One month ago, I discussed a U.S. entry ban for Hungarian officials, an intervention into an ally's internal affairs that I find unacceptable.
During the following weeks, it was becoming increasingly clear that my own country is a target of this "activism", too. The main underlying reason for these anti-Hungarian, anti-Czech, and other assaults is the widespread opposition against the trade war with Russia in these Central European countries. One could argue that in all the countries of the former Austrian-Hungarian monarchy (and perhaps also in Italy, if not Germany), most people and business interests prefer constructive relationships with Russia.
Someone doesn't like it. Various actually unimportant events, like the Czech president's expletives voiced in his radio show, are used as excuses to meddle with our internal affairs. Zeman has been an outspoken guy for decades. In a recent traditional interview "Monologues from the Lány Chateau" (which Havel used to record every week), he mentioned that Karl Schwarzenberg, his opponent in the presidential elections 2 years ago, uses the word s*it in every other sentence. He would say that the lawmakers have scr*wed the Public Service Bill. And he said that the Pussy Riot ladies aren't really political prisoners but rather b*tches and puss*es (well, his translation was closer to c*nts) who were arrested for a riot, not for their opinions. As you may imagine, lots of reactions do occur after such words. His translation wasn't "quite" accurate and his pronunciation of "p*ssy" was wrong (pahsy) but the broader point was morally right.
Four days ago, The Ron Paul Institute told us that the NED president Carl Gershman, a de facto U.S. "regime change tsar", is working on toppling of the Czech president. When I participated in a recent public debate with the new U.S. ambassador, my impression surely was that he might be thinking that it's his legitimate job to influence the politics in his host country in similar ways.
But what started this blog post was yesterday's opinion piece by the editorial board of the Washington Post,
The values associated with Havel are "under assault". When it comes to the Czech government,
The current Czech government has distanced itself from Mr. Havel’s human rights agenda and is dismantling a program he created to support democratic transitions in other dictatorships.Incidentally, I find the word "dictatorship" for the communist Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s to be just a catchy exaggeration. We didn't have a dictator. We had a somewhat senile, passive, partly universally respected president, Gustáv Husák, and a clown named Milouš Jakeš who was the boss of the communist party but who really didn't know what to do in the hostile environment of perestroika and glasnost. And millions of people who were OK with the system and who were really keeping the stagnating system in place for a while.
But let me return to the beef. Should our politicians constantly work on the regime change in non-democratic countries, to be hostile to these governments, and to selectively support their dissidents by a lot of money? It is a complicated question and the answer is far from clear – even if it is clear to simple-minded inkspillers in WaPo.
You know, I am as neutral concerning this question as you can get. I found it natural for my country led by Havel and his friends to do something about the human rights in Cuba and elsewhere. The communist regimes have fallen in pretty much all Central and Eastern European countries – why not Cuba? We were ahead in this transition and we had a well-known moral leader. So why shouldn't our country "inspire" a similar revolution in Cuba and elsewhere?
Decades later, it seems clear to me that it didn't work. It didn't work because many people in Cuba really do like the social system they have. Cuba isn't obliged to evolve in the same way as the European countries. Our efforts have been largely futile and we should admit this simple observation. Moreover, this war against the official Cuban leaders – and I assure you that Havel's Czechoslovakia and Czechia were really the global leaders in this activity – has led to negative consequences, too. Czechoslovakia would be highly popular in Cuba. You know, we were friends and a huge fraction of their useful machinery and similar things was imported from Czechoslovakia. Many of these ties were "apolitical" in character and they were broken, too.
So of course that I am much more skeptical about the value of similar "help" than I was two decades ago.
The current Czech government and the Czech president simply favor pro-trade, non-interventionist policies towards these countries. It includes the communist-capitalist China. Zeman didn't try to hide his pride about the purely "pragmatic", pro-business attitude he was displaying during his recent visit to China. We won't teach you how to live. Instead, we will try to learn something if there's something to learn, e.g. how to get your 10 percent growth rate and similar things. (I think we won't learn it in the years to come and China is unlearning it, too.)
It's not only the futility of similar "regime change" efforts that makes me think that it might be the right attitude. I've also seen some other views about the frozen conflicts in those countries. Two decades ago, Dalailama was a friend of Havel's so he had to be a saint. I didn't know much about the history and plans of Tibet etc. But e.g. an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit about Dalailama, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi encouraged me to study the topics and to think about them differently. Today, I tend to think that the Chinese communism is probably a "lesser evil" than the traditional oppressive religious system we knew in Tibet. Dalailama's friendship with Havel can hardly change the validity of similar statements.
