Friday, November 16, 2012

Do nation states belong to the 19th century? Is it bad?

Czech president Klaus had to go through another memorable, tense moment when he was giving an interview in Vienna:
DER STANDARD: Václav Klaus: Is that clear? Yes? Good. (autom. transl. from German)
After some sentences, he decided that the journalists from Der Standard, a major [social liberal] Austrian daily, didn't deserve more than he has already given to them. And I understand him very well.



The journalists pretended that they were asking questions but in reality, they were trying to bully the interviewee or impose the politically correct ideology upon him. It quickly became very clear that these PC bastards had already depleted even the capital needed for Klaus' "Auf wiedersehen". ;-)




Let me analyze the dynamics of the interview a little bit. The first question was this one:
Now, in the era when most European nations struggle to integrate Europe more tightly, why do we see such strong Czech tendencies in the opposite direction?
You see that this question isn't just a question. It's an attempt to articulate an opinion and "corner" Klaus – pretend that he belongs to some small minority. Needless to say, the content is rubbish.

Some people in Europe – especially politicians who enjoy to travel across the Old Continent – may prefer an ever tighter integration. But lots of other people – and majorities in other nations – are highly skeptical about many or most of the recent (and even not so recent) unification experiments in the EU. Britons are traditionally skeptical. Greeks hate the idea of the European or German dictate. Most of the German public is already tired of being the key sponsor of the failed states within the EU. And so on, and so on. People have various – more or less legitimate – reasons but many of them think that many changes in the name of integration have been a mistake.

At any rate, Klaus still gave them an answer (why the Czechs are different from the idealized pro-EU nation envisioned by Der Standard):
I think that the Czechs are relatively sensible and rational. That's one part of my answer. The other part is that we remember our communist experience. We are sensitive, and in some respects perhaps oversensitive, when it comes to the elimination of freedom and democracy in Europe. That's why we are more critical than people in Western Europe and perhaps than Austrians, for example, too. And that's our attitude.
You may see that when they asked their second question, they didn't try to make Klaus elaborate upon any points he has said. Instead, they pretty much returned to the point they wanted to make and more or less repeated the first non-question:
Observers from the world of politics and industry have said that one of the lessons we learned from the crisis is that we must work hard to overcome all the obstacles on the road towards the European integration. You are arguing in the opposite direction: Why?
Now, "disobedient" Klaus (and his nation) is said to contradict not only most of the "obedient" European nations but also the apparent "consensus" of the powerful world of politics and the commercial sector, too. Note that Klaus' themes – national character and national histories – were completely ignored. Fine. Klaus still gave an answer to this modified first question:
This politics of "ever closer Europe", as they call it in English, is exactly the politics that brought us to the crisis. And we're being offered the same medicine to get out of the crisis. But we need something else. We have to change this entire model of the European integration. We mustn't continue in this direction.
Klaus entered the discussion about the actual causes of the recent recession and the sensible methods to shorten such downturns – because that's what they asked him about. Once again, this whole theme was avoided and you may see that the journalists worked hard to "protect" the Austrian readers from learning anything else from the heretic. So they repeated the first non-question for the third time, using new demagogic words:
Your counterproposal is an invitation to return us to the 19th century model of nation states which is largely obsolete today.
Again, this is not a question but the third salvo meant to marginalize everyone who isn't a naive uncritical pro-EU imbecile. It is not a question. It is an assertion about a complicated social scientific issue and a proper analysis of the truth value of this assertion would require a long interview by itself. I understand that Klaus must have gotten impatient and upset by this manipulation so his reply was short:
Why 19th century?
They said:
The birth of nation states...
He would respond:
Yes, perhaps, the origin. But their existence belongs to the 20th century. It's not 19th century.
The journalists didn't stop pushing their own viewpoint:
Do you view the nation state as a model for the 21st century?
And don't forget: saying "Ja" to the status quo and the last political model of the world that's been shown to work would be a heresy. ;-)

Obviously, the interview – and the interviewers – were pushy and dumb as a door knob (Klaus has been presenting similar opinions for decades so "questions" of the type "what a shock" – three times – don't exactly reflect a high intelligence of the journalist) and the interview was going nowhere. So Klaus found a concise way to stop the waste of time with these assholes:
I would answer in this way: I am against supranationalism. Is that clear? And I am in favor of intergovernmentalism. Yup? Good.
And he just went away.

