Full version - Aspen Institute Prague



Full version - Aspen Institute Prague
No 3 | 2014
3 | 2014
Index: 287210
Aspen Institute Prague is supported by:
Jan-Werner Müller, Ivan Krastev, José Ignacio Torreblanca, Peter Kreko, Martin Šimečka
Putin Cannot Sleep Peacefully
An interview with Andrei Piontkovsky
What Does China Want?
François Godement
W W W . A S P E N I N S T I T U T E . C Z
POLITICS India and China—More Similar than You might Think P. Mishra | Ukraine’s Fateful Choice A. Motyl
ECONOMY Russia’s Economy After the War V. Inozemtsev | Is Turkey Economically Doomed? K. Ali Akkemik
CULTURE An Overlooked War A. Kaczorowski | Tea with Tony and Tim A. Tucker
No 3 | 2014
Advisory Board
Walter Isaacson (co-chairman), Michael Žantovský (co­‑chairman),
Yuri Andrukhovych, Piotr Buras, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Josef Joffe, Kai­
‑Olaf Lang, Zbigniew Pełczyński, Petr Pithart, Jacques Rupnik, Mariusz
Szczygieł, Monika Sznajderman, Martin M. Šimečka, Michal Vašečka
Editorial Board
Tomáš Klvaňa (chairman), Luděk Bednář, Adam Černý, Martin Ehl,
Roman Joch, Jan Macháček, Kateřina Šafaříková, Tomáš Vrba
Aleksander Kaczorowski (editor-in-chief ), Maciej Nowicki (deputy
editor-in-chief ), Robert Schuster (managing director)
Tra n s l at o r s
Tomasz Bieroń, Julia Sherwood, Klára Velická
Published by
Aspen Institute Prague o. p. s.
Palackého 1, CZ 110 00 Praha
e-mail: [email protected]
Year III
No 3/2014
ISSN 1805–6806
© Aspen Institute Prague
The ideas expressed in the articles are authors’ own and do not
necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or of the Aspen
Institute Prague.
F O R E W O R D Radek Špicar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
E D I T O R I A L Aleksander Kaczorowski. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
C O V E R S T O R Y The Rise of Illiberalism
Putinism, Orbanism… But Is There an “Ism”?—Jan-Werner Müller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Rise of Illiberalism. An interview with Ivan Krastev by Maciej Nowicki. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Did Austerity Kill the European Dream?—José Ignacio Torreblanca. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
European Far Right and Putin– Peter Kreko. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
C O M M E N T Martin Šimečka. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Putin Cannot Sleep Peacefully. An interview with Andrei Piontkovsky by Filip Memches. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
C O M M E N T Alexander Motyl. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
What Does China Want?—François Godement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
India and China—More Similar Than You might Think—Pankaj Mishra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ten Years in the European Union: The Czech Republic—Tomáš Klvaňa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gavrilo Princip’s Afterlife—Wojciech Stanisławski. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On the “Wrong” and “Right” Ukrainians—Mykola Riabchuk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The New Generation of Russian Warfare—Jānis Bērziņš. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Finding a Visegrad’s Raison d’Être—Dariusz Kałan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
C O M M E N T Adam Balcer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Russia’s Economy After the War with Ukraine: Where Is It Heading?—Vladislav Inozemtsev. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Lithuania: Cold Winds Blowing from the East—Zygimantas Mauricas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Is Turkey Economically Doomed?—K. Ali Akkemik. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Economic Transition and Its Critics—Leszek Jażdżewski. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Polish Business Class—Krzysztof Jasiecki . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
C O M M E N T Martin Ehl. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An Overlooked War—Aleksander Kaczorowski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
The Great War as a Conflict Full of Paradoxes—Robert Schuster. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
En Route to Totality—Radek Schovánek. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Tea with Tony and Tim – Aviezer Tucker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Notes from Underground—Roman Joch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
Farewell to Agneša Kalinová: No Tears, Only Laughter!—Marta Frišová. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
Dear readers,
compares the 1930’s Great Depression and its
effect on democracy with the recent global
economic crisis and its resulting imprint on
the European Union. Torreblanca connects the
swift rise of extremist parties in Europe to the
current economic crisis.
