Our today’s meeting is being held on the 17th of November, an important day for us in the Czech Republic. This day, exactly thirty three years ago, an originally minor student demonstration took place in the centre of Prague. The participants, including my son, were brutally attacked by the communist police. Its aggressive behaviour started the processes that some of you may know as the so called “Velvet Revolution”.
It came in the right moment. Communism was already so weak that it was neither able, nor ready to efficiently defend itself. I repeatedly say that communism was not defeated. It – sort of – melted down.
This event is considered a fundamental milestone of our modern history. It became the starting point of our journey on the road to freedom, parliamentary democracy and market economy. And to a normal life. Three weeks later, I became part of the first post-communist government and assumed the important portfolio of Minister of Finance. It gave me the opportunity to prepare and organize the radical economic, social and political transformation of the country. We have the Czech National Day today. I was supposed to speak in Prague this morning, but I didn’t dare to disappoint Mr. Carteron and decided to come here instead.
Mentioning this almost already forgotten historic event is not without purpose. This experience of ours, at the time both before and after the fall of communism, shouldn´t be forgotten or overlooked. One can learn a lot from it. It should become a memento for us in our current efforts to deal with the very problematic moment of human history we experience these days. We should be on guard, more than in any moment of these thirty three years. We are at the crossroads. Once again.
Communism impoverished us in many respects. It deprived us of many normalities the citizens of free countries like Switzerland take – and always took – for granted. It was not a short period of time, I spent 60 % of my life before the end of communism. It was a loss, a deprivation, an impoverishment. On the other hand, it was an opportunity to learn a lot during this time. Our eyes are, therefore, sharper and, not surprisingly, our assessment of the current era more critical.
I find this experience particularly relevant when I look at what is going on in the world. My today’s frustration starts to be comparable to the feelings we experienced in the last years of communism. The dreams and ambitions we had in the moment of the fall of communism have not become – to my great regret – our today’s reality. The current reality is not what we considered a free society. I don’t mean in my country or my part of the world only.
What’s going on with us or around us? I have doubts about the adequacy of the phrase used in the program of this forum as well as in many other texts that “we are entering a new world”. A new world? Meaning now? In what sense is it new? Are we marching forwards or backwards? Eventually, do the authors of these words want to remind us that we, in the West, are leaving the relatively free, quiet and prosperous era of the last decades? Was this era a singular event, a historic exception?
Let’s not talk about a “new world”. Let´s call it by its right name. Let’s call it a post-democratic, post-political and post-normal world. There seems to be nothing new in it. The mankind experienced such a situation many times in the past. There may be a difference, however. I am alarmed by the undeniable loss of normalcy, rationality and common sense.
Some of us – including me – quite often use the famous Aldous Huxley’s term “brave new world”. My emphasis has always been on the adjective “brave”, not on the adjective “new”. All indicators suggest we have entered the dangerous era of political, economic and financial instability connected with the suppression of freedom and of free markets. I dare say that we are approaching one variant of such a brave new world just now.
Where do I see the main symptoms of it? I have to start with the political sphere. For several decades we have been witnessing the evaporation of ideological political disputes. As a result of it, the fundamental problems of society ceased to be politically addressed. It coincides with the weakening of political parties, which became nothing more than a misleading ornament of our political system. They function as a pretence of democracy only. In reality, the interests of the majority became subordinated to the interests of loud and aggressive minorities, represented by arrogant rent-seeking groups, not by political parties. The totality of society is because of this not sufficiently represented and taken into consideration now.
Classical political disputes based on clear and well-defined political ideas, formulated and authentically expressed by political parties, have become discredited and are being replaced by superficial TV talk-shows and by “expert democracy” in which politicians do not play a decisive role. Popular actors and self-proclaimed experts do.
The unprecedented role of experts was visible during the Covid pandemic. The politics, meaning the evaluation of alternatives and of costs and benefits, as a result of their way of thinking, disappeared. It didn’t make the system more democratic, more friendly, more efficient. This reminds me of the years and decades of efforts of communist ideologues to replace politics with “expertocracy”.
What we are dealing with now is not an import from the East. It has been self-made in the West. It was the West itself that opened the floodgates to mass migration by accepting the ideology of multiculturalism. It was the West itself that manoeuvred itself into a deep energy crisis by promoting the lunacies of environmentalism and of the Green Deal, causing itself enormous economic damage. And it was the West itself that undermined its own competitiveness by suppressing markets by means of their extensive and harmful bureaucratic regulation based on political imperatives. A prerequisite for finding the right path to the recovery of the West is to get rid of our own mistakes and presuppositions, not to blame the world around us.
Let’s concentrate on our misconceptions. Let us not talk about “reconfiguration of alliances in Europe”, let us not try to find “new balances”. Let’s talk about a return to politics with ideological content. Let’s talk about the need for a renaissance of political parties. Let’s look for new courageous political leaders. Let return to “political politics”.
I agree that it is necessary – as you put it – “to reinvent foreign policy”. We have to return to its original meaning and content. Foreign policy should express and pursue national interests and advance them by seeking useful compromises. As we are seeing right now in Ukraine, where there is no compromise, there is a war. When we don’t talk to each other, we shoot at each other. All sides of the current conflict should have started to negotiate long time ago. Not just the Russians and the Ukrainians.
We all know that the war didn’t fall from the sky. It has been long time in the making. The problems there did not start in February 2022. Already in 2014, I warned against the destabilization of Ukraine and against the growing confrontation between the West and Russia. To my great regret the then confrontation has turned into a full-scale war with thousands of victims, with huge destruction of vast regions of Ukraine and with fundamental changes in the international atmosphere. To blame the aggressor is easy, to be able to see and understand the whole sequencing of events which led to it is more difficult.
In the written introduction to this session, you mention “the critical role of the South Eastern European states waiting for NATO and EU”. After visiting Northern Macedonia recently, I can confirm that the people there are confused, and feel misused. They are unhappy with being constantly patronized by the West. They have undoubtedly different history, culture, religion and recent experiences than Western and Central Europeans. They are not only geographically closer to Istanbul than to Brussels, but mentally and historically as well. We should be aware of that.
Let’s use this gathering to publicly express our strong views on current issues. Let’s make use of this opportunity. Let’s make the Crans-Montana Forum great again. Let’s push the Davos Forum into irrelevance and oblivion, where it deserves to be.
Václav Klaus, Crans Montana Forum, Opening Session, Fairmont Grand Hotel, Geneva, Switzerland, November 17, 2022.