Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Velvet Revolution at 31: much of the freedom was just temporary

Back in 1989, I was intensely interested in politics, listening to Radio Free Europe every day, writing petitions etc. On Friday, November 17th, I was a high school student and the university students in Prague organized an anti-totalitarian rally. Note that exactly 50 years earlier, on November 17th, 1939, the Nazis shut down the Czech universities after some skirmishes at the funeral of Jan Opletal, an anti-Nazi student activist who died after some conflicts during the October 28th (birth of Czechoslovakia 1918) events.

Because of the 1939 events, November 17th has been celebrated as the International Students' Day. Needless to say, the events that came exactly 50 years later strengthened the reasons to celebrate it as the International Students' Day. Today, it's a national holiday in Czechia, a "Day of Fight For Freedom". Note that just like the Nazis, the Coronazis are shutting universities across the world and the press doesn't dare to criticize the Coronazis just like it didn't dare to criticize the Nazis in 1939.

But let me return to 1989. The university students in Prague were beaten by batons. It wasn't too brutal and the riot police is doing similar things in the modern era, too. But people were annoyed that students may be treated in this way, just for expressing their opinion. The anti-communist moods in the society abruptly strengthened. A false rumor about the killed student Mr Martin Šmíd (whom I later became familiar with, a blind student from the MathPhys department of mine) was helpful to send lots of the people to the streets, too.

The societal changes were totally peaceful but extremely fast. Václav Havel who was imprisoned just months earlier was unanimously elected the president of Czechoslovakia on December 29th, just 42 days after the student rally kickstarted the Velvet Revolution! "Yesterday he was a dissident, tomorrow, he's surely gonna be a president," banners were correctly predicting in November.

I was a big fan of Havel, perhaps under some influence from the U.S. Congress-funded radio station, and was the local leader of the efforts to make him the president which was successful. As early as in late 1989, I noticed that there were significant differences between Havel and Klaus – and I became an even bigger fan of Klaus already in late 1989. But for many years, I didn't see anything truly worrisome about Havel and, more importantly, about the people whom he brought with himself. In 1997, the Klaus-Havel conflicts became really intense (and Havel gave a nasty speech, basically an anti-capitalist speech of a sort) but I still kept some degree of respect for him. It actually continued even after I moved to the U.S. in 1997 – perhaps because I enjoyed the good name that Czechia had in the U.S. (even among Republicans) thanks to Havel. I didn't find those things too troubling, either. I should have!

At any rate, Czechoslovakia abruptly turned from the most "conservative Stalinist" European communist country to the fastest "reformer towards capitalism and Parliamentary democracy". We were proud about it. The 1990s were ahead of us. Now, we can see that the 1990s were the freest decade in the history of our country. The decade brought us more freedom than all previous decades; but sadly, which we didn't suspect, more freedom than the following decades.

Already in November 1989, we were discussing what would happen, e.g. with my classmate Vlad. K. Would we catch up with Western Europe in 20 or 30 years? We did expect to surpass PIGS (which we didn't call in this way yet) at a similar timescale. Now look at the fresh GDP (PPP) per capita table from the International Monetary Fund. Czechia is 30th at the GDP per capita in the world, at $40,293 (international dollars). We follow France, South Korea, the U.K., Malta, Kuwait, Japan, New Zealand, and we're ahead of Italy, Israel, Cyprus, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Spain.

So we are above all the 4 PIGS countries now, indeed. Italy and Spain dropped beneath us due to their particularly aggressive Covid lockdowns; we've been above Portugal and Greece for several years. Note that Greece is listed at $29,045; Czechia is already 39% above Greece in the metric. On the other side, e.g. France has $45,454 i.e. 13% above Czechia. Germany is 33% above Czechia.

These GDP (PPP) differences hugely underestimate the actual "international wealth gap" of the nations. The first difference is the PPP stuff, the purchase parity conversion. If you look at the same table of nominal GDP per capita, Czechia is 35th at just $22,627 (the number dropped almost by one-half). It's just 5% above Portugal and 20% above Greece there – but below Spain and Italy and below 50% of the German GDP per capita. But even this table understates the wage gap because much of the Czech GDP flows to foreign owners in the form of the dividends (5% of the GDP are net dividend outflows).