Whereas the new Aspen Review issue deals
predominantly with general political tendencies across Europe, our activities this fall revolve
around the concept of placemaking and its
economic impact. In mid September with
several other non-profits, we helped organize
Praga Caput Cultura conference, devoted
to the importance of culture for the development of the Czech Republic’s capital city. In
October, we continued with a panel discussion Changing Perception of Public Space:
Between Opportunity and Responsibility
at the 18th Forum 2000 Conference. Invited
panelists, architect Adam Gebrian, artist Krištof
Kintera, photographer and activist Illah van
Oijen, and Tomáš Ctibor, Managing Director of
the Prague Institute of Planning and Development, debated public and private approaches
of a post-Communist societies toward public
I am delighted to introduce the newest
issue of our quarterly! It addresses the
persistent phenomenon of illiberalism. In the
aftermath of the economic crisis, we have
observed a rise of populism and extremism in
politics; hence, this Review offers you several
in-depth analyses of current undemocratic
tendencies in Europe.
During the recent economic downturn,
capitalism and liberal democratic institutions
have lost the trust of many Europeans. Interviewed by Maciej Nowicki, Ivan Krastev agrees
that an alternative to liberal democracy has
arisen in Europe. In fact, some politicians such
as the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán,
argue that liberal democratic societies cannot
remain globally competitive and suggested
a new course — one inspired by political
models of China, Russia, Turkey or Singapore.
In Jan-Werner Müller’s article, you will find
an analysis of Putin’s and Orbán’s political
ideologies and their position in the European
political landscape. In the Economy section,
José Ignacio Torreblanca asks: “Did Austerity
Kill the European Dream?” In his analysis, he
Four.” The study, along with a brief manual for
crowd-funders, can be downloaded from our
Currently, we are preparing the next Aspen
Young Leaders Program, a four-day event in the
beautiful Slovak Low Tatra Mountains. Talented
individuals from the Czech Republic, Hungary,
Poland and Slovakia with exceptional potential
in their professional fields will learn about the
challenges of good leadership from experienced politicians, businessmen and scholars.
The Program, taking place in March 2015, is now
accepting applications from potential participants. I invite you to have a look at our website
or Facebook to obtain more details.
I wish you a pleasant reading.
Our key event of this fall was the OPEN UP!
Creative Placemaking Festival. The event,
spanning over two days and two cities, brought
together foreign and local placemaking experts,
representatives of local administrations and
businesses, who reflected on arts and culture
driven revitalization and its economic impact
on community development. Among our most
prominent guests were Ann Markusen, American economist and advocate of the creative
placemaking concept, Andy Robinson, director
of Futurecity, Igor Marko, a successful Slovak
architect based in London, and Daniel Latorre,
an expert on digital media. The speakers and
audiences enjoyed typical creative placemaking
venues: the conference’s first part took place
in DOX, Centre for Contemporary Art, and
the second was hosted in Pilsen at two sites:
a revitalized Paper Manufactory and old Culture
Also in November, we presented the results
of the Crowdfunding Visegrad project. This
comparative study evaluates the use and potential of community financing in the “Visegrad
Executive Director
Aspen Institute Prague
Photo: Aspen Institute Prague
Brotherly Help
Aleksander Kaczorowski
In May 1968 the Prague office of Izvestia
gained a new employee. “Although I did not
understand what this new colleague was
supposed to do, I was not interested in that.
It was better to mind your own business,”
recalls Vladen Krivosheev, Izvestia’s Prague
correspondent at that time. “Then I got a
second company car, a new Volga, and my new
colleague started to use it.”
Few weeks later the Czechoslovakian
press reported a discovery of a secret arsenal
in Western Bohemia. “Weapons allegedly
belonging to counter-revolutionaries were
found under a bridge; there was even an
appropriate photo,” says Krivosheev. “But it was
enough to take a good look to see that these
were old guns wrapped in rags. It looked odd,
Czech journalists quickly established that a
Volga car was seen in the vicinity of the bridge
on that day. One of them called Krivosheev
and said, “Listen to me, have you recently
been in Western Bohemia?” He denied, but
the caller insisted: “Your car was seen there.”
“How come?” asked the correspondent of the
Soviet daily, “it is parked in front of my house.”
“But you have two cars, and the second one
was there.” “I immediately realized that my
new colleague must have been involved,”
Krivosheev admitted many years later.