Needless to say, the non-interventionist school of thought exists in all free enough Western countries, including the U.S. Many people behind this school – like Ron Paul – are morally clean folks. It simply seems crazy when Zeman is presented as a counterpart of the ISIS or something like that just because he has similar opinions to Ron Paul or others.
Concerning Zeman and Russia, WaPo claims:
President Milos Zeman has become a virtual mouthpiece for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denouncing Russian political prisoners in vulgar terms and denying Russian aggression in Ukraine.Wow. Zeman is no "virtual mouthpiece". Just like millions of other people – something like one-half of our nation – he believes that the interpretation of the events in Ukraine we hear from Moscow is the more accurate one among the two major interpretations we are hearing. What's primarily happening there is a civil war, not an aggression. Of course that I agree with him.
I would say that Zeman's conservative predecessor Václav Klaus – whom I know in person, unlike Zeman whom I have only interacted with in a few short sentences in my life ;-) – has more "anti-Western" opinions when it comes to the Ukrainian crisis. He often emphasizes that the mess was largely created by the West; Zeman is more silent about this issue of the "origins" of the civil war.
Zeman has denounced no Russian political prisoners. Instead, he said that some people sometimes marketed "political prisoners" are actually people who were arrested for apparent (and likely to be real) economic crimes or self-evident riots in Russia's most celebrated church - and he won't defend those just like he wouldn't defend their Czech counterparts. It may be politically incorrect to even ask questions about these matters in the Washington Post. But Czechia is a free country. People may ask questions, suggest their answers, defend their answers, and run for offices whatever their answers are.
In the following sentences, WaPo attacks democracy in Hungary.
The opinion piece also hypes some anti-Zeman rallies on November 17th and describes them with words such as "encouraging" and "heartening". Nice. But it was just a few thousand people who are Zeman's foes. There are millions of people in Czechia who don't like Zeman – much like there are tens or hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. who don't like Obama. Nevertheless, Zeman still won the direct presidential elections and only extreme events – incomparably more dramatic events than what we have witnessed in recent weeks – could remove him from the office.
The demonstrators were rather clueless, used lots of "red cards" which made their rally look indistinguishable from a communist 1966 rally in Beijing. They would be constantly whistling in the presence of four other European presidents. And to show how incompetent they are, they threw an egg on... on the German president Joachim Gauck. Fortunately, Herr Gauck is wise and tolerant enough so he responded with a smile. It's just the funny Czech Simulantenbande. A predecessor of him could have easily flattened two Czech villages after a similar incident. ;-) I think all these events are mostly funny but if I had to decide, I think that the egg itself has hurt the image of Czechia in the world more than Zeman's swearing did.
Zeman would speak to them, emphasizing that he was not afraid of these demonstrators etc. while 25 years ago, the folks on the street had to display some courage. And it's the truth. These young people don't risk anything these days. They're clueless folks protesting something they don't understand and the real guy who is courageous and who understands the relevant issue is the guy on the other side, the president. Times have changed since 1989, indeed. Due to the democratic political competition, somewhat more politically educated and constructive people tend to make it to the top than 25 years ago – while the average citizens are allowed to degenerate.
WaPo describes Zeman's critics – and, indirectly, Zeman and his allies as follows:
...and yet who embrace Western liberal values, and not Putin-esque nationalism, with its ugly overtones of hatred for homosexuals and other minorities.The two sides are described as "liberals and their populist, nationalist or authoritarian opponents" at the end of the article. The communist press wouldn't be ashamed of a similar spin.
A vast majority of the Czech nation has no "hatred for homosexuals and minorities". In many respects, we are the most tolerant nation in the world when it comes to various sexual orientations and modes of behavior, and that's true for most of Zeman's voters, too. Still, we don't blindly follow the rule that "the more pro-gay, the better". There are certain "pro-gay" interpretations and proposed policies that are simply not supported by most Czechs and we have the indisputable right not to support them.
Moreover, Zeman doesn't really give a damn about these issues and he doesn't symbolize any attitude to this debate. Quoting some gay-marriage controversies in an article meant to hurt Zeman's image is pure and 100% demagogy.
And the "nationalism" label? It's silly. Clearly, the side that is much more "nationalist" in the Ukrainian conflict is the nominally "pro-Western" side. The very concept of the anti-Russian sanctions is all about nationalism because its goal is to harass Russian citizens and companies for nothing else than their nationality. Where do advocates of these policies find so much arrogance to claim that it's Zeman et al. who are showing "Putin-esque nationalism", I don't know.