Now, let me spend some time with the idea of the 19th century nation states. What was connected with the 19th century was the idea that the "state" serves a certain culturally or ethnically defined demos, a nation, and the internal organization is meant to resemble a "large family" in a sense, even though the citizens don't know each other in person. That was a totally modern idea that hasn't been replaced by anything better so far. It was inseparably linked to the birth of the modern democratic and capitalist countries.

But the very existence of state entities connected with one culture or with one ethnicity wasn't a novelty of the 19th century. Most states in the history did include many cultures or ethnic groups but in almost all of them, one of them was dominant and "in charge of things".

Nation states really exploded in the 20th century – so far it's the main century connected with the concept of nation states. But one must also mention that the attempt to dismiss the model of nation states by its links with the "dirty 19th century" is a bizarre piece of demagogy. In the same way, one could link the multinational states with the 17th century or some other century. ;-)

I, for one, prefer the 19th century. It was the century in which European nations and the U.S. found the political principles that really allowed them to thrive. It was the century in which the ideals of enlightenment, freedom, and democracy were turned into reality. Most of the political things that were added after the 19th century were rubbish and mostly brought us lots of suppression of human rights and lots of inefficiencies, not to mention two world wars.

Also, I can't resist to mention that it is extraordinarily ironic, stupid, or insensitive – depending on your viewpoint – when an Austrian journalist tells a Czech politician that the model of nation states belongs to the 19th century. Both of our countries were born (well, I mean Czechoslovakia in our case but the Austrian Republic at its current territory) in 1918, after the dissolution of a multinational empire that included all of our lands throughout the 19th century – the Austrian (and later Austrian-Hungarian) monarchy.

So in both of our lands, the 19th century is really linked to a multi-ethnic, EU-like state conglomerate governed by the House of Habsburg. It's the 20th century that saw the rise of the nation states over here and it was generally progress – at least at the beginning.

Klaus mentioned communism but there are other reasons that lead Czechs and Austrians to look differently at multi-ethnic countries. Well, the Austrians were the 1st class citizens in Austria-Hungary (and a born Austrian continued to lead the Third Reich, too, not to mention California) while the Czechs were the 2nd class citizens (and a Czech was at most a mayor of Chicago, and he needed to be murdered to save the U.S. president, anyway), as the absence of the word "Czech" in the name of the monarchy suggests. It wasn't bad, we never really complain, and many of us have partly good memories (inherited from great grandparents) about the empire. Austrians didn't bring us just bad things and some of the coexistence was decent and human for centuries.

I think that the Austrians should also be a bit grateful for neighbors who don't constantly complain about "historical injustices" which is what many former "imperial" nations hear from the (still politically immature) citizens of their former colonies. On the other hand, it's bad if journalists in Austria's prestigious dailies fail to understand that there is another simple reason why the Czechs could be more skeptical about multi-ethnic empires: we have almost never been in charge of them. German-speaking folks may feel that the EU is "their project". We just don't quite feel it this way. It's not quite our project much like the Soviet bloc wasn't quite our creation. We have learned to live with this risk of being a periphery or appendices of empires whose status may change and such a change is sometimes needed to protect our nation's skin.

But even if one forgets about all the historical baggage – Austria-Hungary, the birth of Adolf Hitler in Austria, Anschluss, the Protectorate, end of the war, expulsion of ethnic Germans, communism, Cold War – it's still not a piece of good journalism when journalists are trying to impose the idea that it is illegitimate to be skeptical towards ever closer European integration on the leader of a neighboring country, or any country, for that matter (including their own), especially when the interviewee is right.

14 comments:

  1. Don't get me wrong: I've become more and more sceptical of European integration over the years and am sort of glad that someone like Klaus is around to prominently question it.

    However, the questions sound a tad more patronizing and pushy in your English translation than they do in the original German article. Most importantly, the key sentence, "Your counterproposal is an invitation to return us to the 19th century model of nation states which is largely obsolete today.", reads closer to: "Your counterproposal is a return to the nation state, to nation state models, models that come from the 19th century and that are sometimes seen as outdated." We can't be absolutely sure, because the interviewer didn't get to the verb of his question. ;-) Anyway, it was a third person description of other people's view, not a statement of an own such opinion.

