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New York, Columbia University February 22, 1990
Havel Returns to Columbia, Received Honorary Degree
Columbia University Record, March 2, 1990, Vol. 15, No. 17
(Retroactively edited and digitally transcribed by Josef Schrabal)

President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia who was awarded an honorary degree last Thursday, told students that the protests of their parents 22 years ago had "inspired me, influenced me" to "build new structures" for his country.
Addressing a capacity audience in Low Library, the new Czechoslovak president told of the time in 1968 when he had been invited to Columbia to have discussions with students who were on strike. In halting but clear english, he said:
"I must tell that the atmosphere of the sixties in universities in the United States and the whole atmosphere of that time very much inspired me, influenced me."
"In that time, young people, mothers and fathers of contemporary students of your university, protested against the establishment, against old structures of society. But now we not only prostested against old structures but we had to build new structures. It is also the reason, why I accepted the highest function in my country."
Havel's remarks followed the presentation of the honorary Doctor of Law degree. In the colorful, formal ceremony, the hooding was performed by his boyhood friend from Prague Milos Forman, the emigree film director and Academy Award winner who is professor and cochairman of the Film Division at Columbia.
More than 700 students, faculty and guests filled the Rotunda in Low to welcome the Czechoslovak playwright and dissident, who five months earlier had been in a Prague jail and who barely eight weeks ago had become his coultry's first non-communist president since 1948. In Havel's party were his wife Olga; the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United States, Rita Klimova, and the heads of four Czechoslovak Universities. A brass quintet played the nationals anthems of Czecholsovakia and the United States at the opening of the ceremonies. An interpreter at Havel's side translated the proceedings for him and, as the audience rose in enthusiastic applause after the awarding of the degree, pointed out a banner held afloat bearing the words "Havel to the White House."

In his remarks President Sovern called Havel "A courageous man of ideas and action . . . We welcome you to Columbia, sir, as our colleague in the arts, in law and learning: as a fearless fighter for academic freedom, for religious freedom: as fellow teacher who has taught us the most important lesson of all."
Referring to Havel's previous visit in New York, Sovern said: "Today you return after almost 22 years, five of them behind bars as a political prisoner, this time as head of state, the targets of your brilliant satire in retreat, as you seek to realize the hopes and dreams of the people of Czechoslovakia."
"You told your people, as the world entered the 1990s, that only a return to lost values could lead to recovery from the contaigous 'moral illness' spread by the old regime," Sovern said. "Your perception of loss in the modern world, and the celebration of life implicit in all you do, mark you as the rarest of political leaders."
Noting that Havel is the not the first Czechoslovak leader to be honored by Columbia, Sovern said: "You . . . grace of roll of honor that includes, most fittingly, your predecessor, Eduard Benes, brilliant protege of the first democratic president of Czechoslovakia, the great philosopher-statesment, Tomas Masaryk. Fifty-one years ago, as darkness fell over Europe, President Benes, in exile from a Czechoslovakia betrayed and subjugated, stood with us here at Columbia. How much brighter the future looks today!"

The text of citation:

Son of Prague, father of new freedom, your bravery and relentless honesty inspired those who cherish liberty in every land. Playwright and critic, poet and patriot, your genius, humor and humility have won the hearts of millions the world over and secured your place as one of the great dramatists and essayists of our century. Forced by the State to hold menial jobs until you rose to prominence at the Divadlo Nazzabradli, you endured constant harassment by the police, censorship, book burning, play banning and imprisonment. Yet you continued to write, to be published and produced to great acclaim beyond the borders of Czechoslovakia, and you persisted in opposing repression at home. Political fantasies once called Kafkaesque, Capeklan, and Orwellian became Havellian reality, as you waged a war agaisnt a war agaisnt inhumanity of authoritarian society. As a founder of Charter 77, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted, and of course, Civic Forum, you played a momentous role in making the paceful revolution of 1989 a morality lesson in ends and means. As President of Czechoslovakia, you have helped set in motion such a rapid movement of history, it is astonishing to recall that you have been in office for less than eight weeks. You have come to symbolize the valiant struggle for recovery from totalitarian rule in Central and Eastern Europe, and the idea of freedom as an undending commitment - an idea as immortal as any mortals can conceive. Vaclav Havel, Columbia University is very proud today to confir upon you the Degree of Doctor of Law, honoris causa.

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