The Izvestia journalist guessed that his new
co-worker was a KGB officer. He realized, too,
that the KGB activities where preparations for a
military intervention. “From May or June 1968
it was clear that the invasion was only a matter
Editor in Chief of Aspen Review
Photo: Jacek Herok
of time,” he recalled in an interview published
in the book 1968 Invasion: the Russian Perspective (2011), edited by the Czech TV correspondent in Moscow (and more recently in Warsaw
and Ukraine) Josef Pazderka. But what alarmed
him the most was that the Soviets apparently were happy to see anything that might
indicate a threat of a “counter-revolution” in
Czechoslovakia. He could not understand why
this was happening. What interest the Kremlin
could possibly have in stirring up emotions in
a “brotherly country”?
A document discovered in Leonid Brezhnev’s desk after his death (and disclosed in
1995 by Izvestia) says literally: “The political
situation in Czechoslovakia is now [that is, in
the spring of 1968] relatively complicated—it
must be made even more complicated [sic!].
To do this, a wide range of special disinforma-
occupation of Czechoslovakia: “The protests
voiced by the governments of these countries
have, in fact, been purely formal, symbolic.
They do not have a slightest impact on our
relations, including economic ones. Now no
one can doubt that when the CPSU and the
Soviet Union say that they are definitely ready
to prevent even a single element of the socialist
chain from dropping out, it is not just empty
On the other hand, hopes for help from
the West—entertained by many residents of
Central Europe—proved futile. “The ‘bourgeois
world’ wanted only one thing: stability,” believes
the Russian historian Olga Pavlenko. “In such
circumstances, Moscow had a free hand within
its sphere of influence.”
Of course, the methods of provocation and
disinformation tested almost half a century ago
are strikingly similar to the methods currently
used by the Kremlin against Kiev. But more
important is that—like then—the “bourgeois
world” wants only one thing: stability. The situation of the West is indeed in many ways more
difficult than in 1968. First, the subsequent
acts of the Middle Eastern drama going on
since 2003 are more of a challenge and threat
to the security of Europe than the Vietnam
War ever was for America. Second, students,
leftists, baby-boom generation pacifists and
their Eastern European peers—dissidents—
who are “demanding the impossible,” have
been replaced in the West by anti-European
nationalists and Islam-haters, and in the East by
advocates of financial oligarchy and supporters
of “illiberal democracy.” Third, since the 9/11
attacks America sees Russia as a necessary
element stabilizing the world order—and in
the Kremlin they know it and draw appropriate
But the biggest problem is the hubris of the
leaders of the major powers. This hubris makes
them sit at a separate table even at formal
dinners, consuming caviar and champagne
tion actions must be taken.” In May 1968 the
KGB was headed by one of the most influential members of the Soviet leadership, Yuri
Andropov. He was the mastermind behind the
operation, carried out with a flourish.
KGB was given the task to heat up the mood
in Czechoslovakia, to fabricate evidence of the
existence of a “right-wing opposition,” “armed
counter-revolution,” “revanchist elements,” etc.
“A profusion of civic initiatives and critique
of Stalinism was interpreted as evidencing
sinister plans aimed at tearing Czechoslovakia
away from the socialist camp,” says Nikita
Petrov, a historian of the “Memorial” Association. During the night of 20th August 1968,
three-hundred-thousand strong Warsaw Pact
troops entered Czechoslovakia. A month after
the invasion Pravda published a programmatic
article entitled “Sovereignty Versus Internationalist Obligations of the Socialist Countries.” It
says that the security interest of the “socialist
community” is more important than the
interests of its individual members, and therefore “you cannot oppose the sovereignty of
individual socialist countries to the interests of
world socialism.” Soon, the Western media have
described this text as the “Brezhnev doctrine.”
The Soviet leader was triumphant. First,
he consolidated his position in the Kremlin
(Brezhnev took power in autumn 1964 as a
result of an internal party coup against Khrushchev). Second, he filled a yawning gap in the
western flank of the Warsaw Pact (between
the Soviet Northern Group of Forces stationed
in Poland and Southern Group of Forces in
Hungary—as early as 1966 Brezhnev demanded
from Antonín Novotný, the then Czechoslovakian leader, to allow the deployment of Soviet
troops in Czechoslovakia). Third, he introduced
new rules to the game regarding the relations
of the Communist Bloc with the West. During
a meeting of the CPSU Central Committee in
October 1968, he unequivocally commented
on the reaction of European capitals to the
among themselves. “I could not drive away
a quite crazy thought that at this particular
table they would again chop all of us sitting at
other tables like sprats, without asking us for
our opinion,” said Vaclav Havel at Harvard in
1995. “But hubris is what leads the world into
hell. I would suggest something else: a humble
responsibility for the world.”
