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Notes for Rhodes: Is the Title of the Panel Helpful and Meaningful?

English Pages, 1. 10. 2016

1. The Island of Rhodes has been a symbol of building bridges for centuries and millennia. The island used to be a bridge between Europe and Asia (or at least Middle East) already thousands years ago. Being here gives us a good inspiration for discussing the ever-recurring issue of bridging gaps or differences between cultures and civilizations.

2. Nevertheless, I have a problem with the title of the panel. I can´t get rid of the prevailing paradigm of my science. As an economist, and perhaps more generally, as a social scientist, I am not able to meaningfully discuss geographical entities such as East, West, North and South. I need entities which are well-defined, which have some sort of subjectivity and of behaviour, entities which aim at something. Technically speaking, they must have interests and must maximize some – explicit or implicit – utility or target function.

East, West, North and South are – for me – just geographically defined entities. They don´t behave. I don´t have at my disposal a theory or hypothesis, which could become the basis for a meaningful analysis.

3. My first question is: can the world be meaningfully divided along the lines of four geographical cardinal points East, West, North and South? I doubt it.

We need a different dividing line, a different key how to structure the world. There are several potential candidates for such a key?

- should we use religions and their consequences?

- should we base our thinking on prevailing economic, social and political ideologies which in the long run determine decisive political, social and economic institutions and policies?

- should we stay with one important aspect of it – with the degree of political freedom, and of the recognition of individual political (civic) rights?

- should we return to the old terminology and speak about capitalism and socialism?

- should we look at cultural (and, therefore, civilizational) differences?

- should we differentiate geographical regions on the basis of differences in the degree of wealth (or economic development)?

All these – and undoubtedly many other – dividing lines are possible. We should try to find the one which is the most useful and productive to the purposes of our analysis. Without an explicit formulation of the purpose, our discussions lose any sense. It inevitably leads to a cacophony of our presentations.

To be frank, I don´t think that the geographical names of world regions help us in our effort to understand to world.

4. The slogan “bridging the gap” assumes that we have a clearly defined gap which should be bridged. First, when we say a gap, we probably mean something else than a more difference? Am I right? And, second, what kind of a gap? How is the gap defined? Is it the gap in mutual understanding? The gap in living standards? Etc. It brings me back to my original doubts about the suggested structuring of the world.

5. Let´s accept that there is a – for me not clearly defined – gap which we want to bridge. I don´t know what to do. I don´t have a positive suggestion. I know – only – what not to do. I am convinced that we will never eliminate any differences or gaps:

- by the inevitably destructive effects of global governance;

- by the attempts to introduce an universalistic world ideology;

- by the exports of revolutions (nor of democracy) by those who have the political, economic and military power plus sufficient self- confidence and self-assurance of being the owners of the right solutions to do it;

- by foreign aid organized by governments or bureaucratic international organizations;

- by forced acceptance of universal standards (they are not economically neutral, they are always dependent on the level of economic development which – of course – differs).

6. The ambition of a bridging is also a problematic effort. We should talk, we should try to understand, and, above all, we should respect. We shouldn´t try to make the world uniform. That would be more dangerous than anything else. We should aim at keeping natural, historically and spontaneously evolved differences.

But we should keep differences at a distance. In this respect, the current mass migration to Europe enabled if not organized by the European elites is a tragic mistake. Mass migration doesn´t bridge differences, it creates and magnifies them.

Václav Klaus, Rhodes Forum, Panel No. 5: East and West, North and South: Bridging the Gap, Rhodes, Greece, October 1, 2016.


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