Friday, July 23, 2021

Excessive fears are worse than Covid-19

A newspaper interview with the Czech expresident Václav Klaus

You're asking the government to stop scaring citizens. What do you think it should do?

The government should stop worrying about us, it should let us live our lives normally, it should allow us to choose our level of risk, our level of responsibility towards our neighbours, towards the world. Everyone should decide for themselves how to behave covidly. It is worthless for the state to advise us, and to advise us as stupidly as it has done so far.

But covid measures are still in place in many countries, and you will still be asked for your address in a restaurant somewhere.

The Soviet Union was no model for me in the past, and Germany or Austria is no model for me today. The fact that they do it stupidly somewhere in Germany is not the slightest argument for us to do it. I don't believe in it, the only thing is to accept covid as a normal disease and live with it as we live with other diseases.

What does "I don't believe in it" mean?

Did I say "I don't believe in it"?

Yes, I don't want to take your word for it, I want to understand what you mean.

I don't believe in the success of blanket restrictive measures an sich. I do not think they are effective and their side effects and consequences outweigh the positive effects they can bring.

The government is not just following foreign models, it is following the concerns about the course of the covid last autumn.

I don't want to get into a polemic now, I've tried this in a number of long texts and there is a danger of flattening the sentence against the sentence and thus offering an easy critique. I think a lot of statistics about covid can be disputed, including those about the number of deaths. The standard debate is on the issue with/on covid. There seems to be no point in saying anything about it, because the people who don't accept the distinction haven't listened to the arguments for a year and a half, so there's no point in forcing the arguments on them again. Completely left aside is the debate about whether there is some large number (some spike) of people who were born at or just after the end of WWII who have now reached the age of 80 or so. For example, this factor has not been taken into account at all.

We should be discussing this over statistics we don't have here...

Wait till you say statistics. We've questioned statistics a thousand times, all their reproductive numbers and all their "dogs". We've written thousands of arguments. None of them responded and none of them argued with us in a substantive way. Only when they found out that PES was giving them crap results did they quietly change it, after a few months. When they found that even the changed one was giving them crappy results, they abandoned it and the indicator didn't exist at all, yet the government made decisions based on it. It's a sham over a sham.

Why do you question the competence of the experts the government listens to?

It's a one-size-fits-all expertology. We all know that there are many experts who look at it in a completely different way. Government and experts is still the same game. The government chooses experts in its own image and the experts choose a government that would be willing to listen to them. I have to smile when I see the continuous appearances of Mr Kubek, Mr Smejkal or Mr Hungarian (human correction: Mr Maďar). There are plenty of other experts who think the opposite, sending me domestic and foreign articles today and every day to say it out loud somewhere, because I am the only one who will be listened to. When they say it, it is not listened to. I was at Rector Zima's birthday party and I was very impressed that no one there was wearing a veil. There were a hundred, a hundred and fifty people there, the deans of the medical faculties were there, and suddenly one person came in wearing a veil and he was wearing the veil all the time. It was the president of the medical chamber. You're tapping your forehead. It is, of course, the fault and responsibility of the doctors who they elect as their president, as well as the citizens who they elect as their president.

After all, the measures that our country has put in place must respect those of neighbouring countries so that we can reach elementary agreements with them, for example, on tourism. Don't you think a little like an independent intellectual?

I think I'm being consistent, I think I'm not just a free intellectual off the chain, to use your term. I feel and perceive the burden of my thirty years in politics and in the highest offices of the state very keenly, and I take it as a weight that holds me back from being unchained. After all, as President I protested the stupidity of buying Tamiflu for bird flu and of course it turned out to be true. I am fighting global warming with a thousand and one arguments and one of them, which I consider to be the key one, is the total misuse and misinterpretation of the precautionary principle. This is the crux of my debate on global warming. When I published my Blue, Not Green Planet (English title: Blue Planet in Green Shackles) fourteen years ago, I wrote an article on the misuse of the precautionary principle at Christmas 2006, it was so long that there was nowhere to publish the text, so I wrote it in a book. I see it at the heart of all the bad thinking and it has caught on now in the covid. If we absolutize the precautionary principle, you can't even have this tea of yours because maybe someone put poison in it the moment they brought it in. I got a lovely quote from someone, Francis Ferdinand d'Este.

