The Prague Monitor, an English-language newspaper, mentions an article in Lidové noviny, a top Czech-language daily, about the American-Czech ties:
The article in the Czech newspapers by Mr Hruška mentions that there have only been three topics of shared interest in the recent 20 years – Havel, the radar, and Temelín (our newer nuclear plant that may get expanded and Westinghouse has wanted the job). It's very obvious that these three topics have faded or are fading away, too.
The photograph above was taken a month ago and is from the place near the village of Míšov in the Brdy Hills, some 20 miles East from Pilsen. Up to 2009, we were often going there because it was a hot place: the radar that was meant to be a part of the U.S. missile defense system was supposed to be built exactly on the place where I stand.
Greenpeace was living in the tree tops over there, I have lots of pictures, and we met e.g. Jan Rovenský, a Greenpeace Czechia appartchik for energy campaigns, who had been my (at that time equally right-wing) friend for 2 weeks during our 1988 trip to Yekaterinburg (then Sverdlovsk), USSR, Pilsen's twin city.
Up to 2009, we could still think that the Greenpeace and similar guys are irrelevant whackos. They slept in the tree tops and were using solar panels to run their laptops at the radar base. Many things were already bad but they were not as bad as today.
The Czech radar, a part of the planned U.S. missile defense system, was killed in a legendary 2009 telephone call from the White House. What the Czech prime minister does when he gets an important telephone call about the national security at 3:30 am (if I paraphrase a Hillary ad)? Well, he's in pajamas and listens to Obama's remarks. The project was dead.
Concerning the other two "big topics": Whether the Temelín nuclear power plant will be expanded at all is questionable (also for rational reasons such as currently low energy prices) and even if the answer is Yes, the Czech-Russian joint venture may have equal chances as the Westinghouse consortium – which is not quite American because it's primarily Japanese-owned (Toshiba).
And (late dissident and ex-president) Václav Havel is often mentioned by Americans as the last one among the three big topics. Maybe I have to explain to you but Havel is considered largely irrelevant in Czechia these days. First, there are obviously lots of pensioners etc. with some communist nostalgia who have negative attitudes to the whole Velvet Revolution etc. They obviously hate Havel even years after his death.
People like me who were enthusiastic fans of Havel's before and during the Velvet Revolution have very different attitudes. It was obviously great and vital what he was doing and what we did in late 1989 (he was the most famous representative of us, the dissidents) and several subsequent years. However, for people like me, Havel was also partly responsible for the immediate contamination of our capitalism and parliamentary democracy by many kinds of the politically correct garbage – tight European integration, multiculturalism, apolitical politics, power to the NGOs, feminism, humanrightism, Cosmopolitanism, mindless obedience to the new important (Western) capitals, national masochism, and so on.
It would be highly oversimplified to present Havel as a beacon of all these things in Czechia. He would almost never endorse these leftist things – in the crystal-clear far left form that we know today – "explicitly". His agreement with those NGO-style left-wing positions was always subtle, covert, mixed with some of his charming idiosyncrasies. Havel was always complex enough so that you could have argued that he wasn't a leftist at all. But I simply can't get rid of the feeling that he was a major person who helped to bring all these new bad things to my country. And that's bad.
In some broader perspective, it's really just the Prague Café (the mostly Prague-based, intellectuals-dominated community that tries to copy the state-of-the-art Western PC discourse as accurately as possible) that maintains an unequivocally positive attitude to Havel's heritage. And those are almost certainly a minority of my nation. Especially when we talk about the nearly uncritical opinions about the European integration and the multiculturalism (and migrants that Havel would almost certainly want to embrace as well), it is really a small minority of the Czech nation that would be on the same frequency as Havel.
When the U.S. politics was making a sharp turn to the left some 8 years ago, people like me were secretly thinking "it can't be true, it won't happen". Except that it was happening, it did happen, and with hindsight, the consequences for the relationships are dramatic.
During the Velvet Revolution in late 1989, we were intensely exposed to the coverage in the American and other Western media. And I obviously loved the positive press that the Velvet Revolution was receiving – and the applause for Havel in the U.S. Congress, among many similar things. I believed that the meaningful ideals were out there in the society and top politics and I tended to think that we were extremely close as nations. And when I was saying that it would be better to join the U.S. as the 51st state instead of joining the EU, I was only partially joking.
