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Czech Republic: President Says Freedom is Endangered, Not Climate

English Pages, 7. 8. 2007

PRAGUE, August 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus is well-known for his critical, often contrariant views. An economist by profession who has played a key role in Czech politics since the fall of communism, Klaus has now become a standard-bearer for those who say global warming is not a major threat.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondents Jeremy Bransten and Kathleen Moore, Klaus speaks about the planned U.S. antimissile shield, environmentalists, relations with the European Union, and attempts to foster democracy in the postcommunist world.

RFE/RL: The Czech parliament recently approved, with your signature, the establishment of a new Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes that will research the communist and Nazi periods in this country. Why do you think the Czech Republic needs this institute, especially since there is already an Institute for Contemporary History and the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes?

Vaclav Klaus: I have to admit that I don't have a strong opinion on this matter. I am bothered about and interested in Communism as a phenomenon. I lived through it for the biggest part of my life, so I feel I know something about it. I feel I would really enjoy reading a new book, study or work that would reveal something that I don't know or haven’t read in hundreds of other books and articles. So if anyone can add anything to this, that would be good.

On the other hand, I know that nothing will be added to this by an „Institute“. An institute does not provide anything because an institute doesn't write anything. It is certain people, authors who might or might not have something to say, who write, so I would expect practically nothing from an institute itself. If there is anybody able to motivate a group of skillful people who will research, come up with something, have strong opinions about it, and are capable of contributing something, then that is alright. But the idea that we can solve a problem by setting up an institute is not the one I share.

RFE/RL: Do you see a problem in the fact that the institute's governing board will be chosen by politicians?

Klaus: Not at all, these are irrelevant things that are stirring the waters in our calm, summer political pond. It's not about that at all. Who else would be on any board? Look at the board of your radio station, or any other board of any other similar institution in the United States. Who would devise them? Would [the members] be chosen by lottery? Or would there be a referendum on who should be on the board? It's just a made-up, unnecessarily nasty game against politicians and I don't think it's a worthy topic for discussion. Who else should choose them? NGOs? Greenpeace fanatics? I don't understand who should [choose them].

RFE/RL: Do you think new members of the European Union, who experienced communist oppression, should help democracy movements in countries such as Belarus? And if so, how?

Klaus: Exporting a revolution or democracy is just a fantasy and these fantasies usually end really badly. I don't see the world like that. I don't, for instance, think that democracy was imported here and that somebody had to teach us or that we needed to be educated in this, nothing like that was necessary. I think the system here came apart from the inside and I believe it will fall apart in a similar way, sooner or later, inside Belarus or Cuba or anywhere else. Those heroes who believe that they caused the fall of communism, that's a falsehood, they're flattering themselves. So please be aware of this.

RFE/RL: But there are active dissident groups that already exist in countries like Belarus. They put on demonstrations and try in other ways to struggle against the regime. Should they be supported or left to their own devices?

Klaus: If we can support them in any appropriate way without complicating their domestic situation, then we should. But should it be some „program“, that's a naive way of looking at history.

RFE/RL: Thanks partly to your latest book "A Blue, Not A Green Planet" you've become well-known abroad for your opinions on global warming. Was this your intention, do you welcome this? Do you want to be an "anti"-Al Gore?

Klaus: This issue has concerned me tremendously for a long time. I met Al Gore in a television debate about this issue in New York some 15 years ago, so it's not a new thing that I've just discovered. I consider it one of the most serious threats to freedom in the world, one of the most serious threats to the normal development of humanity.

Of course not global warming itself, but the opinions that are being smuggled in to us, thanks to the false threat of global warming, by people like Al Gore and many others. The hysteria around this in Western Europe and the U.S. is ridiculous and undignified and there's no doubt that people in a few years' or decades' time will laugh at us and wonder if we went mad in the first decade of the 21st century by betting on this card. I think we should use all possible ways to break this hysteria and one way of doing so is writing this book and traveling around the world and giving lectures, talks, and interviews. I'm ready to go at the end of September to New York, where the UN secretary-general is organizing, a day before the General Assembly, a specific conference on global warming, where it will be a gathering of all the "Gore-ites". They have, „by mistake“, invited also me. And I'm going to have to give a very tough speech.