I was interviewing Rector Zima at the end of September and he was absolutely authoritative that we are past the peak and the covid is disappearing. He was telling me this authoritatively as a citizen, as a doctor, as a rector. That hypothesis has not been confirmed. Aren't you falling into the trap of belligerent statements yourself?

I was not for a second afraid of covid, and at eighty years of age I am a super-risk group, I was ready to get it and, thanks to a conversation with a journalist, I did. I reasonably survived the covid and that is the way to think. If I wanted to be totally pre-occupied, I couldn't live. So at my age I couldn't have thought of trying skiing.

But a lot of people didn't have any freedom of choice, when the disease got into hospitals or nursing homes it mowed them down pretty badly.

Yes, I am sure everyone said from the start: do not do blanket measures, focus on nursing homes. They did not focus enough and they were stupid. That is another thing. Today's figures are deadly for Comrade Kubek. When we have 30 people in hospital today, and two of them are in a more serious condition, we do not know whether they have a chronic illness and whether they have put on 50 kilos in recent years. The supremely radical thesis, which I'm happy to state, but I don't proclaim it myself, is that nobody has died of covid yet, they've all died of something secondary. We are an extremely covid-infested society, perhaps more so than any other in the world. Continuous scaremongering is politics.

You say "the government does it", I wouldn't dare say it myself from x years of running a government... What does the government think? You know you have an overwhelming majority of people in government who think nothing at all. I won't tell stories because some of those people are still alive. I know that in the government that I chaired for x number of years, you had about four or five people who were ministers with a capital M. That means that it was not just a minister of a particular department, but it was also a member of the government. The vast majority were not, the vast majority dared not have an opinion on anything.

I doubt that the government is making decisions today. The government is getting their foreheads tapped by Mr Smejkal and the like, who, when I talk to respected members of the medical profession, and I will not name them because they would take it terribly, that is the crazy situation today.

We live in a society that is perverse and enforces conformity to the dominant view in a way that has been almost non-existent in the long history. The whole covid debate is inseparable from the radical upheaval that has occurred with the society of the West, i.e. Western Europe and even more so America. People are afraid to say any opinion they have, and we don't want to understand that because we still live in the naive idea of a post-communist moment that trivialized the difference between a totalitarian society and any other and saw them as infinite opposites.

Mr. President, I would argue that. Just look at rector Prof Zima, after all, he has been very emphatically going completely against the mainstream from the beginning. The former president - distinctly against the mainstream. An ordinary hospital doctor, a friend from skiing and canoeing, Lukáš Pollert - he has been paddling completely against the current from the beginning, he has certainly lost a lot of supporters. That's one objection. You talk about the President of the Medical Chamber, but then we have the President of the Dental Chamber, who says the complete opposite, sometimes even ignoring the figures. And the second objection: do you really think that the headmaster of the Imperial College a hundred years ago could express his views more freely than the likes of Lukas Pollert or the rector today?

I don't want to defend c.c. Austria, but look - I am on good terms in principle with Rector Zima. That makes it difficult for me to analyse in terms of neutral analysis. But yet you see that he came out early on with a relatively radical position against covid. And yet he has been so pushed to the limit that he has not said a single word out loud on the subject of covid since you may have spoken to him, I don't know when. I say that authoritatively. And thousands of people are silent like that. We spoke with Lukas Pollert, he contributed to our proceedings, he was here at the big talks at Hanspaulka - I say with impeccable opinions, I keep quoting him - he has been absolutely silent because he was threatened with all kinds of things. I like Professor Beran very much, I respect him enormously, and it is wonderful that we have him. But he has backed down in a terrible way too. So this enforced conformity is a phenomenon that is close to communism. And you're not 20 years old anymore, you've all experienced the end of communism in some form, so you know what I'm talking about. And my hard thesis that I'm stating here is that I think freedom of speech today is almost comparable to the era of late communism.