These sentiments look completely surreal to me today.
It seems obvious to me that in the 1990s, Havel was already mostly a kitschy fad that was made popular by some group think and I am not really proud about the U.S. support for Havel anymore because I've seen almost the same – if not more intense – waves of the U.S. support for assorted oligarchs (such as Poroshenko), jihadists (Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood) and lots of other despicable, anti-freedom, religiously fanatical, inhuman, subhuman, and uncivilized leaders, movements, and views.
With this broader experience – with a much better idea about the kind of causes and heroes that receive a big applause in the U.S. – I am closer to being ashamed of or insulted by our nation's and leaders' analogous position in the past. I am still a fan of America but I feel that my support has to be extremely careful and selective. It's plausible that Trump's America will change these feelings – maybe even quickly – but I am afraid it won't.
The huge cultural and value gap isn't just about Barack Obama, John Kerry, and similar politicians at the very top. In the recent 20 years, I learned that many of the attitudes that I find unacceptable are deeply embedded into the bulk of the U.S. public – and to a large extent, it's been the case for decades even though I didn't realize that (because I didn't really know what America was and what modern Americans believed).
After the 10 years in the U.S. and many insights independent of that, I think that I know better. Needless to say, this increased knowledge is a mixed bag. I was probably feeling safer and happier when I believed that the U.S., the world's most powerful country, was systematically supporting the good guys, good values, right solutions. I was happy – but I was uninformed, too. These two adjectives were largely inseparable.
Moreover, it was unavoidable that I was going to learn the truth about many things at some point. Lots of Americans, including "mainstream GOP" – perhaps including people similar to George W. Bush – loved to be hypocritical, play games, pay lip service to staunchly anti-Enlightenment ideologies such as Islam, force the whole society to worship homosexuality and do hundreds of other things I consider utterly unacceptable and nearly isomorphic to (and sometimes perhaps even worse than) the things I was fighting against during communism.
And America just doesn't seem to be a beacon of freedom anymore. When I read that Twitter has permanently banned the Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a famous "gay for Trump", because he didn't like a black actress in the feminist parody on "Ghostbusters" and because many of his 300,000+ followers didn't like her performance, either (and I think that I read several similar news every day), it's hard to think that the ban is very different from the bans we knew in communism, especially because the U.S. company Twitter basically possesses a global microblogging monopoly. If it were some idiosyncratic decision of one company, it could be OK except that this is clearly not so. Every mainstream company and organization and university is under this gigantic pressure to impose the political correctness. You may basically reliably predict which views will be banned and which views will be artificially spread by a large enough company or university etc. So the force that is spreading this bias and these restrictions is clearly not "isolated" or "linked to particular companies", it is not "privately owned", it's something that has conquered pretty much the whole ("total") society. This is not what I call freedom. It's a form of totalitarianism, the same thing I fought against in the late 1980s.
And some witch hunts are silly enough to be cute. An Italian restaurant in the U.S. just invented and written down (on a billboard) a cute and friendly slogan "Black Olives Matter", a nice peaceful parody of the name of the notorious violent anti-police racist organization. The restaurant hasn't even been critical of the black activists in any explicit way – not even to the extent that I was in the previous sentence – but it found itself in serious problems (before its business was supported by the publicity, of course LOL). The name "Black Lives Matter" was promoted to a taboo that can't even be referred to in any clever or witty way. Sorry, in a truly free country, no one can expect to be able to effectively prevent restaurants from saying that black olives matter (they're great, by the way) because everyone would know that there's no way of preventing people from praising olives and you (a critic of the slogan) at most show that you are a complete idiot yourself. The critics have launched the attack against the restaurant because they believe – and I think that they correctly realize – that their power in the U.S. has grown so huge that they can really basically prevent anyone from praising black olives. They have done similar things so many times in the past that they know and everyone know that your freedom to talk about black olives (and certainly everything that is more controversial than black olives) is heavily constrained in practice.
This cooling has also affected my views about the big-picture relationship between America and Europe. As recently as a decade ago, perhaps even when this blog had existed for a few years, I was really allergic to the suggestions that something like the European Union should be established and strengthened in order to act as a counterbalance to the U.S. I just didn't want to become a part of any entity that defines its identity by a negative correlation with or a negative relationship to the U.S. because nothing major was bad about the U.S. and nothing anti-American was so good to use it as a cornerstone of a sensible organization.
