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Prince Michael and the Spirit of Liberal Liechtenstein

English Pages, 8. 11. 2016

The Principality of Liechtenstein manages to survive the world-wide process of internationalization and globalization of all kinds of human activities as a small but – as compared to the rest of Europe – liberal island of reason[1]. It does it in spite of, or perhaps thanks to, its aristocratic, if not feudal state structure. The undisputed and undisputable fact of its liberal orientation has many reasons and possible explanations. I believe the most important one is the extraordinary quality of men who are in charge of the Principality and who keep its tradition of freedom and liberty alive.

Prince Michael is one of them. We often meet at various international gatherings all over the world – our last four encounters, if I am not wrong, were in Vaduz, London, St. Petersburg and Washington. On one hand, he is a genuine and authentic part of the contemporary crowd of modern globetrotters who are permanently on the move, on the other, he is also a true Liechtensteiner. He is not a lost, empty cosmopolitan without any roots we so often see around us.

He is also a true European (for me too much sympathetic to the very doubtful concept and even much worse reality of the European integration project) but he is – at the same time – a great advocate of political freedom and market economy. He says Europe has to change a paradigm – “this would signify accepting a more liberal economy… European economy is over-regulated, with high and often inefficient overheads – exaggerated government costs and a welfare system which is frequently inefficient and with excessively high administrative costs”[2].

He (and "his" Principality) demonstrates that even a small country can have a role in the contemporary artificially unified world and that its citizens can be proud of it. I am no fan of all the ideological views of E. F. Schumacher, but the title of his well-known and often quoted book “Small is Beautiful” (written in the 1970s) always immediately invokes Liechtenstein – at least for me.

The current world and his main exponents (and would-be owners) evidently take a different view – it is taken for granted that “big is beautiful”. According to the today´s prevailing mantra, a country should be either sufficiently big to have a role and significance or should voluntarily destroy itself, deny its existence, forget its past and deliberately accept the fate of a piece of sugar thrown into a cup of hot tea.

This has become the fate of European, formerly sovereign states when they accepted to be locked in the contemporary version of the European integration process embodied in the post-Maastricht and post-Lisbon European Union. I have to proudly claim that I used this analogy for the first time as early as in 1991. It was only two years after the fall of communism and the final release of Soviet empire´s embracement, but it was 13 years before the entry of my country into the EU[3]. I expected the forthcoming process of melting down of our statehood to happen and to my great regret I was right. Everything went exactly as I anticipated. The undergoing process of “Europeization” (of our “soumission”– to use the title of a recent seminal book written by Michel Houellebecq[4]) liquidates our sovereignty. Fully.

Liechtenstein (together with Switzerland) escaped such a sad and lamentable fate and as far as I can judge, its citizens (it is perhaps more proper to speak about subjects in the case of Liechtenstein) appreciate it. It was a shrewd explicit policy on the side of Liechtenstein policy-makers on the one hand and it was a very favourable historical fortune on the other. The Principality of Liechtenstein was luckier, it was not exposed to the same choice as we were. It didn´t have to return to Europe (which was the main – however misleading – slogan of our Velvet Revolution in November 1989). After four decades of communism, we wanted to return to freedom and democracy. I unsuccessfully tried to explain the difference between “back to Europe” and “avanti into the EU” to the people in my country, but they – fascinated by the fall of communism – failed to grasp this, at first sight only subtle, difference. After a quarter of a century, their disenchantment with our EU membership is huge and growing.

Their current disillusion has three main reasons:

1. The Czechs – with some delay – understood that they didn´t enter Europe, but the post-democratic, bureaucratic, freedom-abandoning, market economy disgracing, economically non-efficient European Union;

2. The Czechs finally grasped that the European Union has become more and more an anti-nation state construct, a multicultural fortress, an unlimited amount of migrants-welcoming entity;

3. The Czechs discovered that the European Union behaves as a short-sighted superpower (which it is not) threatening its own citizens by participating in an unnecessary confrontation with Russia.

Let me develop these three above-mentioned, briefly stated points in more detail.