Today, a humble responsibility for the world
would require from the leaders of states and
societies in Central Europe a joint reflection on
the future of the region. True, such a postulate
sounds completely unrealistic, naive, ridiculous
even. But that is our problem, not of the super-
powers. There is no Big Brother you can blame
your own stupidity on.
PS. Václav Burian, my friend, poet and
translator, editor of the bimonthly Listy, one of
the leaders and perhaps the last Mohican of
cooperation in Central Europe, died suddenly
on 9th October 2014 in Vienna. He was 55. He
contributed to Aspen Review from the start,
he wrote an extensive review for the previous
issue. I hoped that from then on he would find
the time to publish regularly on the pages of
the “competition”... But he got a better deal from
the Editor of Human Souls... Goodbye to you,
Putinism, Orbánism…
But Is There an “-ism”?
Jan-Werner Müller
Putin and Orbán want to be strong leaders of what
are essentially weak countries. Their goal is not
an ideological world revolution, but a game
of outsmarting the West.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary
of Francis Fukuyama’s essay The End of History.
Since 1989 we have seen an endless history of
malicious or just plain ignorant misunderstandings of Fukuyama’s central claim: liberal democracy, as the then State Department official had
argued, was the only political system capable of
satisfying human aspirations for freedom and
dignity. In year 2014 the question whether there
is a competition of systems is back on the global
agenda. China has been successful at finding
admirers for quite some time (though it might
be a stretch to say that many Westerners are
dreaming the Chinese Dream) and Hungarian
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán advertised his model
of “illiberal democracy” this summer.
Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has
not just raised the specter of new Cold War—it
has also made many observers realize for the
first time that Russia seems invested in exporting
not just oil and gas, but also political ideas. Are
Putinism and Orbánism really ideologies, though?
They certainly are not, if nineteenth and twentieth century intellectual history serves as our
guide: there are no philosophical masters, no
fixed doctrines or little books (remember Mao’s
Little Red Book, or Gaddafi’s Green Book?) which
enthusiastic followers could pass around in study
circles. Yet it would be a mistake to think that an
imperative to preserve power, considered apart
from the regime’s self-presentation, is sufficient
to explain everything that happens in Russia
and Hungary. The systems of Putin and Orbán
respectively have their inner logic—and the West
better understand that logic.
When Viktor Orbán gave a speech on illiberal democracy at Summer University in Transylvania in July, the international outcry was almost
immediate. Yet Orbán was simply spelling out—
in concepts recognizable to the Western policy
establishments—what he had been practicing for
a long time: liberal theory, Orbán had concluded
many years ago, translated into the reality of rapacious capitalism; and freedom, in the absence of
an authority able to set proper limits, amounted
to the rule of the stronger. Such vision is easily
recognizable to many Hungarians (and many
people elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe)
who have lived through the transition since 1989.
On the other hand, it is harder to make sense of
Orbán’s alternative, which he called the “workbased state.” The term evokes Vichy France, with
its unholy trinity of “work, family, fatherland,”
but also seems designed to play on local pre­judices.* After all, who is likely to come to mind
first in Hungary, when the issue is work versus
non-work? The Roma. To the extent that the
“work-based state” has become reality already,
it has translated into workfare schemes that often
resemble feudalism—or something even worse:
feudalism, after all, is a fixed legal relationship;
but empowering local notables to make Roma
work as they see fit creates personal dependency
and a potential for all kinds of arbitrary behavior.
Orbán—despite what his intellectual apologists soon rushed out to claim—had criticized
not just economic liberalism: liberalism in politics
means a potentially chaotic pluralism, an unpredictable and perhaps unruly civil society—and
the possibility of institutions like constitutional
courts thwarting the will of popular leader. Orbán
had already outlined a political vision in 2009
according to which the Magyars needed rule by
a “central force” for decades—a plan reminiscent
of European interwar authoritarianism (such as
that of Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy). Such
authoritarian regimes tolerated limited pluralism
and more or less free elections, but never allowed
for the possibility of a substantial turnover of
It is disconcerting how often the international
critics of Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” were willing
to concede the point that Hungary, even with
Orbán’s vision fully realized, would still be
a proper democracy—just not a liberal one.
Surely, periodic elections are not all that is needed
for a country to qualify as democratic; one has
to factor in what happens before and after elections and how elections themselves are organized
(the OSCE condemned the last Hungarian vote
as free, but not fair). If media freedom is restricted,
civil society intimidated, and election laws
rewritten to suit the ruling party, one can hardly
leave the ‘d-word’ to those who (falsely) claim
that illiberal democracy is just another legitimate
version of democracy. Allowing Orbán to keep
democracy for himself is something like an
unforced semantic—and, ultimately, normative—
error for the West (where, to be sure, democracy
is not always in extremely good shape either).
