A Few Remarks on the Brexit and Trump Victories – As Seen from Central Europe (Vaclav Klaus)

I always try to be straightforward and avoid understatements – I call both Brexit and Trump victories. And I will try to use this opportunity to say why.

A. I don´t look at the world from a distant planet, I look at it from Central Europe, from Prague. This is Europe, this is geographically the heart of Europe, but this is a part of Europe with a valuable and instructive history and experience. Without pedantically discussing where Central Europe starts or ends, let me say that I don´t include countries like Ukraine or Macedonia. This part of the world, the individual Central European nations, can be characterized:

  • – by its – in the history many times – questioned and suppressed independence, sovereignty and statehood;
  • – by its communist past and the still relatively recent rebirth of freedom, democracy and market economy (for that reason I exclude Austria, but the country is more Central European than it likes to be);
  • – by the widespread belief of its citizens that everything which is opposite to communism is right, just, morally and socially correct, by the belief that the West is by definition better than the East, that the Western institutions – like the EU, UN, NATO, IMF, etc. – are perfect and untouchable as compared to COMECON and the Warsaw Pact and by the hope that becoming members of these institutions is by itself a guarantee of freedom and prosperity.

That was more or less the general feeling at the beginning of the current post-communist, post-cold war era. Now, 27 years after the fall of communism, 18 years after entering NATO, 12 years after becoming the EU member states, the people in these countries see that the world and their life is not as attractive as they’d expected. They partly blame themselves and their politicians, but they also begin to see that the world around them is neither the textbook model of political democracy, nor the Hayek-Friedman´s variant of free markets.

They feel and see it. They used to be antagonistic to the past political establishment but they see that it is not much different now. They hated political propaganda, but hear it again. They were used to lies and hypocrisy, and got political correctness. They lost a lot in the communist era but not their ability to think freely. They even learned something special in that tragic era. As a result of it, they don´t take freedom for granted. The long-lasting absence of freedom gave them a chance to appreciate what freedom really is and they are – due to it – sensitive, perhaps oversensitive to any symptoms of its weakening and suppression.

It is an undeniable fact that many of us in Central Europe have become very critical to the current arrangements in the West and especially in one of its segment, in the EU. In the moment of the fall of communism, I didn´t expect to ever again experience such a disillusion with the world around me as I feel now.

I didn´t expect such a loss of our sovereignty as we experience in the more and more centralistically organized EU. I didn´t expect such a degree of government intervention in economic life (in the fields such as agriculture and energy it is not much different from communist central planning). I didn´t expect such an extent of political manipulation and of democratic deficit. After getting rid of communism, I didn´t expect such a massive dominance of new illiberal ideologies as multiculturalism, humanrightism, genderism, environmentalism, transnational globalism, etc. I didn´t expect such a massive media manipulation, such a degree of mediocracy.

In my frequent speeches in Europe, I often say that we are manipulated and indoctrinated not less now than we used to be in late communism. Especially our children and grandchildren in schools are exposed to it to a worrying extent.

To change the status quo is inevitable and long overdue. Many of us considered the Brexit vote and the US presidential elections as a unique opportunity to demonstrate the intention and will to make such a change. It did materialize. There are many conflicting hypotheses both about the reasons of the Brexit vote and of the victory of Trump but I am inclined to argue that both votes were about freedom (against the tyranny of political correctness), about democracy (against both in America and Europe prevailing post-democracy), about sovereignty (against multinationalism and global governance), about economic prosperity (against long-term stagnation and relative decline), about traditional cultural and civilizational values and life-styles. It was an anti-establishment movement. Contrary to the avalanche of negative stories, editorials and commentaries, it was an attempt of ordinary people to be part of the game without being called low informed and uneducated.