Now, when I am much more Euroskeptical than I was 10 years ago, I am probably much less of a pro-American enthusiast, too. Even though we often blame the European Union – and the largely undemocratic integration process in it – for many wrong developments, it seems obvious to me today that many of the bad things are actually being imported from the U.S. in the first place. In particular, America is the primary culprit of many of the deeply flawed (especially pro-Islamist) military and political interventions in recent decades. For a major example, America's intervention on behalf of the anti-Assad jihadists in Syria turned to an important co-reason why Europe has been bombarded by millions of Muslim migrants in recent years. And a counterbalance to those misguided U.S. efforts could be a great idea. Sadly, this is exactly where the EU apparently doesn't want to become a counterbalance at all. Brussels has become a new Moscow that spreads its ideas over much of the European continent – but it largely listens to the orders from D.C. when it comes to geopolitical and military issues. Perhaps, Europe has to do so due to its limited military might – or it has to increase its defense spending considerably.
The first time I considered the idea that America could act wrongly in similar geopolitical contexts took place in the 1990s when Serbia was declared a top enemy. Even though I was extremely far from being a fan of Miloševič in general, I found this labeling of the situation over-simplified but I ultimately appeased myself with the fact so even a few years later when Iraq was invaded again, I largely tolerated the invasion (although I was never a loud defender of it). But I was growing much less uncritical soon afterwards – and I think that the U.S. policies were getting increasingly misguided in the following years. And yes, with hindsight and because of the persistent Russophobia, I think that even the clearly anti-Serbian and pro-Kosovar-terrorists U.S. policies in the late 1990s were artifacts of some highly oversimplified instinct rooted in the anti-Slavic racism, aside from similar bad things. Just like the anti-Slavic racism became sort of self-evident to me, so did the pro-Islam attitudes of the U.S. Paradoxically, it seems to me that 9/11 turned America into an unquestionable defender of Islam in the world. From the first days after 9/11, I was actually confused by the awkward verbal constructions of George W. Bush and others to describe who was the enemy. Something fundamental was wrong, I could see, but we only saw consequences of the wrongness many years later.
Americans, especially American conservatives, love to think that Americans are a special nation that is immune towards various pernicious collectivist, especially left-wing, ideologies. But it doesn't really seem to be the case. Largely because of the long tradition, the actual life in the U.S. may still be freer and the tax rates may be lower than the European ones in average, if I mention an important example of a technicality, but it's plausible that the speed of drifting to the left is actually even higher in the U.S. than it is in Europe.
Whether countries are being formally politically integrated or not, certain new ideas and approaches – often highly pathological ones – are spreading across the Western civilization regardless of the borders.
When it comes e.g. to the migration wave, I am sort of proud about the official attitudes of the Visegrád Group. And I am convinced that that tens or hundreds of millions of Americans agree with if not admire these V4 policies, too. However, it seems obvious to me that the "official America", the part of America that is mostly ideologically integrated and owns the majority of the influence in the U.S. sees things differently. It seems to me that lots of these powerful interests would actually like an Islamized Europe and they would support steps to sideline those who find the Islamization of Europe unacceptable. This disharmony (and the Islamic migration was just one, albeit important, example) can't fail to weaken my love for the U.S. as a geopolitical player. This is no minor issue. The conflict with Islam may very well become the next big conflict that will influence Europe and the expectation that America could very well support our enemy instead of us is pretty terrifying.
So the political drifting of the U.S. towards the left in the recent decade is something that often makes me feel sick and it is obviously a big part of the cooling of my attitudes to the U.S. And I am no longer proposing any kind of a tighter integration of my country with the U.S., not even as a semi-joke. But aside from the political differences (in the attitude towards the multiculturalism and many other things), there are really sort of "personal" reasons why this proximity has turned out to be an illusion.
The article in the Prague Monitor says that "it looks like the Czech politicians' personality is too inconvenient in the U.S. for them to be given a top-level reception overseas". Folks like prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka are too boring while folks like president Miloš Zeman are too eccentric. The article claims that the actual reasons of the cold relationships are different but I do think that this is a part of the answer, too.
