Primary Sources

President Bush Welcomes Vaclav Havel to the White House


In February 1990, the newly-elected president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, became the first Czechoslovakian leader to visit Washington and meet with a US president. A former dissident and playwright, Havel was “an enigmatic figure” in his own country, according to National Security Council staff member Robert L. Hutchings, and his meeting with President George H. W. Bush was helpful in building up his credibility as a serious leader. The visit also served to antagonize Slovaks, as the Czechoslovakia delegation numbering more than two hundred officials included only eight Slovak members. Havel’s meetings with Bush “cemented the personal chemistry” between the two, according to Hutchings, and although the two began the meetings with disparate notions of the proper method to institutionalize a post-Cold War unified Europe—Bush insisted on NATO as the coordinator, while Havel favored the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), whose 35 member nations represented NATO, the Warsaw Pact, and neutral countries—a State Department official reported to the press that during the meeting Havel agreed that US troops and NATO forces would play a stabilizing role in the immediate future.


George H. W. Bush, "Remarks Following Discussions With President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia," speech, The White House, Washington, D.C., February 20, 1990, Bush Presidential Library, Documents and Papers, Bush Library (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

President Bush. Well, welcome to everybody. And it's been my great pleasure to welcome to the White House a man of tremendous moral courage, one of the heroes of the Revolution of '89, the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel.

Mr. President, your life has been one of miraculous transformations from the world of drama to the world of dissent, from the life of the artist to the life of the activist, and of course in the space of just 1 short year, the most miraculous journey of all, from prison to the Presidency. And of course it's possible to measure profound change in more personal terms. For years, as a dissident subject to arrest and imprisonment at any time, you could never go out without your toothbrush in your pocket. But now, as President, you can never go out without one of these neckties. [Laughter]

And many years ago you made a choice. You chose to live your life in keeping with your conscience not for others but for yourself. But others drew strength from the life you led, and your life was a tribute to the difference one man can make, powerful proof of the democratic idea. On the one side stood the state with its prisons and secret police; and on the other, Vaclav Havel, one man alone but with the strength of his convictions, always free with the freedom that comes from living in truth. First one man, and now millions.

President Havel never stopped believing in what he called this unbelievable thought: that any one of us can shake the Earth. Shake the Earth, Mr. President, and part the Iron Curtain. Shake the Earth and knock down the Berlin Wall. Shake the Earth and set in motion a process of change from Budapest to Bucharest, from Warsaw to Wenceslas Square.

And that was the Revolution of '89, and our task now in the 1990's is to move forward from revolution to renaissance, towards a new Europe in which each nation and every culture can flourish and breathe free -- a Europe whole and free. . . .

Czechoslovakia and Europe are at the threshold of a new era. And I know I can speak for all Western leaders when I say that the Atlantic alliance will continue to play a vital role in assuring stability and security in Europe at this great and historic moment. And America will continue to play its part, including a strong military presence for our security and for Europe's.

How to Cite this Source

President George H. W. Bush, "President Bush Welcomes Vaclav Havel to the White House," Making the History of 1989, Item #38, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:27 pm).