own form of democracy as the only right form of government; and I thought it was responded to eloquently and specifically.

About the laughter at President Havel's "Ya...", I may have misinterpreted it but I saw it as the audience attempting to laugh *with* him, and it had nothing to do with his accent. Now, I don't speak Czech, but as it is a Slavic language I'm guessing that "Ya" means "I," and Havel said it as he was thinking about how to respond. However, in English, and many related languages (from German to Swedish), "Ya" is a form of "Yes," and since Havel said it in response to "So, do you have anything nice to say about Clinton?" the audience took his hesitation as a joke. I am sure there was no offense intended in the laughter, simply a good-willed misunderstanding of the language difference. I do apologize on behalf of the audience if this was interpreted as disrespect.

All in all, an excellent event, and I look forward to more of them.

When Bill Clinton talked about Vclav Havels worldview it only increased my surprise that this site has no reference to a book that was written in the States and deals with this very issue. The title is Vclav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics (an Introduction, Appreciation & Critique) and it was written by James W. Sire. I think this book is unique in its approach to Havels work and life because it attempts to analyze what lies behind his attitudes and lifes decisions. And I am sorry we do not yet have this book in Czech. It would be a good reading for my fellow citizens. Anyway, it was fun to be able to join this meeting, thanks to all who made it possible!
Many greetings to New York from Ostrava!

P.S. Just a short response to AARON: when Havel said "Ya", he didnt mean to say "yeah", but he was actually saying a Czech word "j" which means "I" and it was a beginning of the sentence. I think the crowd was not disrespectful, because both the crowd and Havel were amazed by the Clintons high estimation of him so when the "m.c." turned to him and asked what he has to say about Clinton I felt that he had to "get himself together" first. And I think people were feeling that it must be very hard for him to say anything after hearing such an appraisal. So they expressed their emotions by laughter.

Thank you for making the Residency of President Valclav Havel at Columbia University available, via the internet, to the entire international community. Democracy thrives on information.
The Havel-Clinton debate goes a long way in restoring faith in politicians.

Bravo and thanks to the Columbia University, starting with its President for undergoing and working so hard on the entire program of bringing President Havel to the Columbia University. As also video shows, the packed hall shows that Havel message is still very much relevant to the contemporary world. Today, we learned about Havel's call for boycoting turism to Cuba. Knowing all too wel how hard currency income was (mis)used by communist regimes in Eastern Europe I applaud this latest Havel's initiative. Because the hard currency is not used to improve lives of average citizens, except some illegal-moeney changers (in Czech we had an expresssion "vekslaci") and few others, often working for security aparatus who get some desirable hard currency through black market exchange with the tourists. The regimes use the hard currency income for their "strategic" purchases, often for aquiring modern technology to keep better tap on the population. --- I appreciate US (among others) giving President Havel years of strong support as he and the dissidents clearly deserve it. President Clinton's fond attitudes toward Havel and the Czech Republic are well known and still very much appreciated. One only wishes that he and the US in general would find more opportunities to articulate this before the Czech domestic audience, as at home Havel is much less popular. For several resons: a) There were per capita 8-times more communists in Czechoslovakia then in the USSR. Over 1,2 mil in Czech Republic of 10 mil. 99% of the rest were "pragmatically" not rocking the boat. That sense of guilt appears in loudly anticommunism now, when it is safe or profitable. The same applies even to Mr. Klaus, a wannabe reaganite and thatcherite, who envies Mr. Havel his pre-Velvet Revolution bona-fide and courageous anti-communist behavior and sacrifices. Post-89 communist never voted for Havel to become president, yet their MPs block supported Klaus (in 2003) although, theoretically their "ideological opposite", to become a president. 2) President Havel post 1989 continuation of struggle for freedom, starting with support for disidents in Cuba, etc. again, like his Charter 77, do not sit well with Czech public today. When many signed communist propaganda sponsored Anti-Charter, many opportunists (incl. his future wife) signed it or expressed opposition to Charter 77. Sadly, now free they feel that it is "not our business" to support democracy activists in Cuba (see when Pilip and Bubenik were imprisoned by Castro: Klaus, Zahradil, etc. plus communists were siding against them). To close: Thanks to Mr. Havel, the CU and its leadership. Would Mr. Havel, our American friends please SPEAK OUT for justice and against DISCRIMINATION of US citizens in today Czech Republic as US citizens who fled Czechoslovakia's communism are still denied elementary rights justly afforded to all other victims of communism: i.e. law allowing return of citizenship and stolen property, mostly family homes? These days, Czech Republic, its Minister of Foreign Affairs (Vondra) etc. loby US Congres (see Sen Voinovich initiative) to change US visa policy toweard the CR. While we believe that this visa waiver should be granted (providing for better security measures to be taken by the CR) we believe that US ally, Czech Republic, should AT LAST stop discriminationg against US citizens of Czech origin, starting with returning their citizenship, stolen property, abilities to buy property there (as Czech entrepreneurs are buying property in Florida and elsewhere). Mr. Havel, can you also, at least, take on this 15-year old cause of the Czech Republic's discrimination against those, who voted for freedom, like you, many years before the Velvet Revolution? Thank you and the CU for a great initiative.