Well, let me say that I do think that Americans are superficial when it comes to the selection of the politicians. I think that almost all American politicians have almost the same amount of self-confidence and modesty, the same values of other important quantities describing the personality. It often looks like they have the same height, too. I am pretty sure that the standard deviation of height among the U.S. politicians is much smaller than it is in the general public. And it's some kind of "averageness" that matters. It's hard not to conclude that they are really being selected for this "average personality". Everyone must fit some universal template, one that often emphasizes appearances. Perhaps some template refined in the Hollywood movies. All politicians are effectively the same.
Even though it may sometimes be good to have many copies of these Hollywood personalities, I am happy that this is not how it works in Czechia. Some politicians are extremely boring, others are highly outspoken, they may be tattooed, bald, hairy, half-Japanese, as short as Havel or shorter, married, divorced, single in love. Much like people in general, politicians may differ from others in these respects and they're not being chosen according to some universal P.R. or Hollywood templates. People come in different personality kinds and the politicians should reflect that as well, I think, and the actual qualities that make a politician successful shouldn't be some rules outlined by P.R. agencies but the beef.
So the attitudes to personalities differ. But what may be perhaps even more important is that the actual emotional relationships between the two nations weren't expanding and were probably shrinking. In particular, I think that Americans still know almost nothing about my country and they don't give a damn about it. You know, even if the nations' values heavily overlapped, and I have argued it isn't really so, that wouldn't be enough for a close relationship.
The Soviet regime was inferior and inhuman in many respects. But Stalin's SSSR has still sacrificed the lives of some 100,000 soldiers when they were liberating Czechoslovakia. The arrival of General Patton's army to Pilsen was a wonderful event but the American sacrifices in their part of the task were smaller by some three orders of magnitude relatively to the Soviet ones. It seems to me that those 25 years ago, I wasn't really noticing such differences or didn't care about them. Today, I think it's impossible not to care. This is a major thing that does matter for the actual relationship between nations and countries – perhaps more so than some verbal agreement about politics. The Russian democracy isn't something that makes me say "cool" most of the time. But if I feel that they're more likely to defend Europe from an Islamic military intervention than the Americans in 2025, I simply have to realize that imperfections of the Russian democracy are secondary for us.
I simply feel that if a U.S. agent would have to choose whether he shoots me or some jihadist or anti-string crackpot or another individual like that, he could very well choose the former. This expectation is not something I can rigorously prove before I die – and it's even harder to write down proofs after one dies – but it's a feeling that simply has to cool my relationship to the U.S. And most Czechs feel in similar ways, e.g. when Obama's friend Ambassador Andrew Schapiro behaves as if he wanted to overthrow e.g. our president in ways that could resemble the U.S.-supported coups in other countries. For these and other reasons, I do think it's important for us not to be maneuvered into some strong dependence on the U.S. (or Western Europe). This dependence on the Western capitals has failed in the past and even though we optimistically believed otherwise 25 years ago, it may fail again. I find it much more plausible than I did a quarter of a century ago that my country will have to rely e.g. on Russia – instead of countries we call our allies in the West – once again sometime in the future. In the peaceful times, countries of the world co-exist and almost all pairs interact with each other in some way but I find it obvious that e.g. my country doesn't really have any "truly special relationship" to the official allies such as the U.S.
Obviously, my country isn't important for 96% of the TRF readers. But the broader lesson is probably much more general. I do think that the situation of the countries that have been making a big deal from their special relationship to the U.S. – Israel, Poland, and even the U.K. are three major examples – isn't too different from the Czech one. Even these countries should acknowledge that their "truly special relationship" with the U.S. has become an illusion or a fairy-tale. Obama's America has improved the U.S. image among many dictators, jihadists, mass killers, and fanatical leftists across the world but it has heavily cooled or harmed the ties with countries that used to be close allies. It's unlikely that this cooling will get reverted soon. I think it's unlikely even if Donald Trump (now the official GOP nominee) will win the presidency.
P.S.: Concerning the sometimes not stellar relationships, a 24-year-old American with Czech roots Kevin Dahlgren was just sentenced to life in prison for having murdered 4 relatives who were Czech citizens. His defense justifies the act by saying that he had dreams that encouraged him to murder. Even if it were true and if those dreams could be classified as a mental disease, I don't really think it should matter. To murder while being "sick" in this particular way is a crime, too. Such people have to be kept in a facility that has to be a prison of some sort, anyway.