But, Mr. President, I would say that when Professor Beran cut back - and he cut back a lot - it wasn't necessarily because he got shouted down. I will sign to you that we live in an era that requires collective consent. But to say that someone changed his mind not on the basis of his own review...

That is, of course, a thesis, and it would really then require a serious debate with Professor Zima and Professor Beran as to how much self-development caused this or that. I would be very doubtful about that. And in a good way.

If you look at it generationally, your sense of personal security, of threat, of fearlessness, grows out of a certain time. Doesn't it seem to you that today's age is obsessed with security, norms? And doesn't the fear of covid also come from that source?

That covid has stumbled upon a society confused, confounded, corrupted by progressivist ideas - I don't like to label them as neo-Marxists or cultural Marxists because I think it's for a more sophisticated debate, but then again I know that for a lot of people the word progressivist doesn't mean anything, or is missing the word. And if you don't have a word for the enemy, you can never defeat him. In other words, I think society has changed radically. The West today is really unrecognizable from what it looked like in previous times. If you really follow the details of the developments in the US, they are truly frightening. The scariest country in Europe is, of course, the UK. That's our idea, as Vodnyansky sang: In good old England, of course, that's not true any more. And when you see a chaotic man in charge of that country, it makes you despair.

But the chaotic Gentleman does what you want. As of today (Monday), they have a day of freedom and they are lifting all measures.

I don't even trust the color of his hair. And by that, I think he'll say the opposite in three days. It's about his consistency... I, if I said such a stupid thing, would defend it to the bitter end, because I would consider it humiliating to withdraw from it myself. But I think he'll snap his fingers and change it. The world has changed in that sense. And covid was a good fit in that sense - and I'm not saying that someone deliberately made it up - but it fit the times perfectly wonderfully. I fight even among my colleagues and friends against these so-called conspiracy theories, against simplistic conspiracy theories, but when I simply find out, to go back to one person quoted here, that the IKEM in Prague never had an epidemiologist, because they would never have thought of it given their focus, and that in October or November 2019 they will create an epidemiologist position and select Mr. Smejkal for that position, then thinking about what happened in October between Gates and Klaus Schwab, etc. I have a hard time defending among people who talk about conspiracy theories. By the way, today's official announcement by US intelligence on Biden, if I read the paper correctly, that it's a fifty-fifty, that they're not sure if it originated one way or the other, is a very questionable thesis.

If I understand it correctly, the other half of it is: it could have originated as a natural virus that could have escaped from that lab, but it wasn't engineered.

I agree with that. I know very well that my sister worked at the Institute of Parasitology of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in the 1960s and got mononucleosis. I know the virus escapes that way. I used to visit her in the hospital when she was laid up with it for many weeks. So it's bad enough that it can escape, but it's bound to happen. Basically, it's already here and we have to - not irrationally, but rationally - live with it. And my attack that the government is abdicating any responsibility and seemingly leaving it to the German model (the Merkel model, the Robert Koch Institute) and that Messrs. Hungarian (correction: Maďar) and Smejkal here want to get money to create a Robert Koch Institute, I have to remind them that they are not Robert Kochs and that this is a bit of an ambition. I admire this level of ambition. The numbers are indisputable, I think we have to take them seriously. No experts like Mr Kubek are experts on these numbers. They are probably better than I am at recognising the result of a PCR test when they look at it under a microscope, but to be a mass macro expert - I am still schooled in the economics of it, the structural differences between micro and macro: those are completely different things and phenomena. Being a pricer in company xy is different from talking about inflation. And that's how I think a lot of people don't understand the difference. I have to say that the vast majority of economists don't understand the difference between micro- and macroeconomics as a conceptual, systemic, and methodological matter. It was also said that when Mr. Klaus ceases to be Prime Minister, he will become terribly rich as a successful businessman. They did not understand the difference between business and economics as a social science at all. Then I didn't get rich.

You didn't lose anyone during the covid epidemics? Anyone close to you, a friend?