Ad 1) It is impossible (and unnecessary) for anyone in Europe to enter Europe. You can´t enter a geographically (and by its history) defined continent. We, the Czechs, like the Liechtensteiners, have always been in Europe. On May 1, 2004, we didn’t enter Europe but a man-made construct called the European Union. It is trivial and self-evident to say that but some people intentionally don´t get it. After 2004, I was – as President of the Czech Republic – in my official visits to the EU capitals very often greeted with words: “Welcome to Europe”.

The European Union is a very special entity. It is not a liberal Liechtenstein. Its internal political system is evidently far from being democratic (even EU politicians talk about a democratic deficit – which is, of course, a very misleading understatement). The European Parliament is not a real parliament, it has no competences to propose new bills and control the “government”, there is no opposition there. The Parliament does not see its own voters because they are too far away. The same is true about the voters. A true parliament needs the existence of political people, of the demos, but nothing like that exists in Europe (or in the EU). The huge Brussels´s bureaucracy has all the power. Those sitting in the European Parliament don´t listen to us. They aren´t supposed to. They just form a buffer between the EU bureaucrats and the people in European countries.

In the EU (like in COMECON decades ago), the word “market” has become an invective, a term of abuse, not a symbol of freedom and prosperity. According to the current doctrine, the market should be controlled, regulated, weakened and repressed as much as possible. Our naïve dream about getting rid of the communist centrally planned and administered economy and about establishing “markets without adjectives” (my slogan from the moment of our Velvet Revolution) didn´t materialize. Not a Schumpeterian entrepreneur but an EU Beamte has become the symbol of our times. The statistically well-described European economic performance (or perhaps disperformance) – the long-term stagnation, high level of unemployment, huge debts – demonstrates it quite convincingly.

I try to say that all the time, at home and abroad. Let me quote from my last year’s Le Cercle speech:

“I have repeatedly criticized European politicians, intellectuals and business people for not taking the evident European problems seriously enough. Europe continues marching in the same blind alley as before

- regardless the no change indicating economic data;

- regardless the waning respect and position of Europe in the rest of the world;

- regardless the deepening of the democratic deficit the people in Europe are confronted with;

- and regardless the undeniable increase of frustration of those who are objects of this pan-European constructivist experiment.

The current economic stagnation Europe is facing is an outcome of a deliberately chosen, and for years and decades gradually developed, European economic and social system on the one hand and of the more and more centralistic and undemocratic European Union institutional arrangements on the other. They both, and especially they together, form an unsurmountable obstacle to any positive development in the future.”[5]

Especially the common currency experiment is a wrong project and a big problem for me. “The euro evidently did not help practically anyone. It weakened the self-discipline of individual countries. It created a “fuzzy” state of affairs, without clear delimitation of competencies and responsibilities. It produced an exchange rate which is too soft for the countries of the European North and too hard for the European South. It opened the doors to unproductive and involuntary redistribution (this is not an authentic personal solidarity but government-organized fiscal transfers.)”

The policy proposals are self-evident:

“We should return to free-market principles, to a fundamental deregulation, liberalization and desubsidization of the European economy. We shouldn´t count on more regulation. We already have too much of it. Those of us who experienced communism have to say that we did not expect that government interventionism, to the extent we see now, could emerge again. It seemed to us that the masterminding of the economy from above was so discredited by the communist experience that it could never return. We were wrong.”

The EU membership proves to be both politically and economically a very doubtful investment for us. Communism was much worse but it doesn´t mean anything – no rational person would use it as an etalon.

Ad 2) The Czechs, when entering the EU twelve years ago, didn´t know what the EU in reality is. The songs of the seducing sirens were too strong and sweet and the joy coming from making another institutional step out of the communist (and Soviet) past was overwhelming. Our cautiousness was weakened.

The Czechs (and other Central and East Europeans) made two fundamental errors:

- they didn´t correctly read the “old” (pre-2004) European Union and

- they didn´t anticipate the “new” (post-2009) EU developments.

