English Pages, 28. 10. 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
we have gathered here in these historical premises again to commemorate that the modern Czech state is one year older. Before long, a hundred years will pass from the establishment of our republic. Then we shall certainly ask the following questions:
- What has this – historically speaking – relatively brief episode, interrupted by the Nazi Protectorate and subsequently by our subjection to the Soviet Union, brought to our nation;
- And what have we who have lived in this era brought to our state.
For such questions to make sense, we must still have our republic at that time. This is, however, not self-evident. There is a great temptation, no longer hidden, to make use of the current problems for a radical centralisation of the continent and for further weakening of the sovereignty of historical European states, problems that would not have arisen in their current form without the ill-conceived introduction of the single European currency.
It is not easy to estimate how our republic will look like on its one-hundredth anniversary. We could not be looking forward to this celebration if we only extrapolated the contemporary economic and political trends, if we relied only on our current feelings, if we thought that the wrath, envy and aggressiveness which we nowadays see and hear more in internet discussions than pub discussions, was a determining factor; or if we did not listen also to those who do not complain but are instead proud of what has been achieved over the past two decades and who have been contributing to it with all their efforts. I nevertheless hope that there is, and will be, a reason to celebrate our statehood.
A precondition for that is to truly understand the situation in which we find ourselves, and to contemplate it both without excessive pessimism and doubts and without rose-tinted glasses. First and foremost we need to look at the situation without indifference and resignation which would not help anything. Let us stop incessantly finding fault with the present day and slandering and belittling it. Let us not accept the fashionable cliché that the more mercilessly we criticise everything, the better we ourselves become. Let us look at ourselves and the world around us in a sober matter-of-fact manner, which used to be our truly typical national quality in the past.
A large part of the public is dissatisfied or even frustrated today, even though, in spite of all the difficulties, as I repeatedly try to point out, materially speaking we are living in the most successful period of our history. The data for Europe tell us that our country has the lowest percentage of people living below the poverty line. Despite all this, some people are not well-off, although we as a whole had never been richer before. The current economic stagnation, accompanied by the fundamentally correct and praiseworthy government attempts at stabilising public finance and not increasing the public debt, in effect means that the standard of living of some of our fellow citizens is deteriorating.
However, this has not been caused by those who are currently taking something away from them, but by those who had been irresponsibly giving them something before. The higher and the shakier the foundations that now need to be curtailed, the greater the frustration of individuals or even whole social groups tends to be. It is nothing unexpected, nothing that we would not have foreseen, nothing against which many of us would not have warned.
The recent elections to regional assemblies and to the Senate proved to be an important indicator of the feelings of our fellow citizens. The citizens sent out a clear signal to politicians. They told them that the government in office had not succeeded in convincing the public that its policy was the right one. Even though the media did nothing to help those efforts in the very least, one cannot blame only the media. The problem is deeper.
The economic and welfare system, built not on real economic performance but on increasing public debt and giving away wealth acquired on credit, simply had to collapse sooner or later in the whole Western world, including our country.
This shock may have at last opened eyes that had been kept closed or half-closed for a long time. Over the almost ten years that I have been the President of the Czech Republic I have been given to sign dozens if not hundreds of Bills that inevitably led to increasing our indebtedness and the power of institutions of all kinds. I have returned only a small part of those Bills back to the Chamber of Deputies for renegotiation, usually without any effect.
This was true both of the left-wing governments and of the governments with a prevalence of parties that were, or considered themselves to be, centre-right. The already excessive number of Acts, orders and regulations that harness our lives demotivates us and restricts our freedom. Besides, it does not express the true will of voters. The media help to promote the interests of small, yet powerful and often internationally interconnected pressure and lobby groups hiding under the banner of non-government organisations that have different names. An exemplary illustration of their success is what has been going on with the so called renewable sources of energy, when our legislation made it possible for those who had a better grasp of it than others or for those who may have even had the legislation tailor-made to their needs to gain unjustifiable profit.
