Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Anthem, foreigners, and PC: Czech edition

Related, political news: When Václav Klaus leaves the Prague Castle in March 2013, he will become a fellow of the CATO institute (search for Klaus in the linked PDF file).
There is some sense in which I personally like Karl Schwarzenberg, the 75-year-old prince who will become Václav Klaus' successor as the Czech president if he beats Miloš Zeman next Saturday.

I think that he's been doing good things throughout much of his life, he isn't really obsessed with harming or restricting other people, I have no problems with his links to the late ex-president Havel that he managed to build, I like some of the residual aristocratic manners he still displays, and I acknowledge that he has inherited some good things (in my opinion) from the Czech character. Many friends and family members will vote for him – and they have already voted for him, and so on.

But despite his being described as a right-wing candidate, his victory is becoming a very bad scenario in my eyes because even though he wouldn't be hurting people himself, his arrival could signal the victory of the nasty, Nazi-like political correctness and submissiveness to the Eurocrats in my country. And that's something we should avoid.

In the same way, Zeman is a self-described leftist and in many ways he is a left-winger, indeed (he claims to support high taxes, Keynesianism etc.), but still, he despises the green parties and activists and many other PC groups as much as I do and those are the cultural things that the president primarily influences. The economy is controlled by others.

The video above – Schwarzenberg trying to sing the Czech national anthem in the wake of his success in the first round of the presidential elections – has led to some humiliation as well as scandals. What happened?

First, his attempts make it clear that he is tone-deaf. This is somewhat surprising for me if I compare this fact with the stereotypes about aristocracy I still mostly believe. It's my understanding that the aristocratic families spend so much time and money by educating their kids that even if someone were tone-deaf, they would turn him into a potential Mozart competitor. It has clearly not worked for Karel.

Of course that there are many tone-deaf people but I actually count the "understanding" relationship of a person to music among the top 20 criteria that determine whom I consider a good presidential candidate. I don't expect everyone to understand music but it's simply among the selection criteria for a presidential candidate. Sorry if you disagree. The founder of Czechoslovakia liked to sing, especially the folk song "Oh My Son My Son" ("Ach synku, synku").

His successors had mixed records and backgrounds when it came to music and arts – and I don't know much about most of them. I don't know about the singing by Emil Hácha, the president during the Protectorate, but he translated books including Jerome Klapka Jerome's books into Czech (including Three Men In a Boat). He passes in "arts" in general.

When I jump to the modern free country again, Havel was an OK singer and Klaus was a very good singer – he used to be a member of a choir decades ago, after all. He has loved jazz, including jazz that looks contrived to me (and a friend of mine who often accompanies me at "Jazz at the Castle" events and who has "officially" played the piano for 10 years and not just 8 years like myself). :-)

But the lyrics are even more important. Schwarzenberg often pronounces some voiced Czech consonants as their unvoiced counterparts (especially "t, kt" replacing the correct "d, gd") – a typical defect of the Czech spoken by Germans and Austrians. Add some shortened vowels, also a disease of German speakers. Even more importantly, he doesn't seem to know the full lyrics. It's just one minute but he got completely lost at several points.

This is a problem for me. I believe that the Czech president should know the lyrics of the Czech national anthem – to a large extent, he should be able to sing it with the right consonants, too. And I believe that the attempts by some people to "force me" not to care about this thing is a frontal attack on my basic rights and on the sovereignty of my nation. The anthem is one of the basic symbols of the country so it simply matters for the first politician in the country, especially if we talk about a presidential candidate whose offered "form" seems to be stronger than the "content", and I am convinced that this is a fair description of the prince.

Maybe the prince would be able to sing the anthem of the Austrian Empire, a beautiful piece of music composed by Joseph Haydn at the end of the 18th century. The video above combines the music with the official Czech lyrics [now just a part of the history] – cute and submissive towards the House of Habsburg. After the Austrian monarchy decayed in 1918, the "free-floating" composition was stolen by Prussia which is why it later became the anthem of the Third Reich, West Germany, and – now – re-unified Germany.