    Being from Germany and assuming that Austria is similar to my country in this regard, I would claim that this style of interviewing and journalism (the interviewer plays the part of an opponent of the interviewee's opinions throughout most of the conversation) is pretty widespread in the German-speaking sphere, probably even dominant. And this particular journalist, while probably indeed not very knowledgable or good at his job, is still harmless compared to many ignorant and obnoxious (mostly left-wing) journalists I have read or seen in my life. One might put this one in the category "intercultural misunderstandings", depending on how different things are in Czech reporting culture.

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  2. "Your counterproposal is a return to the nation state, to nation state models, models that come from the 19th century and that are sometimes seen as outdated." We can't be absolutely sure, because the interviewer didn't get to the verb of his question. ;-) Anyway, it was a third person description of other people's view, not a statement of an own such opinion.


    Who is the third person and why he or she isn't mentioned in the sentence then? And why is this third person relevant?

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  3. Same story in France. Actually a lot of journalists have become politicians (exclusively socialists or ecologists), or they marry politicians :-) (ex: our president's partner). They prefer to stay in their circles (entre-soi) and only communicate among themselves ignoring the populace.

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  4. Well, I think we both know people (politicians, pundits, activists...) who (to varying degrees) consider nation states an outdated notion and want them to be superseded by an EU superstate exist and have a non-negligible influence on political agendas in present-day Europe. Personally, I don't think it's particularly offensive to bring their existence up in conversation, although it's probably indeed not a very interesting line of questioning for anyone who is familiar with the opinions Klaus "has been presenting for decades". The questions might, however, be designed for readers who are unfamiliar with these opinions, or, indeed, Klaus himself, and for those readers such questions and the possible answers to them would be moderately informative.
    But I agree that this might have descended into a pure "How can you think A when so many people say B and we all know "many people" are never wrong"-kind of interview, so maybe the decision to leave it was a smart one. I just don't think a sample size of two or three questions is enough to be sure of that. ;-) (And, of course, the written word cannot convey information like in what tone these questions were asked, outward appearances etc. which may also legitimately have influenced such a decision.)

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  5. Dear Shannon, in the early 1990s when I spent my summers volunteering as a conference interpreter in France, the "pensée unique" was all the rage -- a leftist concept that could be translated as "conformist thinking". Everybody then agreed that France, Europe, and the entire capitalist world was in the throes of an ideology enforced by nebulous powers that be, an ideology that closed down discussion of socialist, anarchist and communist alternatives which, if allowed to flourish, would surely lead to a better world. « Tout le monde est d'accord pour critiquer la pensée unique. »

    The irony escaped them, I'm afraid.

    Now on to President Klaus. Sure, he could have used the interview as another teaching opportunity, a chance to ignore the journalists' silly tauntings and explain the facts of life to their readers. But even a saint has a right to get angry on occasion. Personally, I admire Klaus' restraint and self-control. When Europarliamentarians Dany Cohn-Bendit and Martin Schultz came to Prague to insult Klaus in his own house in the vilest manner, I would have punched them both out, first Cohn-Bendit then Schultz, and gladly faced charges afterward. What? You think I'm crazy?

    Especially Schultz! Who does this twerp think he is? Right, he is "President of the European Parliament", that rubber-stamp joke, that travesty of a deliberative body. In other words, he is one of hundreds of Euro deputies but with some extra coordinating and representative duties. So, how big should his taxpayer-funded staff be? Four people? Eight, fifteen? I'll tell you: He has thirty-eight!.

    They are a new class of people. Euro elites and their retainers -- "advisors", "assistants", "heads of cabinet" and "deputy heads of cabinet", speechwriters, spokespersons, press officers, protocol assistants, diary assistants, a personal driver, oh, and not to forget, a "personal usher" -- form a parasitic infestation that cares nothing about the non-elite population. I want them all dead!



    Schuuuuultz!

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  6. I agree with you Eugene, 100%.
    It would interesting to know their wages (and advantages) for each of them, and have their full job description too. Same for all parasites working at the European Commission and Parliament.

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  7. Profoundly sick man with a narcissistic personality disorder, unable to lead a discussion or behave properly. He can produce only mentoring monologues. How long has it been since he took part in any kind of public discussion?

