October 9, 2013

Notes for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Award Speech

Thank you very much for this very high award, for the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. I am deeply honoured by it. I am also very moved by the list of the very distinguished names of those personalities who received this award in the past. Let me use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of you for keeping the memory of the victims of communism alive and, more generally, for not letting communism to be forgotten. Neither in this country nor elsewhere.
As I said, communism must not be forgotten. The tragedies connected with it must not be marginalized, must not be politically correctly misinterpreted or even excused, must not be taken as an unrepeatable aberration which happened more or less by accident. No. Communism – with its tens of millions of victims and hundreds of millions of frustrated and denigrated people, who suffered years and decades, forced to live in this irrational and oppressive regime – is, regretfully, an integral part of human history. It did not appear out of nowhere. It followed similar ideas and ideologies which also considered liberty and freedom, and with them individual human beings, of secondary importance. Communism was – together with Nazism – just an extreme version of attitudes and political stances which were structurally not very different. The problem is that such ideologies are here, with us, again.
I spent almost half a century of my life in a communist regime. It finally collapsed when I was almost 50 years old. It was long enough to make it possible for me to understand it. As you know, communism was brought to my country – which in the 1920s and 1930s used to be a rather developed pluralistic democracy – with the end of the Second World War and with the liberation of Prague and of most of the country by the Soviet armies. The fact that the Soviets were seen as “liberators” weakened the alertness of the Czechoslovak citizens and the country was taken over by the communists with no major resistance. The circumstances in Europe and in the rest of the world did not help us either.
The hardest phase of our communist era in the 1950s – with harsh political trials and with the aggressive attack on almost everything connected with freedom and democracy – formed the first groups of people who became more or less active opponents of the regime. It was not the bulk of the nation, however.
A second group of opponents – much more important because of its size and influence – started to appear in connection with the economic misachievements of the early 1960s. The regime had to admit that the centrally administered economy did not work as well as they assumed and propagandistically proclaimed. It led to a rather substantial economic reform which was, in the end, followed by a democratization of the political system as well.
I was working as a junior research fellow in the Economic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences which prepared the blueprint of the reform but – already then – I criticized the reform for its half-way measures, for its “third way” mentality. The criticism of the communist system was, however, already widespread. My generation of economists and social scientists studied Mises and Hayek and read Orwell and Solzenicyn already at that time.
A third group of opponents of communism arose after the crash of the Prague Spring by the invasion of the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact armies in August 1968. Since that time there were practically no “true believers” in communism and marxism in Czechoslovakia. At the end of the 1970s, I remember being asked by an American friend in Prague: “How strong is the belief in marxism and communism in contemporary Czechoslovakia?” My answer was: “I guess there are more true believers in marxism at the University of California in Berkeley than in my whole, nominally communist country”.
The degree of oppression was in the 1970s and 1980s already much weaker than before, but the degree of frustration and of the feeling of powerlessness was perhaps even more profound. The end of communism – realized in the process of our “Velvet Revolution” – opened the doors to a radical dismantling of the old communist institutions and to the building of a new, free society based on representative democracy, market economy and ideas of liberty which are in this country connected so much with both the Heritage Foundation and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
As I said, communism – as a historical era – should not be forgotten but our today’s fight with communist ideas should not be limited to fighting the old battles. We have to fight communism in its new disguises, in its new clothes, which are sometimes so chic and colorful that they camouflage their true content. I have in mind
– the aggressive human-rightism which transformed itself to a powerful vehicle for suppressing traditional civic rights and the irreplaceable institute of citizenship;
– the transnational progressivism which favors global governance and looks with contempt at the nation state, the cradle of democracy;
– moral relativism which – as a conglomerate of various unconnected streams of thoughts – denies traditional values and institutions which formed the foundation of the Western civilization;
– modern environmentalism, and its extreme version, global warming alarmism,which try to mastermind all of us and destroy the economic basis of the modern world.
I have a chance to witness the symptoms of these new threats probably more directly in Europe than you here, in America, where roots of liberty are, hopefully, stronger. But you missed the communist experience which – with all its cruelties and irrationalities – was not only a tragic era. It was also a useful learning process which gave us, or at least some of us, an increased sensitivity to all signals of manipulation and control.
This is the message I would like to leave here today. Once again, thank you very much for the high award as well as for your attention.
Václav Klaus, The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Award Ceremony, The Georgetown Club, Washington, D.C., October 8, 2013.

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