English Pages, 20. 11. 2014
Many thanks for conferring on me the Yegor Gaidar´s award. I am really honoured by it. Thank you for doing it to now, in this very complicated moment of modern history. We live in a very strange moment – we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism and we suddenly appeared in a situation which reminds us of the atmosphere we experienced more than 25 years ago. This is a rather unexpected coincidence of events. I will return to it later. Let me, first, say a few words about how I see the person whose name is connected with the award I just got. Yegor Gaidar was – and certainly not only in my eyes – one of the most distinguished Russian economists of the modern era and one of the most democratic and liberal politicians in post-communist Russia. I had a chance to meet him several times and was always impressed by his friendship and good-heartedness, by his sincerity, as well as by his sharp analytical thinking. There are two moments which keep returning to my mind.
One of them was our meeting in Prague, in my office in the Czechoslovak Ministry of Finance, at the beginning of the 1990s. He wanted to hear the story of my engagement in politics. I tried to tell him that originally, in the moment of the fall of communism, I did not have higher ambitions than to be recognized as an economist – after being deprived of working in the Institute of Economics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences as a result of the repercussions which followed the occupation of my country by the Warsaw Pact armies – led by the Soviet Union – in August 1968. It was – for many of my compatriots – the moment when they became very hostile to everything connected with your part of the world. Even at that time I tried to argue that it was not done by Russia and the Russians but by the Soviet Union and Communism. This argument, however, didn´t work.
Twenty years after that, when I became Minister of Finance in the first Czechoslovak non-communist government (in December 1989), I understood very rapidly that in a democratic society this role has no meaning without a strong political mandate or without a sufficient political support. When in my case such a support didn’t come, I decided to form my own political party. With this party, I succeeded in winning the parliamentary elections and became Prime Minister. I remember that Yegor Gaidar attentively listened. It seemed to me that he conceptually agreed but hesitated. He was not sure the same story could work in Russia.
I will also never forget his very clever answer to a hostile and aggressive question at a conference in Warsaw organized to celebrate ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was attacked, not just academically criticized, for the imperfections and inconsistencies of Russian reforms. He did not try to make excuses. He said: “I was only Prime Minister of Russia, not Czar of Russia”. This was a clever message for those who wanted to understand. I often repeat it, quoting Yegor. All true reformers know how many constraints they have to face and are aware of the very limited power they have – I stress – in a non-totalitarian society.
As I said I came here in the moment when we are confronted with two seemingly unrelated issues. We – at least in my country and in many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe – celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism. At the same time we see a new Cold War coming.
Let me, first, say a few words to the first topic.
The radical and far-reaching breakthrough which happened in autumn of 1989 brought – more or less overnight – many positive improvements to our lives we had been dreaming of during long decades of oppression and absence of freedom. No one can deny this, neither the most hostile and unfriendly critics of the post-communist transformation process in our countries. The overwhelming majority of citizens would confirm that they are happy that communism is over.
When we became part of the free world, we realized that the world did not quite understand us. My experience tells me that the degree of our lack of freedom, of the irrationality of the old system, of the oppression we had to go through in the communist era was highly underestimated. On the contrary, the degree of our understanding of the free world, which we were not part of for such a long time, proved to be higher than most people in the West expected. Despite the long-lasting communist propaganda and indoctrination, we knew more about the capitalist West than the non-communist world knew about us. I am afraid this asymmetry is there even now, after long 25 years and it partly explains the current misunderstandings.
We – or at least some of us – know that communism collapsed, melted down (or passed away), that it was not defeated. I don´t want to diminish anybody´s merits, but communism in our part of the world in the year 1989 needed just one last straw. The subsequent chain reaction of millions of people followed spontaneously. One of the reasons for this was that the communist regime was in many respects already an empty shell. In the final stages of communism practically nobody believed in the original pillars of its ideology, in Marxism and in its derivative, the Communist doctrine.
It shouldn´t be denied that everyone – especially in the West – expected that the end of communism would bring about a shock, chaos, disorder, if not a civic war. As we know, this did not materialize. Even here, where communism lasted seven long decades, it foundered more or less quietly. All of us who knew the book by Andrei Amalrik “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?”, written at the end of the 1960s, expected much more dramatic events. Nevertheless, the seemingly easy and peaceful break-up of Soviet Union created new potentially dangerous nuclei of tensions and conflicts.
The relatively quiet end of communism became lately interpreted as a reason for the subsequent lack of fundamental changes, as a reason for a mere – partially corrected – continuation. I disagree with this interpretation. The scale and depth of the systemic transformation which has been done – with very different results in all our countries – was not sufficiently understood and recognized.
I know that the individual post-communist countries have – for many subjective and perhaps even objective reasons – reached varying levels of maturity of their political and economic transformation. I know that some of them have the transformation task behind them already, whereas some other countries are still “on the road” to achieve the status of a full-fledged pluralistic parliamentary democracy and authentic market economy. I think Russia belongs to the second group, but to underestimate the positive developments of the past 25 years here, not to see the complexities of Russia’s internal structures and institutions, not to respect its ambitions and justified claims to be taken as a genuine and rationally behaving partner in world affairs, not to accept Russia as a normal country which doesn’t want to behave forever as a defeated country in the Cold War, etc., etc., is a mistake.
I am afraid that the current Ukrainian crisis which is the consequence of the failure of Ukrainian post-communist transformation and of the inevitable fragility of this newly created multiethnic state has been misused. Ukraine became a place of confrontation between the West and the East, between America and Western Europe and Russia. Ukraine doesn’t deserve it and especially the Ukrainians don’t deserve it.
I am surprised at the degree of misunderstanding and of animosity we see around us. I am surprised at the level of superficiality in the evaluation of the situation. I am surprised that so many people follow the simplified and misleading headlines and are not willing to make their own judgements. I am nervous to see how easy it is to destabilize the international situation. I am also angry to see how easily the international relations can be captured by domestic short-term interests. I am struck by seeing how many old prejudices still exist.
The world is not black and white. There are – in reality – no Western-movie like good guys and bad guys. No one can expect to win ten to zero. We always have to look for a compromise, for a negotiated solution. This is true generally, this is also true in the case of the current Ukrainian crisis. All participant in it, especially the foreign ones, should be aware of it.
I came here not only to accept the high award, I came here also to express – by my presence here in this very moment – my disagreement with the massive disinterpretation of the events in Ukraine.
Thank you for your attention.
Václav Klaus, Speech at the Yegor Gaidar Foundation, Moscow Young Generation Theatre, Moscow, November, 2014.
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