RFE/RL: You write in your book that socialist ideology has been replaced by the threat of "ambitious environmentalism." Could you define what do you mean exactly?

Klaus: The quotation is not entirely accurate. Socialism is a certain social system, which could not have been replaced by environmentalism. If you have said that the socialist doctrine has been replaced with environmentalism, then I would understand. We keep on repeating, unceasingly, that one thing is ecology, let’s say scientific ecology, as a descriptive, positive science that describes some real things and phenomena in the world and tries to find connections, patterns, etc. among them. That discipline, however, we're not talking about here. A completely different thing is the German-term Weltanschauung. In other words the "world view" that exploits some theories from this or that discipline in order to carry out, in never-ending line, another attack against human freedom and the market economy.

The main attack on the market in the last one hundred, 150 years has been the softer or stronger versions of what -- now when communism has gone -- is known as the soziale Marktwirtshaft, social market economy. This is basically the official ideology of Germany and Austria and today even the EU. The main assault on the market and on human freedom has been the addition of the adjective "social" [to the word "market"].

At the beginning of my political career in the early 1990s I said, "a market without adjectives alias a market without epithets." In other words let's not spoil things with any adjectives. So the first assault was social, in the softer version it is today's European system, in the harder version the communism. Now, it is more frequently said there, a "socially and ecologically oriented" market economy which is another assault on the market and human freedom.

As someone who has experienced communism, I believe it is time to be alarmed by this. I'm not comparing the threat of communism versus the threat of environmentalism, as somebody incorrectly interpreted me. Communism was surely worse, though I think that with some of those extreme environmentalists we would live to see something similar. They would be also cutting heads off. If I say that something was replaced by something else, it's that today communism is no longer a doctrine that would appeal to millions and billions of people, who would go crazy under communist slogans to transform the world.

That's why I say this isn't the main danger today. Rather, the main danger is environmentalism, because it bears other, very attractive slogans. Who wouldn't be interested in a clean environment? You'd be mad to say something else. And this is the path through which, again, things, which threaten us in a fundamental way, are being smuggled through to us. Hence, it is not a comparison of gulag and Stalin’s communism with Al Gore or Mr. Bursík. That is a false argument some „scribbler“is trying to place in my mouth. I am saying, what today‘s danger is, I am not saying which was worse.

RFE/RL: Are you skeptical about global warming as a whole, or rather about its extent and the degree to which human behavior can affect it?

Klaus: The word skeptic is inappropriate. How can you be skeptical about whether prices are rising or not? Or how can you be a skeptic about whether you are measuring a temperature or not? Simply put, temperatures are measured and one can't speak about skepticism. Look at the actual numbers and you will see that over the past 100 years the average temperature around the world has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius.
In Prague, if you have a thermometer in your car, and you drive from the city center at Wenceslas Square to any of the outlying housing estates, the difference in temperature will be, on average, 1.5 to 2 degrees. So, in a five-minute car drive you'll find yourself in another world where the temperature is different by 2 degrees. And you will survive. Humankind has therefore not even registered the 0.7 degree rise in temperature over the past 100 years. So this is not skepticism regarding measurements. It is a reasonable approach which says: "Let's not go crazy”.

If the temperature increases by 0.7 degrees in a century, let's not go crazy.

This is not skepticism. It is an appeal for realism, for a rational approach to looking at the world. I'm not saying that the temperature rise cannot somehow accelerate. There are countless scientific debates about this. Nevertheless, it is not true, it is just not true that there is a single view on this issue. It is simply a lie of a group supported by the media and politicians, which claims that there is a scientific consensus about this. Not to mention the fact that "scientific consensus" is not a technical term. When Galileo was alive, the "scientific consensus" was that he was wrong. But that proved nothing. There are equally strong arguments and counterarguments which suggest that it won’t be all that bad. So really, it's not about the temperature itself. The essential point of the argument is the cause of the rise of the temperature; whether it is the sun or our planet's internal mechanisms or whether mankind adds something to the equation. And here there is an enormous, endless debate. And I have to state responsibly, as a person who is of an academic background and who is a university professor, that the arguments put forward by both sides are equally well-founded. Pretending that there is only one set of arguments is a complete nonsense. So this is not about skepticism. I think we have to look at this realistically and not go crazy. That's the main thing: not to go crazy.