Fine. But the Czech national anthem is a different cute song today and the Czech president should know its lyrics (and melody!). I would personally be happier if Schwarzenberg were singing flawless German lyrics of the Czech national anthem while I know that it would be far less popular with most other Czechs for whom ignorance is almost always preferred over knowledge of something they don't know. ;-)

Klaus Jr in trouble

But let me get to the truly worrisome news. The president's son got into trouble. Václav Klaus Jr (yes, his face has some asymmetry) is a principal of a prestigious high school PORG. I was standing next to him at the pre-Christmas banquet at the Prague Castle a month ago. Some private correspondence in which he satirically emulated Schwarzenberg's pronunciation of the anthem went public. A scenario so similar to lots of others. A petition was written to protest Klaus' humiliation of Schwarzenberg's "singing". Fifty signatures of students, some of them not real, not a big deal. But it was interesting enough for the petition to become the #1 story on, a leading Internet news server, today. So of course lots of advocates of political correctness as well as haters of the name "Klaus" add their voices to attack Klaus Jr. The petition has been amplified by several orders of magnitude by the journalists.

I find it totally unacceptable for some groups to blackmail Klaus Jr and try to force him not to express his opinions about Schwarzenberg's (or anyone else's) knowledge of the state symbols of our country. He expresses his legitimate opinions, I share them, and counting the votes under my comments, roughly 1/2 of my nation agrees with us, too. The anthem matters. A foreigner isn't quite "equally good for me" as the Czech president (Schwarzenberg's case is marginal, he is somewhere in between) and I will never allow anyone to intimidate myself into thinking or saying that my opinion about this important issue is something else than what it is or e.g. that a Muslim Arab would be an acceptable candidate for me (most likely, she or he would not). Moreover, Klaus Jr should be even more free to write such things in his private correspondence. As far as I am concerned, he should be the #1 person who decides whether such recent events should be a part of the education at his own high school – students should arguably be led to follow and understand the recent events in the real society as well – so it's ludicrous not to allow himself to express his opinions.

But the critics seem to think that their attack is justified. I don't want to discuss all the examples of that because some of the criticism is about the nearly omnipresent anti-Klaus rubbish that certain people just love to write regardless of issues of the freedom of speech (and regardless of any facts). But at any rate, while I am not scared by any personal characteristic of the prince, I am scared that in the case that he defeats Zeman, the true victors will be the aggressive defenders of the political correctness who will do anything and everything to harass, suppress, and worse all the people who believe in some old values, who believe in the existence of our nation and the need to protect it, and those who still have common sense and rudimentary knowledge when it comes to nations, races, sexes, and other things.

I am afraid that Schwarzenberg's victory would be a green light to various feminist, Euronaivist, reverse racist, and other degenerative and dishonest ideologies that are plaguing much of the West and that the Czech Republic has been relatively immune to so far – partly due to President Klaus but not only because of him personally. With Miloš Zeman at the Castle, my worries about these scenarios are greatly diminished – in spite of that he calls himself a "eurofederalist". Zeman has personally always tried to probe the limits of the freedom of speech by his own witticisms and he isn't afraid to point out the idiocy of anyone (including himself) as he believes that a left-wing idiot may be as good an idiot as a right-wing idiot. ;-)

Positive evolution by Mr Janeček and fascism

There is one more recent story where I totally agreed with Klaus Jr. He wrote an article explaining why the so-called "Positive Evolution", a bizarre movement led by a Czech multimillionaire to get rid of corruption in politics – is effectively equivalent to the emergence of Nazism of Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

I totally agree with Klaus Jr – needless to say, he's been criticized by some loud groups for his article, too.

Karel Janeček was born in the same year as your humble correspondent. He studied the best high school in Czechia, one in Prague's Korunní Street, and in fact, string theorist Martin Schnabl was his near classmate. He earned his first million of dollars by some sophisticated calculation-heavy tricks in Las Vegas (blackjack?) which are no longer allowed there and he's earning billions of crowns by having acquired servers near the London markets that can trade things within milliseconds so he's collecting some percentage of the transfers (he claims to have earned billions by fast trading himself but it's hard to know whether it depended on the location of servers or very clever algorithms).

Fine. It's not my business to study whether those things were or are kosher and/or whether his remarks about his life story are accurate. I don't care much and I of course respect his being wealthy. What I don't respect is his self-described role as the leader of a movement fighting against corruption. As far as I can say, his political capital and his moral authority in these matters as well as other political matters are equal to zero (at most) and he has shown no skills and no trustworthiness among the Czech voters when it comes to politics.