In late 1989, we were very aware of the issue of "our weak currency" because our communist currency was a real joke. I think we didn't quite appreciate that this relative weakness may continue for 31 more years. There are reasons why I find this Czech "wage poverty" a good thing. Clearly, it's better for competitiveness, the trade balance, and maybe even for the government budget. Perhaps more seriously, I start to think that countries where average wages get too high unavoidably deteriorate into the SJW-style decay. Maybe the continuing undervalued Czech currency is a net good thing. But it's also possible that it will go away, the Czech crown will strengthen dramatically, and the Czech GDP per capita (plus wages) will jump above the remaining PIGS even in the nominal counting.

But back to the freedom which is more important. We were an impoverished nation with a proud and successful capitalist, democratic, and industrial tradition. In 1989 and in the 1990s, we thought that we were just fixing some terrible disease that only affected us regionally, in Central and Eastern Europe. The West was mostly a "perfect realm" for us and it was common sense that it would remain so. We just wanted to be "like the West" in all respects. And none of us even thought about the possibility that the West would start to move in the opposite direction – towards socialism and other left-wing totalitarian setups. It just looked so crazy. Why would they be doing it?

But the history wasn't over yet. Now, 31 years later, we already see lots of changes that are vastly different from the simple "expectations about the future" that we had in late 1989. Well, most Czechs did fix their understanding of the West much earlier, perhaps already in the late 1990s. I think that when we were joining NATO in 1999, most of us had already abandoned the uncritical agreement with the West, with NATO, with the humanitarian bombardment of Serbia, and other things. And after 2000 which is already 20 years ago, many of us who were interested in politics globally were already noticing the unbelievably intense and dangerous expansion of the toxic New Left in the West. But for many years after 2000, they still looked like some bizarre fringe groups. It's just in the recent decade or so, sometime after 2010, when we started to think that the New Left has hijacked most of the important institutions in the Western countries. The process was gradual but it was rather fast and I think it is obvious that by now, it was almost completed.

If you told me back in 1989 that the U.S. would be extremely close to electing a president that plans to lock all Americans into a home prison because of a new strain of (de facto) flu, I just wouldn't have believed you. This is in such a sharp contradiction with everything that America has stood for for over 200 years. Also, I wouldn't have believed you that the statues of the U.S. presidents and other important men would be demolished across the U.S., that even (and especially) in the Academia, you couldn't talk about differences between men and women or between people from different continents, and all this amazing crap. We were too focused on our non-freedom, our impoverishment etc. that for some time, we didn't appreciate that the Western nations may also be infected by it. And it seems that because they lack the vaccination by the "standard communism", they are much less immune towards the staggering extreme left-wing junk and the nasty, filthy people who openly promote it.

Just like there can't be the "end of science", there can't be the "end of history". Our 1989 ideas about the "next century" have already been proven to be wildly inaccurate. But the history isn't over in 2020, either. Many people have certain expectations about the rest of the century. I think that many people already believe in the nearly global victory of the SJWs and similar leftists. Not so fast, the history isn't over even in 2020. The "pendulum model" is probably always more accurate than the ideas about the "1000-year empire" and "together with the Soviet Union forever and never differently", to mention two "permanent" slogans from the 20th century.

If and when we are removing a left-wing totalitarianism again, I will be against any "velvet" stuff. As an idealist, I loved being associated with the "velvet" attitude. It's so nice that you have removed the communists non-violently etc., people were telling us, and I liked to be "praised" in this way. But it was just wrong to pay any attention to this "praise". The people who praise you aren't necessarily right! At the end, it was probably a mistake to do perform all these changes in the gloves and to fail to punish anybody who was responsible for communism. The leftists responsible for the crippling of our nations in recent years simply need to be punished. The punishment isn't just about the justice per se. It is also a prevention of evil that may be done by the same people; and it carries quite some educational value.

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