A close friend? I don't think so. I know about two classmates. But one, they weren't close to me, two, they're in their 80s, so what can I say? Immediately... Of those close to me, for example, a professor - my climatologist -, several people in the field with whom I communicated... But I have to admit that one of them was 96, and it was miraculous what he could still do. The other one here was the Indian-American-English amazing economist Deepak Lal - he sent me articles every month. I don't have him. So people like that are gone. But none of them belonged to my complete surroundings, I wouldn't even consider my family or close circle.

What will this election be about? Will they be "doomsday" again, as they always say, or will something really change this fall?

I am reluctant to say that this election will be a turning point. On the contrary, I fear that this election will not be a turning point. I fear that they will be an escape from serious issues to non-serious ones.

And what are those?

No party will have the courage to raise serious issues such as the self-destruction of the West, covidism, climate change, genderism and all these things. There will be tiptoeing around these big issues, the parties will be afraid of accidentally losing some voters, and there will be talk of proxy issues, so the elections will bring nothing. I do not mean that I cannot change the name of the person who will be sitting in the Straka Academy. It could be better, it could be worse, I personally dread it if the Pirates gain significantly more influence and set us back thirty years. Babiš-Antibabiš, Zeman-Antizeman, these are not real political issues. Similarly, the artificial theme of whether we belong to the West or the East is nonsense, because we are in the West, have always been in the West, and are fully part of it.

We do not understand that. You are afraid of pirates, and at the same time you say: The elections will be "nothing". Yet it is the pirates who are the bearers of that progressivism and 'woke', i.e. 'awakened' or 'conscious' approach to life which, according to conservatives, is completely destroying Western civilisation.

I take this as a given, which will not be fundamentally changed by these elections. There is a change taking place, but none of the politicians are prepared to confront and resist it. That is why I do not sense a breakthrough, it will be a continuation of today's tendencies. Yes, the Minister of the Environment can be even more insane than he is today, and Ms Maláčová (a hard left social democratic minister of welfare) can become Minister of Finance. You probably know my verb "to mollycoddle" (to maláčize something through) - and in that case, of course, it would be even easier.

But when other parties started attacking the Pirates, they denied their most radical positions and tried to consistently give the impression that we are all part of the same peloton...

Yes, I agree. I think we live in an extremely conformist society, the likes of which haven't been around for a decade or more. Any dissent from the mainstream is immediately criticized and penalized, and politicians in particular no longer dare to step out of line at all. The biggest advantage is then given to those who have no opinions - like Mr Babiš. I do not say this as an attack on him, but simply as a statement - he does not have classically constructed political opinions, and thus has no problem changing and retracting his statements. Many people see hope in the fact that Babiš will be overthrown. But I do not see any hope in Mrs Pekarová being elected - I say Pekarová the pirate on purpose. Mr Babiš has at least shown some skill in managing something in his life.

Isn't the more general question that the programmes of the political parties are almost indistinguishable? Isn't it the case that the great social conflicts associated with industrialisation and urbanisation, on which the present political parties have grown, have been "resolved" or subdued, and therefore the parties attract no one, with hundreds or units of thousands of members instead of hundreds of thousands? And our democracy, which is based on a system of political party competition, is thus in a state of decay?

Yes, the total disintegration of the political party system is the essence of the current crisis. Parties are shapeless, undefined, and because they are undefined, they cannot actually have a political programme. I think we understand each other on this point. The great social conflict has moved on and lost its urgency, but we have a number of new, equally serious social issues that I mentioned at the beginning, but the parties are afraid to raise them. And yet these are highly ideological and highly political topics. That's why the election will be about nothing, even if the Prime Minister changes. Although the issues are there, no one dares to raise them.

But why won't anyone raise them? No one faces jail for an opinion...

I think prison is becoming a threat, not just in America. But that's not the point of the answer. In order to raise issues, you have to have courage, you have to have some leadership skills, you have to gather people around you, and you have to have a complete program, of course, not just the basic idea. And that's missing here. For almost thirty years, politicians have accepted the completely wrong idea that there is no longer a left and a right. That's why we're in such a mess, where there are lots of parties, but they're not fundamentally different. We are missing an Orbán.