The very idea that Zeman is illiberal or undemocratic or things like that is silly. Zeman has been a driver of the Velvet Revolution to a comparable degree as Havel. He participated in the November 17th, 1989 rally, months after he wrote a damning and rather courageous forecaster's analysis of the Czechoslovak communist economy of that time. The Prague intellectuals actually loved Zeman at that time, and wanted his influence over the Czechoslovak economy to be maximized. He spoke as an intellectual of a sort, with a cigarette, and was inspiring for these intellectuals. It took a decade for the Prague intellectuals to turn into the "Prague Lumpencafé" [derived from the "Lumpenproletariat"] which is how the critics of Zeman among the Czech intellectuals are currently called.
Klaus became more powerful in the following months – thank God – but Zeman resuscitated the center-left social democratic party (which would exist before Zeman's arrival, but only as a few-percent miniparty) as the "standard opposition" against Klaus' right-wing party. In this way, Zeman co-created the standard democratic system based on readable political parties. Klaus, and to a lesser (but still important) extent Zeman, was the key person to bring us the "non-abstract" changes needed to replace communism with capitalism and democracy. Both men have done lots of other things to build the modern market system and the conventional Western political conditions in Czechia – as the prime minister, Zeman would finally terminate the "banking socialism", the situation in which the major banks were still controlled by the state despite the privatization of the remainder of the economy.
We have the rule of law and very well-defined rules what is needed for a person to be the elected the president or for him to be "fired". To collect a few thousand clueless young people who throw eggs is definitely not enough to remove the president. To articulate three impolite words on radio isn't enough, either. Face it: we have the freedom of speech and only children up to a certain age may be spanked for these words. ;-) If WaPo is working on a scheme that would undermine these basic pillars of democracy in my country (an algorithm I can't visualize that could overthrow Zeman), then it is working on the ignition of Ukrainian-like civil war in a much more cultural country, Czechia, and I surely think that if this horror scenario materialized, the WaPo inkspillers would become legitimate targets, too. To undermine the political system in a foreign country of 10 million people isn't a detail.
So I encourage the politically correct scumbags who would allow one political opinion only to hide in their stinky leftist WaPo offices and exploit the remarkable opportunity to shut their dirty mouths. I strongly discourage the U.S. ambassadors from any ideas – his ideas or ones from above – to undermine the most important constitutional institutions in Czechia. Such templates to transform the political life in a democratic country are not tolerable and would inevitably lead to dramatic reactions.
Break-up of Google
Incidentally, the U.S. and WaPo are far from being the only ones to pursue similar beyond-the-pale interventions into the foreign affairs of a different Western country. In the last 24 hours, we heard news that the EU apparatchiks want a breakup of Google.
I think that the arrogance of these unelected provincial anti-market bureaucratic aßholes reflected by this proclamation is absolutely stunning, especially if you realize that Google has improved the life of the mankind much more than all the EU apparatchiks throughout the history combined. I think that Google should ignore it and respond with efforts to break up the EU, and I will fully support the corporation if it chooses to pursue this goal.
Boris Johnson's taxes
One more example of a controversy about a government's opinion that it may control certain things in the whole world: the mayor of London announced his plan not to pay $150,000 in taxes to the IRS for the sale of his first real estate in England. Johnson's family is intrinsically British but it lived in NYC for a while when he was born. The family returned soon after he was born. And let me point out: I think it's not Boris' fault that he was born in the Big Apple. But that short early exposure to the NYC was enough for him to become a dual U.S.-U.K. citizen. And the U.S. has this policy of "global taxation" which affects him because he's never decided to invest the time needed to get rid of the U.S. citizenship.
I have personally never had the balls to fight the IRS – partially because I thought that from an important viewpoint, the IRS was technically right. And I have some doubts whether Johnson may win this battle: the laws seem to be clearly against him. But he surely has all of my moral support. In an extreme way, his story with the capital tax reveals the absurdity of the current U.S. tax system, and he should be thanked for doing this service for others to see.
Governments should only claim the power over issues that are "naturally enforceable" by them. Replacing presidents of other countries, breaking largest companies founded on another continent, or harassing mayors of major European capitals with tax requests from English real estate transactions just because this mayor has suckled a liter of milk in the New York City once – those are examples in which the governments want to extend their powers well beyond the boundaries that are natural, tasteful, or functional.