B. As regards Brexit, I do believe that it has opened a new chapter in the European history. I disagree with the intentionally misleading interpretations of its results which suggest that the main topic of the British referendum was the issue of immigration. No, the dominant reason for the majority of Brits voting Leave was their conviction that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK. It was their long-term experience that the nation is (and should be) the primary political entity, the only possible embodiment and guarantor of democracy. The result was at the same time a radical rejection of the faulty project of centralistic, dirigistic, and unnecessarily unified, harmonized and standardized European Union.

In one respect, the British referendum didn´t tell us anything new. It “only” confirmed to those, who hadn´t known it before, that it’s not just a few reactionary eccentrics, residual believers in obsolete doctrines of the Chicago and the Austrian schools of economics and of Margaret Thatcher who are critical as regards the contemporary version of the European institutional arrangements, of the EU policies and of the ideology behind them. Millions of ordinary people have a similarly critical view.

The people in Europe are witnessing an evident decline of Europe in many fields. This decline wasn´t caused by the Islamist terrorists, by the recently started mass migration, by rapidly growing China, by the awakening and resurgence of Russia, by the not hard-working and debt easily-accumulating Greeks.[1] It was caused neither by globalization, nor by the incorporation of ex-communist Central and East European countries into the elitist EU-club.

This decline was caused by ourselves, by the originally flawed and continuously worsening design of the European integration process, by the unproductive economic and social policies and by the progressivistic civilizational and cultural doctrines which started in the 1960s and gained momentum since the 1990s.

Those of us who want to return Europe from post-democracy to democracy, from the constructivistic unification of the continent to the old concept of Europe as a family of free and democratic nations, brought together by our Judeo-Christian civilization and the Greek-Roman culture, see Brexit as a breakthrough or – at least – as an important step in that direction.

C. Without pretending to be an expert on the U. S. elections, I am convinced that it was a good result for America, for Europe, as well as for my part of Europe. The U. S. presidential elections were won by ordinary people using common sense. These people defeated the political elites and the political establishment. They defeated arrogant mediocracy, as well as many influential and powerful interest groups. They defeated the world of political correctness, the world of hypocrisy and the world of elitist social engineering.

I consider dangerous the repeatedly pronounced allegations that the ordinary people cannot be trusted to make political decisions. The implicit and not openly proclaimed “aristocracy of the wise” reveals an allergy to the idea of democracy itself. I agree with Brendan O´Neill (in The Spectator) that for these “aristocrats” or elites “it is not so much Trump they fear as the system that allowed him to get to the White House”. I do believe that this reactionary turn against democracy explains the victory of Trump and confirms why democracy is more important today than it has ever been. Such an attitude seems to me more dangerous than Trump. The leading German weekly Der Spiegel had a cover with the title “Das Ende der Welt”, which reveals everything.

D. Another topic of the day – at least in Europe – is migration. It is important to avoid mixing-up two fundamentally different things, the individual migration, the movements of individuals across the borders of countries, and mass migration.The difference is not only quantitative. Many politicians and their fellow travellers in media and in the academy either do not understand this difference or pretend not to. They try to deal with mass migration as if it was the case of individual migration, which it is not.

The mass migration is the consequence of the radical shift in ideas and policies. Due to it, people in many unsuccessful, poor and underdeveloped, broken, autocratic or totalitarian, ungoverned or chaotically ruled countries got the feeling that they have a right to migrate, that they have a right to depart to more successful, rich, developed, orderly functioning, democratic countries which are – in addition to it – offering generous social benefits to all the newcomers. A right of that kind doesn´t exist and this claim should never be accepted.

I differentiate between the supply-side and the demand side of migration. Both are of the same importance. The supply of migrants itself cannot bring about migration. It “only” creates a potential reservoir of people ready to move. To make mass migration possible, there needs to be a demand-side as well. Most politicians speak about the supply side. What bothers me is the demand side. For that reason, I don´t blame the migrants. I blame us, especially our politicians.

