The Values of Europe (Mini-series): A view from the Czech Republic

Her Excellency Marie Chatardová, Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom, underlines the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination for countries big and small, in Europe and across the world.

This blog forms part of a mini-series on European values, which will comprise of contributions on this subject from EU Ambassadors to the UK and UCL academics, running from 28 June-8 July 2022.

It was at UCL, on 19th October 1915, where Professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, back then the still yet to be first president of Czechoslovakia, delivered his memorable lecture ‘The Problem of Small Nations in the Crisis in Europe.’ 

This lecture happened to be the inaugural lecture of UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and Professor Masaryk was one of the founding fathers of this school. In his lecture, Masaryk stated: ‘It would help us greatly, if I could show you a good map of the European nations; but no such map exists.’   ‘In Europe, we have more than twice as many nations as states.’

Indeed, much has changed since Masaryk’s lecture. At the time, when Masaryk delivered these words, Europe was seeing the dusk of great empires. And today, our maps look very different. But sadly, even after more than one hundred years, I am delivering my words against the backdrop of a brutal bloody war in Europe. And a nation, defending its right to enjoy its own statehood against a bigger, aggressive neighbour, is again at the centre of a crisis in Europe. 

Throughout the last century, Europe experienced the two most devastating wars the world has ever witnessed, followed by a conflict we tend to call ‘the Cold War.’ It was the horrible experience of these conflicts that helped us define the values we today are proud to call European. The values of democracy, human rights, free elections, freedom of speech, rule of law, human dignity, but also the right to self-determination – the fundamental right of nations to decide on their own who their leader should be , which direction to take and which other countries or organisations to affiliate themselves with.   

I was born in a state where these fundamental rights were not respected. Therefore, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, I could see with my own eyes what great difference these values made, and how much they improved people’s lives. 

Later, my experience of serving as the Ambassador to the United Nations in New York proved to me, that these values are not just European. They are the core of such basic UN documents as the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. 

And yet, the horrible Russian aggression towards Ukraine raises an important question. Does every country have an equal right to choose these values? My clear answer is yes. But what we are seeing now is one country trying to deny this choice to another, despite the fact that Ukrainians — as a nation, as a people — have already made the decision that these are the values they want to live by.

As the Czech Ambassador to the UK, I am very glad that the close relationship between the Czech Republic and the UK is strongly rooted in our shared values, and our desire to promote and defend freedom, democracy and the rules-based international order. And not just for ourselves, but for others as well. Because this desire embodies another important European value: solidarity. Solidarity is not an empty notion for our two countries and I am proud that the Czech Republic has been so active in receiving Ukrainian refugees, providing Ukraine with the means to defend itself and, defending its rights on international forums. 

Promotion of democracy, human rights and the right of countries to make their own choices, is not just the moral thing to do, but it is a fundamental necessity for us.

I remember when I was little, Russian or, more precisely, Warsaw Pact tanks, passing under our windows. After the Velvet Revolution, we couldn’t imagine anything like this happening again, but Russia’s invasion has been a wake up call for us all. Whether big or small, countries across Europe and the world must have an equal right to self-determination. If we allow one country to be denied this right by another, how can we claim it for ourselves?  

Her Excellency Marie Chatardová is Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

This blog is based on remarks made by the Ambassador at a UCL roundtable on the values of Europe, which took place as part of Quo Vadis, a four day festival convened by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, co-hosted by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies and supported by the UCL European Institute.

A recording of the full event is available here.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

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