We are delighted to provide you with a transcript of Peter Pavel’s acceptance speech for his Czech and Slovak Transatlantic Award, as delivered at the GLOBSEC 18 Gala Dinner.
Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen – I am like Alice in Wonderland. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s great. I have to say that I am really pleased to be here – in this magnificent hall that is almost as impressive as our new headquarters in Brussels – but despite its magnificence, I think it costs just a fraction of our new headquarters. I am also very glad to be here in Bratislava because I have a lot of attachments to the city and it is great to see that it’s growing to beauty, year by year – and it’s a modern, vibrant and beautiful city so it is great to be back here.
I would like to thank to the Honorary Committee, and I’m really greatly honoured by receiving the Czech and Slovak Transatlantic Award. It’s a great honour to be in such a distinguished company of you here, but also in the company of those who received this award before me.
I think there is a great symbolism attached to these awards. I am sure that the Honorary Committee simply didn’t think of Peter Pavel as being a nice guy. I’m sure they had something else in mind and I see the symbolism in many ways. First, it’s great to receive this award as a Czech officer in Slovakia. That’s the first symbolism. The second one would be probably personal because my father, who was serving in the military as well, started his military career in this city in the early 50’s, in the cadet school, so it’s great to be back, in a very much different role, and I have to say that when I just reflect on that personal basis and see myself as a young lieutenant who joined special forces and was trained to be “inserted” to the NATO swear to do all the nasty things that special forces are designed to do – and now, when I see myself in the chair of a Chairman of the Military Committee of the same organisation – what the hell arrived – it’s simply amazing! But I also see the symbolism because both our nations are celebrating the 100 years anniversary of Czechoslovakia, and Robert spoke about it so I’m not going into details, but it has a great meaning to both our nations and I think it’s great that today we are not only neighbours, but also allies – but primarily the best friends and it’s great.
So, if I reflect on another level of symbolism – I see it in being awarded in times when both our nations are facing little crises of identity – because it seems to me that sometimes we suffer from a short historical memory – it was just a quarter-century ago that we became free from the communist regime, we joined the NATO and later the European Union. And suddenly, it seems that there are people, including some of our politicians, who put in doubt the very membership in these two organisations. And in this respect, I have to fully subscribe to what Prime Minister Pellegrini said earlier this morning – that all our security and prosperity is simply a result of being members of these two organisations. And it’s not a coincidence because it doesn’t come on its own. It is clearly the result of being in these two organisations. And they are not perfect – as we are not perfect as human beings – but it’s great to be in these organisations and the community of free and sovereign nations, where we can express our views, where we can have our say and do our best to change these organisations from within for the better. In that sense, I think constructive criticism is not a sign of disrespect – it’s just the opposite – it’s a sign that we care because if we didn’t care, we would be indifferent. The fact that we try to be constructive, to change things for the better, is simply a reflection of us caring about these two organisations and that we have to cherish our membership in these organisations.
And I would strongly advocate, wherever I speak to the public, to students – it’s not automatic that we have become part of these communities – it’s not only about sharing the benefits of it in terms of prosperity and freedom – not only of movement, but also of speech and many other freedoms that we enjoy – but it’s also about the great responsibility and sacrifice, and that responsibility is very clear in stating where we belong and what we are up to. Not always do we hear it from our politicians. I think, especially today, when we are under strong influence of Russian propaganda – malign influence – we have to be clear where our values are and where we want to go. And since I’m the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who will soon come to the end of his rotation, exactly in a couple of weeks – by the end of June, I would also like to say a couple of words about the NATO – not many, don’t be afraid. But the three years I have spent in this position were really not easy for the NATO and we heard some of it from Palo, who was talking about the main events. I think a lot of things happened. And when I compare it to the past – which is not so distant – where the main concern of even my predecessors in the position was what the wheather will be for the weekend to improve their handicap … but these days – it’s very much different. The NATO has changed even though we still believe that it’s not changing fast enough. But given the nature of this organisation, with 29 members today and with rather rigid structures and procedures, the pace of the changes is quite remarkable. Whenever I speak about the NATO, of course, I face a number of critical questions and comments on how ineffective we are, but I believe that even if I disregard the main benefit of the NATO – that means the Article 5 – if we disregard the NATO defence planning process and the possibility of sharing those practices and experience of all our allies – if we only think about the NATO as a platform of good will and sharing and friendship, it’s really good enough because if we collectively behave much better than we would probably do individually, it’s simply amazing.
So, I will leave the NATO with huge pride because it was a great honour and privilege to chair the Military Committee these years, and I have always been grateful to my fellow Chiefs of Defence, who were always friendly, open, transparent, constructive, so I can say that these three years were really the best part of my military career and I will leave this position, I will leave this wonderful organisation of 29 nations, but I will not leave the things that we are doing collectively together – that means doing the right things for the right cause – and I will continue doing so. Thank you very much for this award and wish you all the best.