The United Nations World Summit for Children

New York, September 30, 1990

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A thousand times over the past decades I have seen backs in my country bent allegedly in the interest of children. A thousand times I have heard people defend their servitude to a hated regime by arguing that they were only doing it for their children: so they could feed them, make it possible for them to study, to afford seaside vacations for them. A thousand times, both acquaintances and strangers have confided to me that they were heart, mind, and soul totally on our side, that is, on the side of the socalled dissidents, but that they signed various petition campaigns aimed against us, and organized by the totalitarian government, for the sole reason that they had children and thus could not afford the luxury of resistance. Immorality was committed in the name of children, and evil was served for their alleged good.
But I have seen even greater perversities, if only in the movies or on television. I saw Hitler waving in a friendly way to fanaticized little girls of Hitlerjugend*; I saw the mass murderer Stalin kissing a child wearing the red Communist youth organization scarf, a child whose parents ended up like so many others in gulags; I saw Gottwald**, the Stalin of Czechoslovakia, joking with young miners, the builders of socialism and later to become cripples; I saw the Iraqi president Hussein patting the children of his hostages on the head, hostages whom he now says he is ready to have shot.
I know and have experienced how in Czechoslovakia thousands of people suffered in Communist concentration camps, how hundreds of them were executed or tortured to death, and all this for the false happiness of generations yet unborn in some false paradise. How much evil has already been committed in the name of children!
I have also experienced something very different, even as recently as several months ago, a year ago, two years ago. I have experienced a beautiful revolt of children against the lie that their parents had served, allegedly in the interest of those very children. Our anti-totalitarian revolution was at least in its beginnings a children's revolution. It was high school students and apprentices, adolescents, who marched in the streets. They marched when their parents were still afraid, were afraid for their children and for themselves. They locked their children in at home, took them away from the cities on weekends. Then they started marching in the streets with them. First out of fear for their children, later because they became infected by their enthusiasm. The children evoked from their parents their better selves. They convinced them they were lying and forced them to take a stand on the side of truth.
And what about the children of dissidents? Although they could not study and had to endure the arrests and persecutions of their parents, they did not blame them but instead respected them. They were more interested in a moral example than in the advantages stemming from a bent back.
Children in our country have proven that the ideology of sacrificing truth for the alleged interest of children is false. They revolted against parents who advocated this ideology, they joined the few who had been convinced from the very beginning that they would serve their children best if they did not look for excuses and lie, but rather live in truth and thus give an example to their children.
The international community has achieved something unprecedented. Most of the countries of the world have, within months, joined an exceptionally good, precise and exhaustive international agreement for the protection of children. I rejoice, as we all do, in this achievement and am proud that I had the honor of signing the agreement on behalf of my country this morning.
At the same time, however, I believe that this agreement or any other conceivable international document cannot protect children from pseudoprotection, that is, from their parents committing more evil in the name and in the interest of children whether in good faith, in selfdelusion or by deliberately lying and from hurting themselves more than they can hurt the children.
As with any law, this one too can only acquire real meaning and significance if it is accompanied by real moral selfawareness, by which I mean the moral selfawareness of parents.
You cannot put that into a law. However, if it were possible, I would add another paragraph to the agreement I signed this morning. This paragraph would say that it is forbidden for parents and adults in general in the name and allegedly in the interest of children, to lie, serve dictatorships, inform, bend their back, be afraid of tyrants, and betray their friends and ideals. And that it is forbidden for all murderers and dictators to pat children on the head.

* Hitlerjugend was a fascist youth organization in Germany intended to train children in the spirit of Nazism.
** Klement Gottwald was a Czech Communist leader and president of Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1953.