This profit is not an outcome of those energy sources, but an outcome of government subsidies that are paid by taxpayers through high taxes and by consumers through high prices of energy, food and other commodities. The environmental impact is not positive either, even though everything was done supposedly for the sake of the environment. Hundreds of billions of euros, dollars and Czech crowns have been thrown away, not out of the window, but into the pockets of groups and movements that look “idealistic” on the surface, or into the pockets of those who profit from their activities.
Although austerity measures have recently been debated in our country almost on a daily basis, our debt still continues to increase. We cannot but clean up public finance and reduce the overall cost of the operation of the state at all levels and also curb our complex and expensive public administration. There are examples of best practice to draw on. When I received the President of the Slovenian Parliament here at the Prague Castle at the beginning of October, he told me that their newly formed government had reduced the number of Ministries from 19 to 12. Let’s attempt at something similar.
Even though it is politically extremely difficult, our welfare system needs to get back to realistic dimensions. This means to limit government mandatory expenditures predetermined by law, that is the money that merely passes through the budget without any government decision-making. Contemplating higher corporate and individual tax as a source of financing the mandatory expenditures is ineffective and it only makes the economic and financial problems deeper.
Our state is weakening and growingat the same time. Instead of having a small and strong public administration we are clenched by an ever bigger, yet weaker public administration. Especially for the younger generation this country, its laws, institutions and representatives cease to be an authority and a respected value. Virtually on a daily basis, everything related to the state is challenged and mocked by the media and by groups of intellectuals and lobbyists connected to them who do not have to make their living through daily diligent work in the productive sphere of the economy, which is why they have the time and means to do so. A weak state gives them a huge opportunity to do that.
Politicians as well as all of those who are not indifferent to the future of our country have to be able and willing to stand up to those pressures. Unless we do it quickly, we will be confronted with a double risk: of a complete loss of civil loyalty, and hence the indifference of citizens to their state on the one hand, and of eruptions of violence and extremism on the other hand. These are two sides of the same coin.
Naturally, not only economic issues are at stake. What is also at stake is our courage to address the denial and derision of the value roots of our civilisation that have been formed for centuries. Unless we again start calling a spade a spade, a value a value, a quasi-value a quasi-value, a standard a standard, and an extreme an extreme, our feelings of insecurity will continue to intensify. This is one of the reasons why nowadays many people fear to voice their opinion about all kinds of highly controversial social phenomena. This is one of the reasons why they again prefer to remain silent, lower their head, not voice their disapproval, and whisper their true opinion at home at the most. This is one of the reasons why it seems to many people that what we had already lived through is coming back.
All that puts democracy at risk not only in our country but in the whole Europe. This is also due to the fact that there is an ever growing carelessness about losing this irreplaceable prerequisite for human freedom.
I am not highlighting those things on this festive day in order to create or deepen a bad mood, which disquieted our public 15 years ago and is again becoming a concern today. I have a completely opposite intention. We should try to mutually encourage ourselves, but not in order to shout as loud as we can, to offend others as much as we can or to speak about our own country with as much contempt as we can. Rather, we should muster up courage to show that we are able to tackle our problems.
We must not be led to believe that we are unable to take care of our affairs, because nobody else has the motivation to take better care of them than we do. Besides, we have proven that we are capable of taking care of our affairs many times already.
We must not be led to believe that somewhere far beyond the borders of our country there are thousands of eager supranational civil servants and politicians who think about nothing else but how to help us to be better-off, more fortunate and more carefree. We will not have anything save for the things we do ourselves, that we take care of, that we negotiate or fight for with a reasonable degree of confidence. We should wait neither for a modern Messiah nor for the European funds.
We must not be led to believe that our domestic policy is so bad that various non-democratic movements, civil “appeals” or “enlightened individuals” have to come to lead and govern our country. It is not possible without democratic politics.
There are no easy and tranquil times ahead in the months and years to come. It is up to us whether we will go through those times weakened or strengthened. We are neither a superpower nor a small unimportant country. More than ten million people in a state with a thousand-year long tradition are an immense power, that is, if they wish to be a power. It is the power that our ancestors had, thanks to which they proved their ability to stand up to difficulties. I am one of those who believe in this legacy and try to maintain it, pursue it and pass it on to future generations. Knowing that there are many such people in our country makes me optimistic.
Václav Klaus, Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle, October 28, 2012
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