Laureate of the St. Adalbert Award (Pretium Sancti
for the exceptional contribution of Central European co-operation for 2022 is
Slovak mathematician and former Minister of the Interior of Slovakia
ceremony on Friday June 10, 2022 evening
by H. Em. Dominik Cardinal Duka, the Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia.
The laureate for 2022 then presented his keynote address.
ABOUT THE LAUREATE
Vladimir Palko, CSc. (* 1957, Bratislava) is a Slovak mathematician, university
teacher and politician. As a member of the National Council and Minister of the
Interior of the Slovak Republic, he made a significant contribution to the
formation of a value-based conservative school of thought in Slovakia. He is an
active publicist and author of several books, including Lions Come: Why Europe and America are Heading for a New Tyranny,
in which he reflects on the causes of the ideological decline of Christian
Democratic parties in Europe.
As a member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, he initiated the subsequently adopted Cultural and Ethical Declaration, emphasizing the sovereignty of the EU Member States in matters of bioethics and family policy. This declaration was subsequently adopted by the Polish Sejm. He is the author of the Slovak pro-family pension reform, on which the policy of the current Minister of Labor and Social Affairs is based. He is married and has three children.
VLADIMÍR PALKO: POWER AND ITS TEMPTATION
Your Eminence, dear ladies, gentlemen, dear members of Patrimonium
Sancti Adalberti, dear friends!
Allow me to greet you warmly. It is an honour for me to be in your company, especially on such an occasion. Thank you for the award I have received from you.
I'd be a liar if I pretended I wasn't happy. I am truly glad. However, the laureate should also show modesty, preferably not feigned, which is why I want you to note that I still tend to refer to myself as a boy from a small village, and therefore I wonder whether, by accepting the award, I am not putting on shoes that are way too big for me. In short, I express the hope that the esteemed Patrimonium Sancti Adalberti was not mistaken in awarding the prize to me.
It is still true that I lived most of my life, albeit now only by a narrow majority, in Czechoslovakia. I felt that we always compared ourselves with the Czechs, sometimes we criticised them, sometimes we struggled with them, and sometimes we would have liked to mimic them. This recognition from Prague is therefore particularly gratifying. Thank you again.
The name that resonates here is St. Adalbert, the giant that towered over Central Europe. Allow me a little personal story.
My dear mother, now deceased, who meant a lot to me, never had the opportunity to achieve higher education in her life. She worked from the age of fifteen. Well, the combination of her job and the sacrifices of caring for a family with three children meant that she didn't have much time to read books. But I recall her reading two books with great attention. Since she was a devout woman, both were about saints. The first was St. Francis of Assisi, and the second, believe it or not, was St. Adalbert. When she wasn't reading it, the book was lying on the table, and that's how I got to read it. I was ten years old than and that's how I got to know the figure of St. Adalbert. And now, after 55 years, I'm meeting him again.
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
The laureate's thank-you speech is the first test that should confirm that the choice of the awardee was not a mistake. The laureate is expected to say something wise. Since I can't say wise things on my own, I prayed to the Holy Spirit asking for help.
Surely you understand what I mean. I mean, if you are not happy with my speech, you know where to file your complaints.
As Bishop of Prague, St. Adalbert had to deal with the political issues of the time, both domestic and foreign, and he was essentially a statesman. He fought slavery, polygamy, he found himself amidst political disputes, he did not get along with the Czech king, his family was murdered, and he ended up in exile.
And contemporary political issues are also the agenda of our conference. Many of us who have gathered here also know each other from public or political life.
That is why I would like to reflect on three key concepts here today. The first will be power, political power. The second will be the challenges and temptations of power. The third will be the seeking and not finding, or finding, in relation to politics during our earthly pilgrimage.
I. Political Power
So let's discuss power. Political power is a social necessity; good government is a blessing to the people. Even a mediocre government is much better than no government.
At the same time, the fragility of human nature gives power both its splendour and its misery. We'll get to the misery later; let's talk about the splendour for a moment now. Power has its charm, its aura, its glory, its gravitas. It attracts us. We will gladly forgive the one who has power what we would not forgive another.
