Czernin Security Forum

What you see is Černín, as we are used to calling it. Or to be more precise, the Černín Palace. It is one of the greatest baroque buildings in Central Europe. The history of this palace would certainly make for a good thriller. As Prague became the epicentre of the religious disputes that caused the Thirty Years’ War, the three Černín brothers ended up on opposing sides of the Bohemian Revolt. Only the youngest brother stayed loyal to the Emperor. The middle one was pardoned after the defeat of the Revolt, while the eldest of the brothers was executed together with 26 other Czech noblemen at the Old Town Square in Prague in 1621. Today, you can find the statue of Jan Hus, the leader of the Bohemian Reformation, on the same square. And even though he preached that we must seek the truth and speak the truth because the truth will prevail over everything in the case of the three Czernin brothers the truth was quite difficult to find. The Palace is, nevertheless, at the end of that story. The grandson of the pardoned brother inherited a fortune from the youngest of the three Černíns, and he ultimately built the Palace in the form in which you can see it today. Fast forward to the twentieth century, and we are already in a different setting. Right at the end of the First World War, the Czech and Slovak nations joined their forces and established a new republic. The liberal democracy of the newly founded Czechoslovakia created a much better environment for an open discussion in which truth could prosper. In fact, “Truth Prevails” became the official motto of the nation and the president of Czechoslovakia. Many things have changed since then, but the motto remained untouched throughout the 20th century and it is still written on the official flag of the Czech president even today. The young republic didn’t have a proper place for its foreign office, and the Czernin Palace offered a perfect solution to this problem. The whole building underwent a huge restoration, and its new, functionalist wing provided the necessary office space. That’s where we are right now. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in the Černín Palace since the early 1930s, but the situation was already growing gloomier at that time. We didn’t have many allies to rely on and, in effect, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist shortly before the Second World War. The Nazis occupied Prague, and the Černín Palace became the seat of the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. In this period, the conditions for open discussion and honest debate were not exactly the best, to say the least. It was here in the Palace where Reinhard Heydrich had his office [Zlaty salonik] and addressed his subordinates shortly after he assumed his office. “It must be clear to you that this space of Bohemia and Moravia can never be permanently left in a situation which would make it possible in whatever way for Czechs to say that this is their space… When it comes down to it, the Czech has no business in this space anymore.” Fortunately, Heydrich never managed to implement his vision. He was killed by two Czechoslovak paratroopers during a special forces operation, as we would call it these days. It took three more years until the Allies liberated Czechoslovakia, but democracy was ultimately reestablished in the country. The son of the first Czechoslovak president, Jan Masaryk, became the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his preserved apartment in the Černín Palace can still be visited today. However, the renewed democracy ceased to exist already in February 1948 and the independent foreign policy of Czechoslovakia died together with Jan Masaryk who was found dead under the windows of his apartment in the Černín Palace merely two weeks after the communists took power. The coup in Czechoslovakia became one of the major contributing factors that convinced the free countries of the West to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Meanwhile, the foreign policy developed in Černín turned East towards Moscow. The new, communist foreign minister started his term by organising a garden party, but he was soon arrested upon the orders of his paranoid fellow partisans and later executed after a show trial. Times were really tough and the truth could do anything but prevail despite the motto still being displayed on the president’s official flag. There was a brief period of liberalisation during the Prague Spring in 1968 but it swiftly turned into an occupation by the other Warsaw Pact countries. Censorship was then reestablished, internal purges relaunched, and political opposition suppressed. The once famous Černín Palace hosted receptions and conferences where open discussion was strictly forbidden. A fresh air returned to Černín with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. And just as Václav Havel promised that “truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred”, the return of freedom of speech as a constitutional right enabled an open discussion once more. Czechoslovakia turned West and the Soviet troops deployed on our territory returned home. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved here in Prague, in this building. And the independent foreign policy coming from the Černín Palace since the Revolution is now taken for granted. The newly sovereign Czech Republic set the goal for itself: to become a respected member of the growing community of free, democratic countries that resolve their disputes peacefully and prosper by engaging in mutually beneficial trade. By entering NATO and the EU, it accomplished this mission. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs played a crucial role in achieving that goal, and it continues to build the reputation of the Czech Republic throughout the world on a daily basis. We at the Institute of International Relations do everything we can to support this effort of the Ministry, by seeking the truth in our policy-oriented research dealing with foreign affairs, security policy, international economy, law and various challenges from across the globe. And that is precisely also the idea behind the Czernin Security Forum, which is organised annually here in this palace by our institute. We always aim to have an open, frank debate with all the participants and speakers irrespective of their positions, even if it concerns sensitive topics, because that is the best way to seek the truth and there is no better guarantee that truth will ultimately prevail than an open and free discussion.