June 22, 2015

St. Petersburg´s Comments

1. Thank you for the invitation both to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and, specifically to the Valdai Discussion Club Session. I have promised to come to Valdai several times in the past but I had not fulfilled that promise. I hope my presence here today will be considered at least a small substitute for it.
2. I was rather puzzled by the title of the session as well as by the formulations in the introductory leaflet that we, the speakers, got in advance. I am neither able, nor professionally well-equipped, nor sufficiently interested in discussing issues like the global or world system, Eurasia, the Northern Hemisphere, or new strategies for the 21stcentury.
I also don´t understand formulations such as: “dirigisme does not live up to expectations, while liberalism is not coping with the changes”. What exactly do the organizers mean by “dirigisme”? Is it the new name for communism? And whose expectations have not been fulfilled? Not mine.
Is it also possible or meaningful to proclaim that liberalism – which is a doctrine – is not coping with our current reality? Has liberalism been tried? Where and when? Is the extremely etatist model of the current Western world – with its undeniable shrinking of freedom, with its increasing manipulation of human thinking, with its government over-regulation, with its unproductive paternalism, with its political correctness and with its irrational doctrine of global warming, a manifestation of liberalism? For me, it is rather a manifestation of socialism, something we didn´t expect to happen 25 years ago, in the moment of the fall of communism.
3. 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, even though we, as members of NATO and the EU, would perhaps be on the other side of the divide this time.
4. The moment of our Velvet revolution (which was something other than the so problematic “coloured revolutions” of the current era) was filled with promise. It was an era of hope and optimism. Some thinkers even proclaimed it the era of the end of history.
It didn´t arrive. History is moving again. In our part of the world, we got rid of communism but got European socialism instead. It is a disappointment for us. We wanted something else. The contemporary European economic system is very far from a free market economy. The EU parliamentary system is not a good example of a pluralistic parliamentary democracy but an incarnation of post-democracy (commonly referred to, in a politically correct understatement, as a democratic deficit). The sovereignty of nations is being lost in pan-European institutions, etc.
At the world scale we witness new conflicts, new buildings of borders, curtains and walls. We took George Orwell´s framework, developed in his famous “1984”, as fiction, as a warning, as a wake-up call, as a dystopia, but we are approaching his imaginary world very rapidly in our European reality these days.
I am frustrated by the survival of Cold War prejudices and by the non-acceptance of the post-1989 realities in our part of the world. We should stop fighting the old, no longer relevant wars. 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.
It would be a tragic mistake to push Russia out of Europe just now. 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. I consider the tragic situation in Ukraine a home-made Ukrainian problem, not a Ukraine-Russia problem, and not a West-Russia problem.
I am frustrated by the developments in the Middle East and in Northern Africa. This region has always been considered a smouldering powder keg, but something has changed recently. In the vacuum created by the end of communism, Islam, its dominant religion, has become more and more used (or misused) for the realisation of long-standing universalist and expansionist ambitions of a non-negligible part of Arab society, of its elites, of its hardliners, of its political activists.
It is a real danger for all of us but – as always – we shouldn´t forget to mention the other side of the coin. The destabilization, chaos and disruption in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria didn´t fall from the skies. These failed countries are products of unsuccessful wars, questionable revolutions, and domestic turmoils often started, or at least supported, by the Western world.
It shouldn´t be forgotten that an important part of the current world problems is connected with the situation in the West, with the state of the West, with its gradual loss of identity, with its cultural and civilizational demise, and with its economic stagnation. This is where we should look for the key to current world problems.
Václav Klaus, Introductory remarks to the panel Valdai Club Session, St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, St. Petersburg, June 19, 2015.

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