I will give you an example. If I may, it will be from Czechia. When I was a child, during communism, we were taken with our school class to the cinema to see the Hussite trilogy directed by Otakar Vávra: "Jan Hus", "Jan Žižka", "Against All..." Gradually I began to understand the differences between Czechs and Slovaks. We Slovaks are mostly Catholics, Czechs tend to prefer more vague spirituality to Christianity, and if they were asked to choose within Christianity, they'd prefer the Hussite tradition to Catholicism. At least that's what they say about themselves.
But in recent years, while observing the Czech cultural life, I began to suspect that Czechs do not behave accordingly to that in their historical preferences. Whom do Czechs respect the most, to which historical figure do they pay the utmost respect, and before whom do they bow? Yes, both Hus and Žižka are respected. But they're not the biggest historical figures.
And who is the biggest one? Well, it's Charles. The Emperor Charles. And they don't know him by his regnal number Charles I, although he was the first Czech king of that name. They know him as Charles IV. For he was the fourth emperor of that name of the Holy Roman Empire.
This is probably not just my subjective feeling. We have it confirmed too. In 2005, according to a poll in a TV show of the same name, Charles IV was selected by the viewers as the greatest Czech. Jan Hus and Jan Žižka, all due honour to them, ranked both in the top ten. But the number one was a Catholic ruler. The Hussites knew how to defeat Germans, but Charles ruled them. This seems to be a greater achievement.
And that's the effect of the splendour of power that affects everybody, whether we're Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, whatever.
That splendour of power as such might not be a problem. The trouble and misery begin when the holder of the power falls in love with this splendour. And that brings me to the second thought.
II. The challenge and temptation of power
Seasoned journalists used to tell me how it was possible to see in a young, potential politician a moment of enlightenment, in Czech I would say a moment of "prozření", a moment when a young, promising politician realizes, at least in his own opinion, that he has it in him. When he looks at another politician on TV and says to himself: "Well, I could say that, too. And actually, I would have said it better. And actually, I should be in that place instead of him. And in fact it has to be that way."
Such mental processes are not usually a sign of the guidance by the Holy Spirit.
The problem starts when the politician hears the voice of temptation: You will get this power if you meet one condition. And that condition is usually some kind of disgracefulness. That voice can be heard when a politician is just about to gain power and may be afraid of not getting it. Or it can be heard when a politician already has the power and is afraid of losing it. This is the worst case, for he has already tasted the splendour of power.
This has been known for thousands of years; sceptical statements about politicians can be found in the Bible. "Do not put your trust in princes," says the psalmist. But the ancient Roman authors knew it too. "The lust for power, for dominating others, inflames the heart more than any other passion," writes Tacitus.
And the worst part is that the deal with the tempting voice, if it is made, ends badly. Again, I will quote the classics. Firstly, "Nulla potentia longa est," i.e. "No power lasts long." (Ovid), and secondly, as Tacitus says again: "Power won by crime no one ever yet turned to a good purpose."
Why am I saying all this here? Because here I see people with whom I feel certain alignment in how we see the developments after 1989. The year 1989 was a huge opportunity for my generation. We were in our thirties at the time, we wanted to restore our country and we hoped that prosperity and peace would come. Political peace. But they didn't. We found new challenges ahead, we felt the wave of new liberal progressivism that had us as enemies, and we felt, with some disappointment, that we would probably have to fight again, that we would have no peace, and that victory was not in sight. That the pressure against us is not much unlike the pressure we experienced under communism.
The liberal progressivism demanded that we conform. We didn't do that and we were marginalised. Some have adapted. The Slovak Christian Democratic Movement disintegrated under the pressure.
In 2006, we withdrew from the government because Prime Minister Dzurinda deceived us and refused to fulfil his promise to submit to the government the Treaty with the Holy See recognising conscious objection. At this occasion we understood how differently we approached the new era. I was one of the three ministers who resigned, and for me it was a stellar hour in my career. However, the mid-level functionaries at our party were not ready to accept our decision. They wanted to stay in power without much complication.
