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Tribute by Dr John Hewson, MP Leader of the Opposition on the occasion of the presentation of the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs' Human Rights Award to Alexander Dubcek

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Leader of the Opposition



This is a special evening because we are honouring you, sir, as one of the few individuals of our time who has been at the centre of a revolution of ideas - a revolution that has changed the face of Europe and the nature of world politics.

That achievement may not have been your objective in your reform program in Czechoslovakia from January to August 1968.

But your vision, your basic humanity and your sense of justice have had a wider effect.

You inspired many in Eastern Europe not to despair.

You helped to plant seeds that flowered twenty-one years later when the people of your own country and the rest of Eastern

Europe rose up against the economic and moral bankruptcy of communism.

The scale of your achievement became fully apparent on New Year's Day, 1990.

On that day Czechoslovakians listened to an historic speech from their new President, Vaclav Havel.

He summed up the achievements of the peaceful revolution that had taken place in Czechoslovakia only a few months before - the so called "Velvet Revolution".

In a simple but poignant statement, the President said:

"Your Government, my people, has returned to you."

History had come full circle. The dream of the 1968 Prague

Spring - and even more - had become a reality.

You had embodied for so many people the defiant spirit of the Prague Spring.

Your quiet strength and refusal to recant in the years that followed proved a source of inspiration and hope for your fellow countrymen and many others.

Hyatt On Collins, Melbourne Sunday, 28 April 1991


Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 77 4022



We are therefore greatly honoured, sir, by your presence this evening.

Your visit to Australia will, of course, bring special joy to the Australian Czech community which has contributed so much to Australia's development.

But it is also welcomed by all Australians who value freedom, democracy and basic human rights.

I am delighted, therefore, to support wholeheartedly what the Prime Minister has just said and to join with him in acclaiming your achievements.

I have a particular pleasure to do so as Leader of the Federal Opposition.

Our Parties have always had at the heart of our beliefs a

conviction that human happiness and progress are directly related to individual freedom and democratic rights. In taking the first steps to reassert that relationship in Czechoslovakia, we believe you have played a decisive historical role.

I am also personally pleased to support the Prime Minister since I firmly believe that any man or woman who stands up for the

rights of ordinary people and for basic human standards of decency, particularly in circumstances that are hostile to both, deserves recognition for their achievement.

To my mind, there are several reasons why you, sir, richly

deserve this Human Rights Award.

First, you have shown yourself to be a man with the courage of your convictions.

You knew very well the risks you ran in 1968. In your lifetime, you had seen the bloodbaths of Stalin's Russia in the 1930's, the purges in your own country in the 1950's and 1960's, and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

You well knew the dangers which a policy of "socialism with a human face" posed to a totalitarian power such as the Soviet Union.

The courage which you and others showed in facing up to those dangers is now part of legend. And we are proud to join together tonight in recognising it.

Second, you showed a respect for the will of your people which became the wave of the future in Eastern Europe.

You recognised the desire of your people for government under the rule of law.

You recognised their desire for personal and religious freedoms.