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The 2018 Athens Seminar – Are There Indications of a Good Future?

English Pages, 23. 6. 2018

Many thanks for the invitation to this important, interesting and stimulating gathering. The Athens Seminar has become a part of my life. It is great to repeatedly meet old friends and to get a chance to find new ones. In the era of highly glorified social networks one can have, surprisingly, the feeling that he is more and more alone. Many thanks for bringing me here.

I was assigned to make a response to Roger Cohen´s talk. I would like to prepare a serious response, but it is not possible to prepare in advance a response to an unknown speech. I will, therefore, react to the questions the organizers proposed in the agenda of our seminar and then to what we have just heard.

The session is called “the coming year”. I suppose we are not interested just in the year 2019, but in the coming years. I am going to pick up three – for me crucial – issues.

First, I would be very happy with the termination of the current version of the European integration process as it has been realized in the form of the European Union but I don´t expect its meltdown (the term suggested by the organizers). Simultaneously, the EU is – due to its lack of democracy and of elementary democratic procedures – not able to make any meaningful transformation of its ruling principles either. Hence, as I see it, neither meltdown, nor transformation. What remains (and is highly probable) is a long term stagnation, muddling through, passivity, a legendary waiting for Godot, etc.

The shock connected with the 2015 massive migration wave – to my great regret – proved to be insufficient to provoke a much needed change in the mind-set of the Europeans (not to speak about the views of European political elites who have always – explicitly or implicitly – supported this destructive mass migration). The people in Europe still believe in utopias and miracles. And because I don´t expect a new external shock of the same proportion as in 2015 to come soon, my expectation is that the European decline and lagging behind will continue.

Second, I find another proposed question “Has America become ungovernable”? highly relevant. My answer to it is yes. America (similarly like the EU) has become ungovernable, but it is not due to its evident extreme polarization. This phenomenon itself needs an explanation. The polarization of society and its ungovernability are the consequence of an important recent change in the whole Western society.

We are witnesses of a paradigm shift, of an ideological turn (perhaps a U-turn) which has can be summarized as the defeat of democracy and as the victory of the liberal democracy. Those are two diametrically opposite concepts. This turn has been finalized during the presidency of Barack Obama, it would have been further promoted and extended by Hillary Clinton and it has been, hopefully, slowed down by President Trump.

This process has been based on distancing of Western societies from their cultural and historical roots and identities and on the weakening of the crucial entity of the West, of nation states. It succeeded in disintegrating societies, in partializing them, in discrediting such foundations of society as obligation, duty, respect, shared rules, in weakening the cornerstones of the Western society – the man, the family, the nation, in creating a fundamental and wide-ranging disagreement with policies of the arrogant political establishment, etc. My criticism of the liberal democracy is not a call for illiberalism. It is the call for the return to democracy based on old traditional values, habits, life-styles, to democracy without adjectives.

To do it requires to save the West from itself, not to implement Eastern, Southern or any other new cosmopolitan values. We have to return to the old good Western ones. I don´t expect it “in the coming years”, however.

Third, a short digression to Russia. I have been persistently criticizing (even here and even after Roger Cohen´s presentations at this seminar) the intentional and evidently untenable propaganda that the post-Soviet Russian government functions in the same manner as the Soviets. This idea has been, quite irrationally, fixed in the minds of Western media and, therefore, in the minds of most politicians. We should get rid of this caricature of reality as quickly as possible. Our seminar should contribute to its rejection, not to its promotion.

The forecasting is difficult. We shouldn´t overestimate the importance of individual events, because trends and tendencies are important. I don´t have a good news. I don´t see any indications of changes in the recent trends and tendencies.

Václav Klaus, Comments at the Session VI “The Coming Year”, Athens Seminar, Athens, June 22, 2018


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