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20 Years After the Fall of Communism: Not a Final Victory for Freedom

English Pages, 5. 11. 2009

Many thanks for the invitation. I remember speaking here in the middle of the 1990’s but I was not able to find the text of my speech. It was – no doubt – devoted to the problems of transition from communism to a free society because in that era it was the topic of the day. 

I have several topics now. The first one I would like to touch upon is this year’s 20th anniversary of the fall of communism.

Since the very beginning, I have been advocating the rather unpopular concept that “communism was not defeated. That it collapsed or simply melted down.” I don’t think I have to change my original position. At the end of the 1980’s communism was already too weak, soft, old and emptied of all meaning to exist much longer. Some people are, of course, not happy with this interpretation because it fundamentally diminishes their role in this process. 

I am convinced that the historic autumn of 1989 deserves to be commemorated, and – I would add – not only by the citizens of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia that were direct victims of the communist regime, but in the whole world. 

It should be, however, not only a commemoration of the past. We should use it as a memento for the future, even if I don’t expect the old communism to come back. I see other collectivistic and dirigistic “isms” waiting for their chance. They will be called differently, they may be softer and less brutal, but their structural characteristics look dangerously similar. 

The well-respected political philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that “horrors in the 20th century were not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, they have been caused by ideas.” I agree with him. Even if communism is – I believe – definitely over, I am not alone who sees, hears and feels ideas that are potentially explosive and dangerous. We should, therefore, not interpret the end of communism as a final and comfortable victory. We should stay “on guard”. The generation of my parents did not see the danger of communism the night before the communist putsch in Czechoslovakia in February 1948. 

The second topic I would like to mention here today is the current financial and economic crisis. It came as a surprise for the economists, for the politicians, as well as for the public. Almost nobody expected it. Almost everyone shared the belief in the omnipotence of central banks and governments to control the macroeconomy and in the feasibility, rationality and productiveness of microeconomic regulation, especially in financial and banking sectors.  

This belief has not materialized. The economists slowly began to understand the causes of the current crisis, which was a consequence of a combination of failures. On the macroeconomic side, it becomes more and more accepted that the origin of the crisis was connected with the unprecedented build-up of imbalances in the world economy, with the unusually long period of low real interest rates and with political playing with the mortgages. On the microeconomic side, it became clear that the existing partial and very imperfect regulation distorted the rational behaviour of banks and financial institutions and motivated them to look for ways to escape it by means of various “financial innovations”. 

The current crisis was not the result of a market failure or of any inherent deficiency of capitalism. It was a government failure, resulting from the immodest ambitions to insensitively intervene in such a complex system as society and economy. 

Another of my topics is the doctrine of the climate change and the role it has in shaping our society. We do not have time to discuss the ideology of environmentalism and global warming, or its scientific or climatologic aspects. I just want to refer to a book I wrote about it some time ago which has been published already in 12 languages. The title of its English version is “Blue Planet in Green Shackles”. I don’t intend to repeat its main arguments here now, their substance is outlined in the question in the subtitle of the book which asks: What Is Endangered – Climate or Freedom? My answer is simple: freedom is endangered, climate is O.K.

The very problematic issue I would like to mention is Europe, or perhaps, more accurately, the European unification. That I call it problematic may be a surprising statement for some of you. 

In the 1950’s the leading idea behind the European integration was to liberalize, to open-up, to remove barriers at the borders of individual European countries, to enable free movement of not only goods and services but of people and ideas around the European continent. It was a positive concept. It should continue and be promoted by all of those who have liberal (in European terminology), which means not statist or nationalistic, world-view or Weltanschaung. 

The situation changed during the 1980´s and the decisive breakthrough was the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. Integration had turned into unification, liberalization into centralization of decision making, into harmonization of rules and legislation, into the strengthening of European institutions at the expense of institutions in member states, into the enormous growth of democratic deficit, into post-democracy. 

The current dispute about the Lisbon Treaty, which probably ended two days ago when I signed it, is about whether to go ahead with – this freedom and prosperity endangering – process or whether to interrupt it. Some of us are not happy with being brought back to a centrally organized and controlled world that we got rid of just 20 years ago.

I started by saying that I have several topics today. Maybe I was wrong. It is in fact one topic and its several manifestations. Communism was a utopia to mastermind human society. Current efforts to fight the crisis, to fight climate, to artificially unify Europe belong to the same category. 

Václav Klaus, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., November 5, 2009


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