We have weaker and weaker political parties that have not been meeting in every village pub for a long time. You yourself once laughed that you have almost no power, only some influence. Cut: Andrej Babiš, a business shark with a fantastic appetite for power, yet in his eight years as finance minister and prime minister he has managed to replace neither the head of CEZ (state-controlled utility) nor the head of VZP (largest health insurance company). Do we have a good balance of power, or a breakdown of any political governance?

You have rightly quoted my statement that I have never had a sense of power, but rather of influence. The fact that I often overruled some members of the government in terms of opinion was more because many had no opinions. But our main difficulty is powerlessness. Here I see the roots in Václav Havel and his utterly meaningless slogan "The power of the powerless", which gradually grew to the point that nobody actually has any power here. Which actually denies any natural hierarchy in society. I, as Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and President, have not had the chance or the courage to call the head of the BIS (Czech FBI)! I don't know if you remember my desperate struggle to fill the Constitutional Court. Ten years before, Václav Havel had appointed them all at once, I had to add ten judges - and the Senate blocked me one after another. In the end, I had to appoint, excuse me, inferior nominees just to get someone through. To sum up: this attempt by our modernity to abolish all hierarchy, an attempt that is also implicit in the slogan The Power of the Powerless, is leading us into ruin.

You have thrown the ball, and we must throw it: the Constitutional Court has been entering politics more and more over the last fifteen years - deciding on things like the level of health care fees or the level of pensions, concepts that have nothing to do with the constitutional order and the separation of powers. And the main protagonist of these dozens of political cases is the president of the court and a former politician, whom you appointed to head the court. Don't you blame yourself?

That's several topics. I don't know why you start with the last fifteen years - Havel's Constitutional Court was no less political. And what I endured with the Constitutional Court in the 1990s probably doesn't need to be mentioned. Then you ask about Mr Rychetsky. I was so jealous of America! There are about two thousand universities with about five thousand constitutional lawyers, with publications, impeccable CVs and so on. How many constitutional lawyers or judges do you think there were at the beginning of this century who were capable of understanding the really principled things that the Court has to decide? And the Senate, where, by the way, Topolánek's ODS had a majority, was killing one candidate after another. So I had to appoint a few people who were not up to the job, because there were not enough quality ones, and the Senate killed most of them.

And Pavel Rychetský was undoubtedly a man capable of managing something, capable of representing the Czech Republic, capable of leading international negotiations and so on... And in this desperation, Rychetský clearly stood out. Moreover, let's face it, the Constitutional Court is in a way a truly political body, it is not part of the judicial system, and Rychetsky's understanding of the political process was undoubtedly a plus. The fact that in 18 years he has become petrified in a way and has been pushing his social democratic priorities is another matter. But I don't blame myself, that's just a storyline you can't anticipate. Moreover, unlike other presidents, I have not promoted my protégés. I did not promote retired civic democrats (a party I founded), but I did promote a retired social democrat, Rychetsky, and a retired People's Party member, Miloslav Výborny.

So you have no regrets.

No, I don't regret it. Moreover, I'm convinced that the problem is more conceptual than personal. I am fundamentally opposed to constitutional justice, and I am convinced that constitutional courts around the world have usurped far more power than they should, following the example of the US Supreme Court. So the problem is primarily conceptual and systemic, with the personal only secondarily. And the fact that Rychetsky has turned out to be an extremely authoritarian person who promotes his political views is another matter. I think that this is largely related to the fact that many economists had already read and devoured Western economics under communism and could pass on the ideas of Western economists through, for example, "critical reviews". Among the lawyers who have lived here, I know of no one who has been in such intensive contact with, say, Anglo-Saxon legal thinking. I think that in this respect general legal thinking was deeply behind, is lagging behind - and we are still paying the price.

Questions by Martin Zvěřina and Petr Kamberský, LN, 20.7.2021 Translation by (free)

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