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Václav Klaus in Washington: Europe Needs to Be Liberated Again

English Pages, 26. 9. 2018

Many thanks for organizing this conference, for bringing us here and for giving me a chance to address this distinguished audience. I find the topic of the conference highly important and relevant both for Europe and America. Ronald Reagan and John Paul II did change the world and significantly influenced Europe and, as a result of it, the lives of people like myself, of people from the former communist Central and Eastern Europe.

Let me start with two factual remarks, perhaps reservations. First, I am not convinced that we should speak about partnership between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. As I see it, it was at the very most an implicit partnership only. They both defended freedom and traditional, conservative values and attitudes. I can confirm that the synergic impact of their parallel activities was considerable. We, in the communist Central Europe, felt it very strongly and both of them were a great inspiration for us. Our communist leaders, on the contrary, regarded them as a threat.

Second, the title of the conference mentions Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, two very important names but does not mention a third one, which was at the time no less important. I have in mind the name of Margaret Thatcher who, I believe, deserves to be mentioned as well.

Reagan and Thatcher were politicians, John Paul II was a theologian. He benefited from the opportunity to experience the reality of communism in his native Poland. These three individuals – more than anyone else – changed Europe and the world. Some people would probably want to stress especially their extraordinary role in bringing communism to an end. Yes and no, they did, however, much more.

When speaking at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California in November 2009 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I made a point that the European, so called “Helsinki process was toothless and naive to bring any real results” and that “the only real help from outside that accelerated the final collapse of communism came from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who understood that words alone were not enough to bring the end of this evil empire”[1]. They understood more than anyone else that the Soviet system and the Soviet expansionism had to be resisted, not just considered wrong. 

The role of these three exceptional individuals can´t be denied. We should remember it again and again. In spite of that I always keep stressing that communism collapsed, that the main cause behind its collapse were the internal problems of the regime itself, that at the end of the 1980s communism was already weak, soft, old and emptied of all meaning and that there was also almost no one seriously defending it. However, without Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II its dissolution would have taken much longer.

As I said, they didn´t just help us in Central and Eastern Europe to get rid of communism, they did much more. They noticeably changed the West itself. They understood what was wrong with the – relatively prosperous – West of the 1970s and 1980s. They looked with critical eyes on the victorious leftist ideology that began dominating Europe and the whole West and dared to oppose it.

They had strong ideological views and very loudly defended Western conservative values. They reflected and expressed the wisdom of ordinary citizens, not of political elites, and – with this background – they succeeded to change the tide of public thinking. They were not contended with pursuing a pragmatic policy only. They were able to inspire. Ronald Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in Britain returned to the people the already almost lost belief in capitalism and free markets which was a standpoint fully in opposition to the prevailing spirit in Europe, especially in Western Europe at that time.

It was different in Central and Eastern Europe. In the last stages of communism, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II were regarded as heroes in our part of the world. We didn´t pay much attention to European politicians such as François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl or Jacques Delors. They were no inspiration to us and we didn´t expect very much from them. They were not actively advocating the good, old Western values and did not stand firmly and explicitly against communism.

I do regret that the West didn´t use the fall of communism to make a decisive step forward.  The end of communism proved to be a crucial moment in a positive direction only for us (or mostly for us) in the former Eastern bloc. After long, traumatic decades of oppression, irrationality and frustration we were forced to go through, we very much enjoyed the birth of freedom and democracy and used it to fundamentally change our societies.

The West felt a refreshing relief when the communism disappeared but – together with Francis Fukuyama – came to believe we were approaching the end of history, the end of ideology, the end of conflicts of visions, etc. It was naively supposed that the Western liberal system[2] will prevail all over the world and will last forever, which proved to be fatally wrong and misleading. It led to recklessness and irresponsibility.

The resulting loss of attention caused a substantial shift of the West to the left, to the dominance of the New Left, to the liberally progressivist Left, which – together with the Greens –  took control of all mainstream political parties and has become a chief factor in the formation of new ones. We – who spend decades in communism – are very frustrated to see that the pendulum has returned to its long term equilibrium position – which is very far to the left, away from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

To my great regret, the impact of this unique and exceptional trio of truly legendary personalities turned out not to be permanent. It brought about only a short term or perhaps medium term change. Its original effect has already fully evaporated. 

The prominent personalities of the contemporary Europe are politicians such as Merkel, Macron, May, Juncker or the new Pope Francis. The names Reagan, Thatcher or John Paul II are more or less forgotten. Are we aware of that? And do we actively try to do something with it? I am afraid not.

Where to look for new upholders and advocates of good, old conservative ideas and values and – at the same time – for able, persuasive and trustworthy politicians who would be able to make these ideas dominant again? Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II possessed all of these characteristics. Was it a lucky, exceptional, highly improbable historic coincidence or something which regularly comes because the mankind deserves it? In this respect I am rather pessimistic.

Speech at the conference “Ronald Reagan and John Paul II: The Partnership That Liberated Europe and Changed the World”, Ronald Reagan Building Amphitheatre, Washington, D. C., September 25 – 26, 2018

[1] Klaus, V., The Fall of the Wall: 20 Years After, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California, November 6, 2009, https://www.klaus.cz/clanky/2066

[2] I deliberately used the term “liberal system” instead of using the very problematic term “liberal democracy”.


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