Still, his plan is to radically transform the Czech politics without his entering into politics (according to the existing laws and rules) at all. So everyone who is in politics today is corrupt, we hear, everything is screwed, and everything must be replaced. This totally negative and I would say hateful propaganda is labeled by positive words such as "positive evolution". The movement is otherwise free of any ideas – the only kind of values he seems to defend is that the "new politicians" must be close to him personally. But during the meeting, he's ready to become friends with the defenders of the Occupy Wall Street/99% (defunct) movement, left-wing parties, right-wing parties, anyone.

Much like Klaus Jr, I also think that this screaming that all of politics is corrupt and the democratic parliamentary system is corrupt pretty much by construction and a radical change that may eliminate those things entirely is the key part of fascism. When he is proposing some methods to get rid of corruption, I sometimes tend to think that it's just because Mr Janeček is childishly naive when it comes to politics. He doesn't understand how things work at all. However, when I think about it more generally, I usually decide that he must know what he's doing and why.

So far, the support for his movement in the Czech society is negligible. A hundred of people may come to his meeting in a city that is as large as Pilsen. His YouTube videos from these events attract hundreds of viewers. They're remarkable non-events for a billionaire who wants to get enough supporters to "force" everyone to radically change the laws. But with some institutionalized/media support, he could become the new Hitler. I am somewhat worried about this scenario. I am already terrified by his own and his fans' sanctimoniousness. I am terrified when they want to liquidate the politicians who are the natural products of democracy – natural representatives of typical citizens who are very similar in characteristics that don't affect their election and who are better in some things that do affect their election. I am terrified when they try to scare people like me who think/know that corruption isn't a key problem in our country (and many others) and when it comes to this problem in its genuine proportions that aren't spectacular, there isn't any easy way to quickly improve the situation except for steps that would mean to replace the rule of law by a police state i.e. that would mean the end of democracy as we have known it. I just don't want it, OK?

When it comes to Janeček's declared methods how to build this paradise on Earth, he offers steps that couldn't possibly matter. Among them, the whole Parliament would be voted by a majority system – I have no opinions but it's a technicality that wouldn't have too much impact. We may see that despite the different systems, both chambers of our Parliament finally boast similar politicians in the long run.

He also wants to introduce negative votes. He adds some pseudo-arguments why they're the magic cure for all the troubles. As a teenager, I was thinking about such things, too. Of course that I think that they wouldn't change much after all – they wouldn't change much in his favor or his opponents' favor. At the same moment, I think that I understand why the wannabe new fascist wants the negative votes: they're a method to get rid of all the opposition against his movement once the movement gets powerful enough (hopefully, it will never do).

I am scared by the mindless people trying to impose this new group think – including the opinion that this political non-achiever is the new Jesus Christ who fights corruption and every good person has to support him. I think that almost every good and realist enough person opposes him.


  1. "..there isn't any easy way to quickly improve the situation except for steps that would mean to replace the rule of law by a police state."
    In here Lumo I believe you are wrong. For one, police state will not necessarily reduce corruption, often on the contrary.
    Second - decreasing of corruption can be done in a reasonably easy fashion (and was done so in past for example in Great Britain). Corruption raises in situation, when "state" (or rather state bureaucrats) is giving something to some people for free (or buys something overpriced). Amount of bribe is than up to an actual price of the goods (or a difference in prices).
    So all you need to do is to take the decisions from the hands of a state bureaucrats. At that point there would be no reason to bribe them. And at the same time you will increase the freedom of people. The smaller the government, the smaller the corruption.
    [It is similar to the situation with bootlegging. You can try to solve it by increased border protection, but getting rid of tariffs does it automatically.]

  2. Lighten up Lubos! I am a citizen of two countries -- U.S.A. and Germany -- so I am 100% more qualified to comment than you. Aahhhh. It will be 3 x 10² years before another opportunity for me to say this on TRF comes along. You didn't think I was going to miss out on my chance, did you?

    National anthems exist for one purpose only, which is to maximize embarrassment for some and gleeful delight in their misfortune for the rest of us. Super Bowl XLVII will be upon us in two weeks and is eagerly being looked forward to by countless millions. It isn't the spectacle of lumbering gladiators in garish uniform bashing each other's brains out that accounts for the anticipation, of course. No sir! It's the anticipation of watching the singer of the national anthem screw up in front of the biggest audience of their life.

    The ambit of the melody -- an octave and a half -- routinely defeats singers used to "autotune" and other studio gimmicks. The closer they come to the long held f'' on "free", the more their throat tightens up and the more raucous the crowd gets. Finally they collapse into a heap and go into hiding for two weeks afterward.