The Czechs used to have a very idealistic and naïve view as regards the European integration process[6] inherited from their frustration in the Communist era. For them, the EU (then the EC) was an embodiment of freedom and democracy, of free markets and free trade. The “small” disturbing details were underestimated and the growing bureaucratization, centralization and standardization of the whole continent were not visible enough. At the beginning of the 1990s, we were – from behind the Iron Curtain – fully occupied with our own radical transformation process and even most of the politicians didn´t pay attention to the internal developments in the EU. We, as non-members, practically missed to appreciate the radical breakthrough in the European integration process – the Maastricht Treaty.

The switch from EC to EU, done in Maastricht, was not fully understood by the future EU member states (and I suspect neither by the old EU member states). The people didn´t take into consideration what moving from a community of nations (or states) to the union of people in reality meant. This qualitative change was erroneously underestimated.

The Maastricht Treaty opened the doors to the post-nation state Europe, to the post-political Europe, and to the post-democratic Europe. Only a few European thinkers and intellectuals were able to see it clearly then, and many don´t see it clearly even now. Most of them were (and are) captives of the EU propaganda and voluntarily participate in the manipulation and indoctrination of people living in European countries (I only reluctantly use the term Europeans because I find it almost empty).

The post-political European world becomes even emptier than it used to be before[7]. The emerging ideological vacuum has been gradually filled with modern, or pseudomodern collectivistic ideologies of political correctness, multiculturalism, environmentalism, humanrightism, feminism and genderism, homosexualism, etc. All of them lead to the neglect, if not total rejection of old European values, behaviour-patterns, traditional ways of thinking. That created an –easily occupied – empty space for the victory of multiculturalism and for the opening of borders to migrants from the whole world, currently mostly from Arab countries.

The undergoing mass migration is a direct consequence of this ideological shift. Some very non-mainstream arguments about this issue – especially the idea that only the supply of migrants is connected with the situation in countries of the Middle East and North Africa, whereas the demand for migrants came from Europe – are the subject of our recent book about migration[8].

Ad 3) The individual EU member states want to follow their own interests, not the interests of EU bureaucracy and of EU elites. They don´t need EU as a superpower trying be on a par with other superpowers. That is only in the interest of EU elites who feel they are the owners of Europe. Not in the interest of people in Europe.

We – who daresay something like that – are considered naïve and unable to understand the sacrosanct tenets of geopolitics. This problem came to the fore when discussing Western “humanitarian interventions” in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria and when looking at Western exports of democracy into the Arab world and recently Ukraine. Most of them were wrong – both as a project and as its realization. People like me reject the obligation to be on the “right side” of the frontier (selected by the bureaucratic elites and/or by the fanatical zealots of one ideology or another).

Western insensitive and overbearing behaviour undermined the – in the past seemingly unshakable – position of the United States of America in Central and Eastern Europe´s hearts and heads where people – after the fall of communism – genuinely believed in the American greatness. This “falling from greatness” was magnified by the recent events in Ukraine.

Many of us didn´t believe in the authenticity of the Ukraine “Orange Revolution” ten years ago and do believe much less in its Maidan continuation two years ago. Both were too much inspired, sponsored, financed and even co-organized by the West (in partnership of the U.S. and EU). It was not an authentic people´s uprising[9].

It created a totally new geopolitical situation. I spoke about it at the last year’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum[10]:

“We are the witnesses of a new era of confrontation between the West and the East, particularly between the West and Russia. This is frustrating, especially for us who were forced to spend such a long time in the East, as part of the Soviet empire. For four long decades, we lived in a divided world and paid a very high price for it. We don´t want to repeat the same or a similar experience again…

We shouldn´t accept the interpretation of the present day´s artificial and not authentically developed conflict between the West and Russia as a confrontation of two fundamentally distinct political, socioeconomic and cultural (if not religious) systems as it used to be in the Soviet Union era. I am frustrated by the survival of Cold War prejudices. We should stop fighting the old, no longer relevant wars.

Russia deserves to have a chance to define its new history, to find its own way, and to be an active player on the international scene.”

It seems to me that the developments in Ukraine became part of a project to start a new Western confrontation with Russia which is irrational, dangerous and not in the interest of people in Central and Eastern Europa. I try to say it permanently. I will extensively quote from my parallel arising text prepared for a conference in Moscow: “Russia on Political and Economic Map of the World: A View from Prague”[11].

“I resolutely reject the oversimplified, misleading, evidently intentionally unfriendly, but currently so widespread misinterpretation of Russia in the West (and the unfair and stubborn putting together of Russia and Soviet Union and Putin and Brezhnev). This attitude paradoxically reveals more about the West and its prejudices than about contemporary Russia…

The West behaves as if it didn’t wish Russia being fully separated from its Soviet history. The more important it is for Russia to succeed in completing the break with its past. Russia has to demonstrate that the Soviet era was a mere anomaly…

It is in the interest of Russia itself and of all of us to wish Russia a good, peaceful and prosperous future. It depends mostly on the Russians themselves, on their political maturity, on their belief in full-fledged democracy, but the rest of the world should make it possible. To return to a new cold war is a guaranteed way how to make peace and democracy in Russia impossible.

The goal of our times is to bring Russia back into European politics as a partner, not as an enemy.”


Prince Michael in a recent article similarly argues that “Russia feels humiliated by its treatment by the West in the aftermath of the Soviet Union´s collapse… Western foreign policies have often ignored Russia´s sensitivity… Sanctions have probably accelerated another trend – a rapprochement between Russia and China which both feel contained by the West… This is a temporary ´marriage of convenience´ in opposing the West”.[12]

I wish Prince Michael many years of productive life.

Václav Klaus, 1. 4. 2016

[1] I use the term liberal in its original European meaning of classical liberalism, not in its American sense.

[2] Liechtenstein, M., “Europe´s major challenges in politics, economies and defence”, World Review, Vaduz, 2013.

[3] I have to admit that it was me who – as Prime Minister – sent the EU membership application (in January, 1996).

[4] When the Czech Republic resumed the EU rotating presidency in 2009, a sugar lump was used as a symbol of Czech presidency. I am not sure it was understood. The Czech government added a slogan to it: “We will make it sweet for Europe”. The EU elites probably didn´t pay enough attention to it otherwise they would have done something.

[5] Klaus, V., “First Five Years since the Outbreak of the Greek Crisis?”, Le Cercle Washington Meeting, The Fairfax at Embassy Row, Washington, D.C., June 28, 2015.

[6] About the European integration dynamics see my “European Integration without Illusions” (2011), published in English under the title “Europe: The Shattering of Illusions”, Bloomsbury, London, 2012.

[7] Many progressivists have long time ago declared (and looked forward to) “The End of Ideology” (which is the title of Daniel Bell´s famous 1962 book). This forecast totally failed. Current politicians declare that they are already out of ideology, that they are “pragmatists and empirists”. It is not true. The EU leaders try to accomplish the fundamental transformation of Europe which is, of course, a very ideological ambition. The ideological dispute has moved “away from class conflict towards new antagonisms” (says John Fonte, “Ideologies Have Consequences”, Quadrant, No. 1, 2016). He sees them in “ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration, religion and other issues” (p. 32).

[8] Klaus, V., Weigl, J.: “Stěhování národů s. r. o.” (in Czech, December 2015, Olympia, Prague). It was published under the title “Völkerwanderung” in Germany, "Volksverhuizing" in Flanders, „Folkvandring“ in Sweden. It will be published under the title “Pereseleniye narodov“ in Russia, “Europe all Inclusive” in England, and “Migration des peuples” in France in the coming months.

[9] See Klaus., V., Weigl, J., “Let´s Start a Real Ukrainian Debate”, The Never-Ending Struggle for Free Society, Publication No. 14/2014, Václav Klaus Institute, Prague, 2014.

[10] Klaus, V., St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, St. Petersburg, June 19, 2015.

[11] A contribution to the Jubilee International Union of Economists publication, April 2016, Moscow.

[12] Liechtenstein, M., Russia and China´s marriage of convenience raises tensions with the West, World Review, 2014. Also published here: www.worldreview.info/content/russia-and-chinas-marriage-convenience-raises-tensions-west. 

Václav Klaus, An Enterprising, Liberal and Generous Mind, Esseys in Honor of H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, editor Kurt R. Leube, Van Eck Publishers,Triesten, 2016.


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