RFE/RL: You frequently appeal for the defense of individual freedoms. Nevertheless, governments in Europe and elsewhere -- partly through their tax policies -- are trying to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption. Governments also regulate industry. In your opinion, should the state not get involved? Should regulation be left to the free market? What role should government play?

Klaus: Governments and states should play a much lesser role than they currently do. They should interfere with people's lives to a much lesser degree around the world. I don't want to say that there aren't any reasons for governments sometimes to do something. If I thought that, I wouldn't have spent 17 years in politics. Undoubtedly there are some public goods, which should be safeguarded in a rational way. But in a rational way and not on the basis of Mr. Al Gore's appeals.

RFE/RL: Let's move on to missile defense, as it is very much in the news these days. Surveys show that two-thirds of people in the Czech Republic are against the location of a U.S. radar base in this country. Why are people so opposed, in your opinion?

Klaus: First of all, I think this disagreement should be respected. It is real, no one is making it up. No one is faking the polls that are being taken. The second point is; what is the motive behind this. I think there are two reasons. People have their own certain historical experiences and will always be wishing no to have large military bases nearby. That's very natural and very human. We can’t be surprised by that and if someone trivializes and simplifies everything, like [the government's coordinator for radar issues Tomas] Klvana, then he does a disservice to efforts aimed at agreeing on a reasonable solution to this issue.

The third thing is that people don't feel a danger clearly enough. And here it is the role for all possible politicians and analysts to explain to them the degree of the threat and of the risk. It is clear that the world has often been wrong and failed in estimating the threat. Therefore it is important to find an explanation of the degree of the threat. I fear, that this is not even being done. General statements that there are "rough" states Iran and North Korea, which seem extremely far away to any Czech citizen, are of course another reason why many people look at the issue this way. So the thing is to find a rational way forward. Not saying that people are stupid and we should change them.

RFE/RL: So should the government try to persuade Czechs to change their mind?

Klaus: It is necessary to explain things to them rightly. The word persuade sounds a bit like from a Bolshevik dictionary. I don't know where you lived under communism, but I think it's not an appropriate statement. It is necessary to a) indicate the level of threat in a convincing manner b) state the reason why we want to express our loyalty to the United States of America, to this significant partner of ours and an allied country. For me, personally, as I am repeatedly saying in all my statements, it is the second argument, rather than the first one, which is the stronger for me.

RFE/RL: Moving on to the EU. You call yourself a Euro-realist and it's well-known that you don't harbor very warm feelings toward Brussels. Before the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, you expressed the fear that membership could result in a loss of national identity. Three years on, how do you evaluate the situation?

Klaus: There is nothing new to that, my thesis remains in effect. I think that the number of people who agree with me is rapidly rising and people's experience with the EU only confirms what I said. In addition, the EU is more and more trying to assume the role of a supranational state and suppresses the identity of any country, ours or any other.
Yesterday, I was traveling by car and I waited at traffic lights and in front of me there were two cars. One car had our old-style Czech license plate, with the big round CZ sticker. The second car had the new-style EU plate, where the CZ was written in tiny letters. Anyone who doesn't understand what this example is about doesn't understand anything at all. The EU is trying to make the letters that symbolize our state as small as possible. You can't tell from a distance if there's an NL for the Netherlands written on there, or an SK for Slovakia. You can't tell. You either need binoculars or you need to be driving right next to the car.
This is a textbook example of the attempt to suppress, to rub out the basic entity that has formed the European continent and has given it its characteristic features. So this trend exists and it's not about Euro-skepticism. If you look at these two license plates, that is no Euro-skepticism. I am measuring in centimeters, in the undisputable centimeters, the size of the letters.

RFE/RL: If other prospective EU applicants, like Ukraine, or some of the Balkan states, came to you for advice on their membership bids, what would you tell them?

Klaus: Of course I am of the opinion that homogenizing, rubbing out individual things, controlling everything from a single center is harder to do, if there are more countries in. I am a person who recommends everyone to enter [the EU] because the more of us there is in the European Union, the weaker the power of the Brussels center will be.


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