My country has been tamed by Nazism between 1939 (well, partly 1938) and 1945, and by communism between 1948 and 1989 (6+41 = 47 years, almost half a century). Folks like your humble correspondent have helped the communist system to collapse and we entered the 1990s, an unusually free decade.
People could say anything, try lots of things, travel across the world, and start numerous types of businesses. Political parties started to compete, communist companies were being privatized (and I think it was right to try to do it quickly although apparent imperfections couldn't be avoided), and others were started from scratch.
In 1992-1997, I was a college student in Prague (Math-Phys, Charles University). While I was always too shy to become a visible politician, I found it natural to be a member of the student senate most of the time. We were deciding about many things. For example, we tried to stop the process of creating the "Faculty of Humanities" at the university – which is the main source of certain ideologically extreme social phenomena today. Most of the Math-Phys people were against this "FHS", for reasons that weren't far from what we would say today (although we know much more today), but we failed. "FHS" was created. After all, we did realize that these folks – perhaps "cultural Marxists", using the present jargon – had quite some "momentum" after 1989. But at least, in the 1990s, no one would dispute we had the "right" to vote "No".
The freedom of the 1990s is best exemplified by some of the programs that were aired on the Czechoslovak or Czech TV. A characteristic example was The Czech Soda (1993-1997). The creators, starting from Petr Čtvrtníček, the main host, weren't born to be "political satirists".
But the topic looked natural, they took it, and they created quite a funny collection of 14 original episodes. Lots of the humor was harsh. Politicians' death was often discussed or shown in various funny ways. A sub-show involved some Sudetenland Germans in their course of German, "Alles Gute", and it embraced as politically incorrect themes as you can imagine – and more.
It seems spectacularly clear that such a show couldn't be allowed today. In fact, the situation is so bad that I am a bit surprised that the videos haven't been removed from YouTube yet. OK, the creators decided to wrap us the Czech Soda in the 1990s, in order to create a truncated "cult series" – which has worked well. I think that if they hadn't done it, someone else would ban them a few years later.
Many things kept on getting better. In particular, a comedy show titled Tele Tele (2000-2007) – 269 episodes with various programs that were parodies of the programs on the commercial TV NOVA (including Teleblbís, South Prag, and others whose "original templates" could be understandable to U.S. readers) – was hilariously funny and more perfect from a technical viewpoint. And there were still sketches that would almost certainly be banned today – like the commercial promoting Ariel/Árijec, a laundry detergent, that made a boy nicely white and Aryan. I am almost afraid of reporting what the commercial was now (despite the fact that the main actress in that parody commercial is the wife of a recent defense minister, also an actor)!
But even with these politically flavored exceptions, it was spectacularly clear that Tele Tele was far less political (no problem, it was a different show) and probably more censored in the background.
Oops: I randomly found that ad. The actress was as I said, Veronika Žilková, but it was on the Czech Soda, not Tele Tele. So such things were already impossible in 2000-2007, I guess. I am afraid that once an EU official clicks at my link, the EU Commission will ban YouTube in Czechia. Incidentally, in 2016, Chinese TVs aired a very similar, real ad although the "outcome" was an Asian man. No doubt, in many respects, China is freer than the West. 78% of Czech readers over there answered that "the Chinese ad wasn't racist".
When the communism fell, we were speculating what our country and the world would do in the next 20 or 30 years. I think that my expectations were realistic concerning the economy. I used to say that the gap would fade away and in some 20-30 years, we would already be ahead of some "Cold War Western European nations" which is true, while Germany would still be richer in most respects (per capita), and it is.
However, one prediction of mine from the 1990s that looks incredibly wrong and naive with the hindsight was my prediction that the freedom would be here to stay. I just couldn't imagine any possible dynamics that would lead to the reversal back towards non-freedom. Isn't it so much obvious that the freedom – especially like that in 1918-1938 or the 1990s – is so much better for everybody? Isn't it obvious that people will do a lot to keep it?