I speak on behalf of conservative Christians who were pressured by that new progressive wave to finally conform and come to terms with, for example, abortion, which we refused to do. But the range of progressivist issues is much wider - we'll talk about that tomorrow - and I've enjoyed in recent years the fact that there are people who are not explicitly Christian, who are, say, leftists, but still don't agree with the progressivist wave. Their life in politics is not easy and they are living a story similar to ours.
I would like to mention one paradox. We are discussing St. Adalbert. Saints sometimes perform miracles. So, for example, some have had the ability to be seen in two different places at the same time. This phenomenon is called bilocation. Nothing is known about St. Adalbert himself in connection with the bilocation, but we are witnessing that the Prize of St. Adalbert is capable of bilocation. There are two of them in Central Europe. One, which I had the honour of receiving today, and the other that has been awarded for a quarter of a century by St. Adalbert Foundation from Krefeld, Germany, to personalities from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.
I am in no way putting those prizes against each other. Not least because I have friends among the winners of the former prize whom I respect. I myself attended the award ceremony when my friend František Mikloško received it. Thus, the thought-worlds of the two prizes overlap to a large extent. But it is also true that they are far from overlapping completely. And therefore there is certain regularity in the emergence of our newer prize and it is a sign of the times.
III. Seeking, not finding, and yet finding
Ladies and gentlemen,
finally, let me address the last key topic, i.e. seeking, not finding, and yet finding. I was inspired by Milan Hrabovský's essay in the Štandard daily. Hrabovský speaks of the recurring story of people honestly searching but not finding what they were looking for. In return, however, they find what they weren't looking for, and sometimes it's more valuable than what they were looking for originally.
It concerns, first and foremost, the greatest story of humanity. Those who were looking for a leader in Jesus Christ to lead the nation out of political subjugation did not find what they were looking for, because the leader ended in an ignoble death. But when the Roman soldier at the foot of the cross exclaimed, "This man truly was the Son of God!" in that exclamation all mankind found its hope.
As Hrabovský writes, it is also the story of the mythical Európé, who was kidnapped by Zeus and whom her brothers set out to find. They did not find her, but one of them, Cadmus, founded Thebes and their fame.
And I wonder if this is not also the story of St. Adalbert? Did Adalbert become a bishop and fight for righteousness with the intention that it would lead him into exile, or did he go on missions to pagans with the intention that he would be killed? Surely not, he wished for the success of his endeavours. And seen with human eyes, he did not find what he was looking for. But he found holiness in God's eyes and inspirational greatness in human eyes for a thousand years to come. He found something else and it was bigger.
Finally, I wonder if it might not be, albeit in a smaller edition, our story as well? After 1989, we were looking for the fulfilment of the vision of our dream for the country. We have achieved something. But we didn't find that fulfilment of the vision. However, we have hope of confirming our integrity. Without integrity, rebuilding a society in crisis is impossible. And we have hope for the future, because the future will not belong to those who created this crisis. Despite the fact that the progressivist wave would like to push us to the margins, we are still here. They may circle around us like Vrshovici circled around Adalbert's Slavníks, but we are still here. And it may ultimately mean more in the end. I'm not saying that it is certainty. But it is hope. And that it will be difficult in the meantime? After all, such is life.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I do not want to tire you; I must come to a conclusion. I still have one last question to deal with. Receiving the St. Adalbert Award is obviously a commitment. Shouldn't the laureate follow the example of the saint?
We have to be careful here, because it may not be that simple. For example, St. Adalbert died a martyr's death. I'd be a little hesitant to follow in his footsteps on this one. After all, it was the harsh early Middle Ages then. Today we live in a supposedly more humane age. Therefore, perhaps a political death might suffice today as an alternative to the martyr's death of that time. I think I'm past that one, so I don't have to deal with it.
Next, Adalbert attained holiness. Certainly, at least every Catholic is called to try to do this as well. I confess that, as far as I am concerned, I am a little sceptical.
Therefore, let me be forgiven for pledging myself, rather generally, to do my utmost to ensure that there is cooperation between the Central European nations, so that these nations can come together out of the present state of affairs to something better.
In this let Saint Ludmila, Saint Wenceslas and Saint Adalbert plead for us all.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention!