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Notes for Bologna: Soviet Communism is Finished. What about Freedom?

English Pages, 3. 12. 2017

Presidente Nucci, Rettore Ubertini, Presidente Trifirò, professors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

it is a great pleasure and honour for me to be in your historic city. It is an honour to get both the Premio Impegno Civico and la Medaglia d´onore dell´Accademia delle Scienze. I am really pleased to have the extraordinary opportunity to address this distinguished audience in such a beautiful hall, in questa sala tanto bella.

I visited Bologna only once in my life. It was more than two decades ago, while attending an economic conference organized by Nobel Prize laureate Robert Mundell. I remember we discussed highly sophisticated issues of monetary policy. Don´t be afraid, this won´t be my topic here, this morning, even though I would enjoy talking about the irrational and our future endangering policies of the European Central Bank.

I feel I have to explicitly disclose my very special connection with your country, with Italy. More than half a century ago, in 1966, I was selected by the Italian government to participate in a post-graduate course in Naples, a Napoli, at ISVE, at the Istituto di studi per lo sviluppo economico. The idea of this project was to bring to Italy young people (we were 36 students from 25 countries) who could potentially get into important positions in their respective countries and would remain good friends of Italy.

I have not checked the CVs of my former classmates but I believe that – with my political carrier which was mentioned earlier – I have proved to be a good choice, a good investment. The Italian tax-payers money was not entirely lost. The only problem is that the course was both in English and in Italian and for that reason I didn´t learn your language sufficiently well, io non ho imparato la lingua italiana sufficientemente.

The times were rather complicated in the 1960s. My stay in Naples, mia primavera a Napoli, was my last visit of your country for the next 25 years. The reason for it is connected with the topic of my today´s speech. As a consequence of the developments of the Primavera di Praga era and especially as a result of its tragic end caused by the hostile Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 I was thrown out of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences – being considered a leading anti-Marxist scholar and an explicit opponent of the Warsaw Pact armies’ invasion into my country. Due to it I was not allowed to travel to the West for the next two decades.

My next trip to Italy was, therefore, as late as at the beginning of the 1990s. I came here already as the Minister of Finance of finally free Czechoslovakia (attending Ambrosetti Forum held at Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, on the shores of the exceptionally beautiful Lago di Como).

This story brings me to my today´s topic. Three weeks ago we commemorated the 100th anniversary of one of the most important – and in its disastrous and ruinous consequences one of the most evil – events of the 20th century, the so called Great October Socialist Revolution. For someone like me, communism was not just a field of academic studies or an object of curiosity. I didn´t look at it as a passive observer from abroad. I had the sad “privilege” to spend 40 years of my life in such a system.

We lost a lot in that era but we learned a lot as well. This experience sharpened our eyes. Our life in communism gave us a unique opportunity to gain profound and intimate knowledge of a highly centralistic, oppressive and undemocratic, dirigistic and interventionist political and economic system in its pure form.

These “sharpened eyes” are still with us. We use them when looking at the current world and, especially, when looking at the contemporary political and economic reality in Europe (and all over the West) which has been gradually getting more and more features resembling our communist past.

We have to take use of our past experience. In contrast with many observers, who lived at the moment of the fall of communism in the free West, we were not entirely surprised that one of the most irrational, oppressive, cruel and inefficient systems in history ceased to exist so suddenly and so relatively quietly. We were well aware of the fact that the communist regime was at that moment in many respects already an empty shell. We also knew that in the final stages of communism practically no one in our countries believed in the original pillars of its ideology, in Marxism and in its derivative, the Communist doctrine.

Communism melted down (or passed away), it was not defeated. There are people and groups of people who claim that they themselves defeated communism. This is highly contentious. We shouldn´t breed new myths (or self-justifying narratives).

We are already more than one generation away from the end of communism. We feel it our duty to keep memories alive. We have to keep reminding both the current and the future generations of all the cruelties and atrocities of the communist era. It is, however, also necessary to correctly interpret the later, in many respects milder stages of communism. Without it, it is difficult to understand the rather sudden and bloodless end of communism, to comprehend all the tenets of the post-communist transition, and – what is most important – to sharply look at the current era.