    111 days for him to go

    http://www.klauscountdown.cz/

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  8. Mephisto, I guess it is important when you are a political leader to master the art of lying, rhetoric, pretend you are concerned etc. Some people just can't do that.

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  9. Francisco GonzálezNov 17, 2012, 3:54:00 PM

    I find myself agreeing with Vaclav Klaus most of the time. It’s a weird situation because I am what you might call inflicted with severe leftward inclinations,
    and yet Klaus strikes me as a guy that makes a lot of sense most of the time.

    I fully agree that supra-nationalism goes straight against democracy and leads to a huge parasitical bureaucracy increasingly removed from people. Guys like Monckton (with whom I disagree politically on many fronts) are absolutely right that democracy has been getting thinner and thinner as Brussels gets fatter and fatter.
    I also envy the blessed Czechs and other countries that don’t find themselves in what Klaus calls the
    “straightjacket” of the single currency. Maybe the single currency is good for the Germans and other rich countries, but it has proven a disgrace for many
    others. Giving up your own currency is one of the singlemost acts of surrender of sovereignty a nation can perform. These countries are now completely at the mercy of outside lenders for every single internal shortage. And they can resort to the classic measure of devaluation in order to correct a deficitary trade balance. Here are some comments with recent quotes by Klaus that I found online:

    Euro Can Bear Fewer Members as Czech
    Leader Calls Greeks Victims http://tinyurl.com/dycn65h

    The exit of one or more member states from the euro won’t destroy the monetary union or the project of European integration, Czech
    President Vaclav Klaus said.

    And a Greek departure from the currency would be a “victory” for that country, which has been a victim of the monetary system,

    The Czech Republic, which pledged to adopt the euro as part of its agreement to join the European
    Union in 2004, is under no official deadline to do so and the question of joining the common currency is a “non-issue” in the country [..]

    “I don’t think the euro as a currency disappears,” [..] “The issue is whether all of the 17 countries and potentially a few others should be or will be in this system or not.”

    [..] the euro zone system is punishing some countries that would be better off pulling out.

    “Greece is a victim of the monetary union,” he said. “It would be much better for them not to be in the straightjacket. It would be a victory for them.”

    [..] .. he supports European integration while not embracing the shift towards “unification, centralization, harmonization, standardization” of the whole continent, including the single currency.

    “We were aware of the fact that joining the euro system was one of the conditions. But we are
    quite happy with the fact that there was no timing."

    “So perhaps in the year 2074 we can join the European Monetary Union as well,” he said. “No one is pushing us.” [..]

    Poland, which three years ago shelved plans to join in 2013, deems the euro “completely unattractive,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in July. Hungary won’t adopt the currency before 2018, Premier Viktor Orban said in March. Bulgaria has indefinitely delayed plans to scrap the lev, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told the Wall Street Journal [..]

    “It’s technically possible,” to manage the departure from a common currency, Klaus said. “It’s not true what all the politicians are saying about disastrous consequences. You have to do it in an organized
    way. You can’t allow an anarchy situation.”

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  11. As Shannon said, I entirely agree. And let me know if some day you want to punch Cohn-Bendit. I'll be happy to assist.

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  12. It was hyperbole... but thank you and Shannon for your comments, it's good to know I'm not alone ;)

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  13. Hi Eugene,

    I think ist is time to write a "spicy" review about this (and about the english version too, if it is already out...) ;-)

    http://www.amazon.de/Auf-dem-Holzweg-durchs-Universum/dp/3446432140/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    No, I am NOT advertising this book, on the contrary :-(0) ...

    Writing a spicy review is fun, in particular if you dont have to read the book for doing it, ha ha :-D

    (sorry for the off topic to everybody but I dont know where to say this)

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  14. Both the 19th century nation state model and a unified region belong on the trash heap of history. The simple fact is that we do not need nearly as much meddling as either model promotes. Morality and rationality requires decentralization, not more concentration of power. The model that I look kindly on is the US of the 18th century when the Articles of Confederation ensured small government and quite a bit of individual liberty. Sadly, that experiment ended in a federalist coup when Hamilton, Adams, and Washington took advantage of Jefferson being out of the country and the fact that the anti-federalists were not giving the conspirators much of a chance of success.

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