And the prediction was so wrong. Now it really seems that the people – or the "politically or socially relevant people" – want to spend most of their time in some non-freedom and this preference is true even in the long term. Who are the people who have been moving us from the freedom of the 1990s back to the non-freedom? I don't want to claim that the Czechs are innocent – but I do think that most of the new non-freedom was imported from the West (the geographic region defined in the Cold War era). This very fact probably had to be unexpected for us in the 1990s – because we still thought about "our part of Europe" as the source of non-freedom while Western Europe was "obviously" the source of freedom.
Last week, I mentioned the 1999 bombardment of Yugoslavia. That was arguably the first time when we were expected to somewhat uncritically support some controversial policies – 1999 is the year when Czechia and many others joined NATO. On one hand, we really wanted to join the Western structures. This desire was a part of the views we were free to express in the 1990s. It made sense to have such dreams, especially if you think about our relatively bare buttocks and related heritage that might have been mostly blamed on communism.
But sadly, this particular dream of ours has also decided about our gradual transition to non-freedom. Could these two things have been separated from each other at all? I am afraid that the answer is No. The reason is simply that the "Cold War West" had already been pre-programmed to end its free decades and switch to an organization of the society that doesn't differ from our communism too much. Maybe there's some approximate conservation law that guaranteed that when the Soviet bloc became more free, the capitalist bloc had to become less free as a "compensation".
OK, I came to the U.S. in Fall 1997 – for a decade. I still followed events in my homeland very closely. At some level, I could have been "more in touch" with the Czech politics and other things than if I stayed in Czechia. And I spent more than a month in Czechia in every single Summer in the 10 years – well, I've never reversed the tradition to buy "one year open round trip tickets" from Czechia to America and back.
In May 2004, Czechia formally joined the EU – along with others. It reflected the June 2003 referendum in which "Join" was supported by 77% out of the 55% turnout. I didn't bother to actually vote in 2003 (a premature trip before the summer to the D.C. or Czechia would be needed?) but unless I remember completely badly, I was still determined to support "Join". Only years later, we learned that President Klaus actually voted "Not Join", despite his being the Czech politician who has signed many of the "EU integration" documents on behalf of Czechia (some of them were only signed after a huge pressure and delays in which he became a lonely fencepost in Europe). If his "Not Join" vote were true, I do think that he was a real kind of a visionary back then – and later, too.
The May 2004 entry wasn't a terribly sharp crossover. Czechia had already been preparing for the EU in the previous years, we had to get compatible in many legal respects. I still believe that many of those were totally reasonable. The active exit from the EU has lots of disadvantages (mostly caused by the malice of Brussels) that the Britons have been seeing for some 1000 days now. But with all the knowledge we have today, I do think that our EU entry was a mistake.
A non-membership in the EU could have had negative economic consequences. That's surely a comment that many EU fans like to make. Would we be about as poor as Ukraine today? I don't think so. The GDP graph above indicates that there was no visible "acceleration" of the economy in 2004 when we joined the EU. I completely forgot whether we had to pay tariffs before 2004 and stuff like that. But whatever the regime was, it just couldn't have been self-evidently worse than the status quo.
The EU has incredibly energized a tiny fraction of people who would otherwise be political extremists. And it has paid many more people who defend these views professionally – because of obvious financial incentives.
The EU pressure designed to "reshape us" has always been a subtle issue. As I have mentioned, in the 1990s, most of us really "wanted it". Western Europe was so clearly richer and better in most respects. This had something to do with how they deal with things, right? So it's natural to listen to them and copy laws, habits, and policies.