The demand for migrants – in spite of all the political rhetoric which tries to deny it – comes from Europe. It includes not only the reckless and ill-conceived explicit welcoming gesture made by Angela Merkel and some other leading European politicians in the late summer of 2015. That was just the final straw. The European – more implicit than explicit – demand for mass migration has been gradually getting momentum for years and decades. This demand has been based on the following factors:

1. The principle factor is the contemporary ideological confusion connected with the rise of ideas of multiculturalism, cultural relativism, continentalism (as opposed to the idea of a nation-state), human-rightism and political correctness. These “isms” undermined the traditional ways of looking at the organization of human society. They replaced the orientation towards a nation (or a nation-state) with continental or planetary thinking. They proclaimed diversity to be more than social cohesion and homogeneity. They sacrificed civic rights in favour of human rights. They changed the concept of rights from negative to positive ones. They incorporated migration among human rights, etc., etc.

2. Not less important is the fact that the European (and the whole Western) society has been gradually transformed from a society heralding performance, results and achievements, production and work, into a society based on entitlements. Potential migrants understood the importance of this destructive shift very rapidly. As a consequence, the migrants are coming into Europe not as a labour force but as recipients of all kinds of social benefits.

3. An important role in the phenomenon of mass migration was played by the process of European integration itself. The original, post-second world war concept of integration has been transformed by the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties into the concept of unification. It led

  • – to the weakening of nation-states and to the fundamental undermining of their sovereignty;
  • – to the elimination of borders throughout the European continent. Instead of introducing easily crossable borders, the borders were abolished with all kinds of unavoidable consequences;
  • – to the weakening of democracy and to the creation of a post-democratic, bureaucratically run Europe.

4. Finally, these processes led to the reappearance of old dreams of European cosmopolitan elites about creating a new Europe and a new European man, homo bruxellarum, someone who would be entirely deprived of his/her roots in individual nation-states. Migrants are believed to become the ideal input in the future pan-European society, hence, the more of them, the better. This thinking has become – at least implicitly – another driving force behind the current migration deadlock.

Appendix: EU-propaganda and reality

The overambitious man-made construct called the European Union is a product of an erroneous design. I am frustrated that not many people look at it seriously enough. Most of them see only what the EU propaganda wants them to see. They seemingly believe that the EU is

  • – a peace-guaranteeing community of nations;
  • – a democratically run grouping of countries, where the demos feels like a demos;
  • – a coherent entity monoculturally based on European values and behavioural patterns;
  • – an entity which centralizes only a small part of decision-making (only the issues that cannot be – because of existing externalities – solved efficiently at the level of individual countries);
  • – a conglomerate of countries where all are equal (in the Orwellian sense);
  • – a family-like institution where the weaker members are significantly helped by the stronger ones;
  • – an institution where the opposition to official views is welcome, allowed and made possible;
  • – an institution where there is a genuine, democratically formed and implemented policy, etc., etc.

Nothing can be farther from the truth than this propagandistic scheme. The current European Union is different:

  • – it is an entity without demos, which means without democracy;
  • – it is an entity with only a weak common identity. For many of us being a European basically means a geographical delimitation. As regards our identity, we are primarily Czechs, Italians, or Finns. And we are proud of it. There are some “European” commonalities, but Europe has never been a melting pot;
  • – it is an entity which misuses the term subsidiarity for disguising the actual state of affairs and the predominant tendency – the ever-growing centralization of the EU decision-making;
  • – it is – especially due to the Lisbon Treaty – an entity with one dominant country, Germany, which – as was recently stated by the German “Staatsminister für Europa” Michael Roth – must fulfil its leading role in Europe whether it likes it or not;
  • – it is an entity without authentic, genuine solidarity;
  • – it is an entity constrained by a non-functioning monetary union which brought together economically incompatible countries, etc.

[1] My last contribution to the Le Cercle debate was called “First Five Years since the Outbreak of the Greek Crisis?”, The Fairfax at Embassy Row, Washington, D.C., June 28, 2015. You can find it here: www.klaus.cz/clanky/3771.

Václav Klaus, Notes for Le Cercle Washington Meeting, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C., December 2, 2016.

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