    Even better is the German national anthem. "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles"? LOL, only if you wear a Pickelhaube on your head! Only the third stanza is the official anthem nowadays. Television cameras and long-range microphones cruelly zoom in on the lips of the footballers of Germany's national sides before the start of international games. Idiot German nationalists blamed Germany's stunning defeat by Italy in the semifinals of the 2012 Euro championship on the fact that only a few of their players made a token effort to mouth the words to the melody, while all the Italians sang with gusto. Never mind that Sami Khedira, Germany's best player in the game, mutely chewed gum during the anthem.

    Remember, Lubos. 100 percent more qualified :)

  3. Dear Honzo, first, I didn't say that police state was a sufficient condition to reduce corruption. I said it was a *necessary* condition for a discontinuous reduction in corruption.

    I of course agree with you that to reduce the overall money involved in corruption, the way is to privatize everything. You will still have the same rate of corruption in the realms that aren't privatized, the same corruption as an intensive quantity. That was the quantity unable of change I was talking about.

    Equally importantly, the reduction of the state decisions or privatization of the "remaining public things" is clearly not what Janeček's program is all about.

  4. Dear Eugene, singing anthem, like anything, may be harder or easier but it may still be done in an acceptable way or embarrassing way.

    If your comment was meant to make me lose an emotional relationship to my national anthem, you have failed.

    If you comment was meant to convince me that the composition used by Germany today is actually a German anthem, you failed too. It's our former anthem, an anthem of the Austrian Empire, the Emperor Song, which was just stolen by Prussia in 1918 when the monarchy on the Southern side from them decomposed.

    But most importantly, if you wanted to convince me that people with dual citizenship are more qualified in general to discuss certain national questions, then you have failed super miserably. You must know it's the case. It was one of the very main points of this article that such people are *less* qualified for national-heavy jobs than people with proper single citizenship. In particular, this text was demonstrating this fact on Karl Schwarzenberg who is widely viewed as "partly Austria" but who has a dual citizenship - Czech and... Swiss.

    He is 50% *less* qualified than the most accurate counterpart of his who would otherwise be purely Czech to do things related to the Czech nation - and I surely count the Czech presidency as a job that heavily depends on one's Czechness. This is true in one of your countries U.S. as well because the president is required to be naturally born, a condition whose satisfaction by Obama still keeps certain doubts. We may have no such condition in the law but we're still used to - and have the right to - impose this condition informally.

  5. Lubos,

    The Swedish FM Mr Bildt has posted his 2 (barely) cents regarding the Czech presidential election. Since it is in Swedish it will probably go unnoticed (unless the Czech legation in Stockholm is doing its job). A quick translation of the relevant paragraphs:

    "Soon the second and decisive round of the election of the new president of the Czech Republic will take place. My colleague and friend Karl Schwarzenberg is one of the two candidates.

    Also here history is bubbling forth.

    Karl comes from one of the most prominent Bohemian noble families with a long history of prominent positions in the old Habsburg empire.

    The family was forced by the Communists to leave Czechoslovakia and Karl Schwarzenberg became one of the leading campaigners for human rights for
    the countries behind the Iron curtain.

    It was so I got to know him when we met for the first time in Vienna in the late 1980s. Few knew as much about what was happening behind the iron curtain as he did.

    And when Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia when the country became free again,
    Karl Schwarzenberg was one of his closest collaborators.

    But now he is the target of the poisoned arrows of blinkered nationalism.

    It is implied that he is not sufficiently Czech, and that he refuses to see things in black and white, for example, regarding the expulsion of the country's population of Sudeten Germans in 1945.

    For me, Karl Schwarzenberg is one of the colleagues I have valued most over the past years.

    His observations and comments often seasoned with his deep historical knowledge has given him a special status in the circle of European Foreign Ministers.

    The election of president is, of course, the Czech Republic's own. Possibly, the result will tell us something about it [the Czech Republic]."

    It used to be customary not to get involved in the interior policy of other countries. For the Swedish FM to not only take a partisan position, but also indicate that a vote for Mr Zeman would somehow be seen as a mark against the Czech Republic is in my opinion quite extraordinary.

    PS: The comment was published on Mr Bildt's blog. When he became FM in 2006 there was a discussion whether he should stop blogging, and if he continued whether the blog had to be considered part of his public duties. This was never properly decided, but his own position was very clear: "I'm always the foreign minister."

    Couldn't have been stated more clearly even by Louis XIV.