This explanation of the "need to copy EU laws" has looked natural up to some moment – approximately up to the time when it was already too late because our EU membership was decided. Since 2004 or so, it has looked increasingly obvious that most of the changes that the EU demands are actually not helpful for higher living standards and similar uncontroversial virtues. They're mostly dictated by some fanaticism for regulation and by an ideology that was ludicrously weak in the 1980s when Western Europe was our actual example. The EU has still implicitly used its own wealth as an argument for us to comply – but that wealth was no longer a consequence of the policies that were pushed down our throats. In many cases, they were policies similar to those that were holding us back before 1989.
Like other nations, we're tamed by indoctrination of kids at schools, climate hysteria, multiculturalism, feminism, transgenderism, inclusion, mindless worshiping of empty clichés, and lots of other things. Increasingly frequently, our movies, newspapers, and Internet pages are being either self-censored or directly censored by some "big censors" outside. The most important ones are almost universally imposed by non-Czechs. This kind of censorship mostly comes from Germany – and you know that a particular type has been devastating for me although I couldn't believe it was even possible less than some three weeks ago. In recent days, I watched lots of movies from the occupation era, to see how bad the domination of the German brute force may be, and how they get kicked into the musculus maximus in some 6 years.
Fans of the EU often label governments in Poland and Hungary as "illiberal" ones. Maybe there's some tiny portion of truth in it but what I am almost certain about is that outside the EU, hypothetically, the Czech social life and political discourse would be far freer than they are now. We simply have a significant tradition with it. The culture, satire etc. were also vibrant in the First Republic of Czechoslovakia, 1918-1938, too, even when many allies of ours were switching to appeasement or "we have to be respectful towards Germans and their famous leaders".
The alternative history with Czechia outside the EU would probably be so much better for me personally, too. I don't want to go into details in these speculations. But Pilsner Urquell is currently owned by Asahi, Japanese breweries. It had a U.S. owner before. Hyundai CZ would still have the same Asian parent. Clearly, most of these economic relationships wouldn't be affected by the non-EU membership at all. Some of the banks and other companies could have American or Asian, instead of Western European, parents. It would probably be healthier and more Cosmopolitan.
And if the non-EU membership meant a 20% lower GDP than today, well, I would surely prefer such an outcome, too.
Aside from the unexpected shrinking of the freedom, what has totally exceeded my worst expectations is the quality of the people who dictate things. You know, in the non-democratic systems I started with, there were various people who had power – typically people associated with the two regimes. Both regimes have done some terrible things and in this sense, the EU-style folks haven't matched those regimes yet. On the other hand, in most of the everyday life issues, the holders of the total power were so much more reasonable and tolerant than their current successors!
The non-freedom in the "everyday life issues" is already worse than it was during Nazism and communism. And so is the censorship of the movies and other things. Neither Nazism nor communism found it appropriate to censor movies and other works of arts that honestly painted the lives and interactions of ordinary people in the past. The current cultural Marxism is a completely new level because even the most ordinary acts and interactions are being suppressed.
It seems absolutely stunning what sort of people actually hold much of the "brute force" to decide about things. How many physicists with a tiny knowledge of grad school physics seem to decide what can be said and written about physics research. And many many other things. Some of these examples look apolitical but all these examples are still variations of the same "political" thing – the evaporation of freedom. I think that lots of the communists or even Nazis had quite some common sense and they wouldn't push most of the insane things that we experience today.
Now, will the recent trends continue? Will they accelerate and become much worse? Or will they slow down and/or reverse back towards freedom? I don't know. I think that no one knows because the future will also depend on our acts, our clever strategies, our courage, and our resolve. We just don't have the moral right to become defeatist. I can imagine all the scenarios and colorfully describe how they will materialize. I've been wrong about the future of freedom in the 1990s so I am not brave enough to offer new prophesies on the same theme.
I do believe that much of the weakness of freedom, common sense, and traditional European values is an illusion and/or self-inflicted injury of ours. Many of us are just terrified by the sheer volume of aggressive insanity around us. But much of the gap could totally disappear if we weren't afraid, if we spoke, and if we communicated with our soulmates much like the enemies of the freedom do.