One of the consequences of the rapid disappearance of communism is that we ceased discussing and analysing communism, especially its later stages, its gradual weakening, emptying, and softening, as well as its complete resignation to defend itself or, luckily, to fight back. The only books and studies which continued to be published have been about the communist earlier, much uglier periods, about the “gulag” era in the Soviet Union or about the 1950s in other communist countries when people were killed, not just jailed or fired from their jobs.

When I suggest that we are in many respects returning back, I don´t mean to Marxism and Communism. I don´t find it relevant to study the works of influential contemporary intellectual celebrities and to eventually find the evidence of their inspiration in Marxism and Communism. I don´t see any “Marxist Resurgence” or something similar to it now.

Something else bothers me. I see the resurgence of similarly dangerous ideas advanced under other names and based on different motives and arguments. Their exponents would furiously deny any connection with Marxism and Communism. Many of them have been for a long time explicit antimarxists and anticommunists.

The contemporary world is characterized by many features which remind me of the old, communist days. I see a visible decline of freedom and an irresponsible lack of interest in freedom and in authentic parliamentary democracy. I do not call it a return of communism.

Where I find the main features of this development?

1. I see them in a shift in power from elected representatives to unelected bureaucracy, from local and regional authorities to central governments, from legislators to executives, from national parliaments to Brussels (and Strasbourg), which together means from the citizen to the state.

2. I see them in a cumulative, exponentially growing regulation and control of all kinds of human activities. The regulatory and administrative state started to touch also the intimate, very personal spheres of our lives, not just the economic field as it used to be in the past.

3. I see and witness them in the replacement of freedom with rights. The ideology of rights – I call it human-rightism – has become the basis of a new model of society, of its institutional arrangements, of its guiding principles. It is a part of an everlasting illusion of all non-democrats to abolish politics.

4. I see them in the victorious crusade of environmentalism and of global warming alarmism[1]. I agree with the French author Pascal Bruckner that “all the foolishness of Bolshevism and Marxism are reformulated in the name of saving the planet”.

5. I also see them in the triumphant crusades of feminism and genderism, of multiculturalism, of political correctness and of other similar “isms” and doctrines.

It is difficult to find a proper common denominator of all these new “isms”. It is not Marxism. We have to go back further into history. I see the ultimate roots of the current intellectual infatuation (and confusion) in the French Revolution (or among the French thinkers who had inspired the revolution).

From the French Revolution, we inherited the idea of progress, of progressivism, and, quite recently, of transnational progressivism. We live in an era of adoration of would-be progress, of equality, of justice, and of empty moralism, in an era of contempt for election and referenda results, in an era of false solidarity and of adoring everything with prefixes global, “multi” or “supra”. It has led to the current left-wing post-modern intellectual monoculture. Due to it, we are moving to a post-West order.

As a consequence, the West entered the critical phase of its relative gradual decline. It would be wrong to focus our attention on external enemies or quasi-enemies, be it Russia, Islam, or the residual islands of communism. The West is attacked mostly from the inside, from ourselves, from our lack of will, from our lack of determination, from our lack of courage, from our public intellectuals, from our universities, from our mass media, from our politically correct politicians.

President Trump said recently in Warsaw that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive”. He asked: “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization?”. I don´t find these words to be an exaggeration. They are just to the point. I hope the people in Bologna have the same or similar worries.

Thank you very much for your attention. And thank you for the award you bestowed upon me.

Václav Klaus, Speech at the Impegno Civico event, Accademia delle Scienze, Bologna, December 2, 2017.

[1] See my “Pianeta blu non verde. Cosa è in pericolo: il clima o la libertà?”, IBL Libri, Milan, 2009, and my new book “Zničí nás klima nebo boj s klimatem?”, Grada, Praha, 2017 (only in Czech).


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