It is disconcerting how
often the international
critics of Orbán’s
“illiberal democracy”
were willing to concede
the point that Hungary,
even with Orbán’s
vision fully realized,
would still be a proper
democracy—just not
a liberal one.
Does any of this elevate Orbánism to the
level of an ideology? There is no doubt that
Orbán has been eager to tie together a larger
package of ideas—one that in principle could be
an export article. He is not just prescribing policies
for Hungary, but frequently pontificates about
Europe as a whole: he recommends the primacy
of the nation-state, the overriding importance
of Christianity to provide moral foundations for
politics and society at large, and the promotion
of traditional family values. (As an enthusiastic
supporter of the regime explained to my wife this
past summer: “Every Hungarian woman should
have three children, and every Hungarian man
five.”) Arguably, ever since a prominent 2012
interview with the German paper of record, the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Orbán has been
* Thanks to Erika A. Kiss for this point.
trying to issue an invitation to European conservatives to join his cause, or, put more dramatically,
to ignite a pan-European Kulturkampf.
At least on paper, one would have thought
such invitation could be tempting to many
conservatives. After all, many West European
Conservative and Christian Democratic parties
have been moving to the center, in the process
becoming more Green, more secular, more
gender-conscious—and sometimes even,
God forbid, endorsing same-sex marriage. It is
a reasonable bet that there must be an untapped
reservoir of thinkers and politicians who would
identify with a national leader who aggressively
advocates what they feel they can no longer
avow openly.
Yet no Orbánist wave has swept the continent. One banal reason might be that Hungary
is politically too unimportant (and Russia is of
course politically too unattractive). Orbán’s rhetoric has not been considered too extreme by
Western conservatives. After all, Joseph Daul,
then President of the European People’s Party,
campaigned for “mon cher ami Viktor Orbán” on
Budapest’s Heroes’ Square in the run-up to the
Hungarian elections in April of this year. Criticism
of such shameless support for Europe’s premier
illiberal democrat has often been countered by
conservatives with the claim that, in supranational European politics, everybody stands by
their own man: the EPP has argued that the socialists have been condoning major misbehavior
by the Bulgarian and Romanian governments
respectively; therefore left-wing charges against
Orbán are pure hypocrisy.
On a more important note, defenders of Daul
and his ilk might say that being a nationalist is
not a crime in the EU. Orbán’s regime, however, is
not just about nationalism; its inner logic is more
specific (even if virtually all policies are of course
justified with reference to Hungarian national
interests). The combination of nationalism and
a particular kind of populism is truly distinctive.
Orbán has made it abundantly clear that only
he and his Fidesz party properly represent the
Hungarian nation and strive for the common
good of the latter; all other political contenders
are essentially impostors (who are supported
by self-interested outside forces such as the EU,
which, in the Fidesz imagination, does the bidding
of Western multinationals).
Putin and Orbán want
to be strong leaders
of what are essentially
weak countries; their
goal is not ideological
world revolution, but
a game of outsmarting
the West and deploying
limited resources on the
European or global stage
to maximum effect.
This logic also explains why Orbán has been
constructing what Martin Schulz, the President
of the European Parliament, once called a “Fidesz
state”: all positions in the state apparatus are
filled with party loyalists, and checks and
balances are disabled. After all, if one believes
that one truly serves or de facto is the nation,
what can be wrong with appropriating the state?
In the same vein, why not restrict benefits of the
“work-based state” to those who properly belong
to the “Fidesz nation” and exclude those who
do not truly belong: the Roma, the liberals, etc.?
What political scientists call “mass clientelism” is
not peculiar to populist regimes—but governments like Orbán’s can implement it with a good
conscience, so to speak. After all, everyone gets
what they deserve, based on the right understanding of the nation.
Once a Fidesz state is constructed, the next
logical step is to complete the project of a “Fidesz
people”—in a sense making the core populist
claim that only Fidesz truly represents the nation
in retrospect. The party needs to bring into existence the very people in whose name it has been
acting all along. We are witnessing this process
right now: the last remnants of independent civil
society are being attacked (with the claim, also
frequently voiced by Putin, that civil society organizations are steered by foreign agents); media
freedom is further restricted; and, most importantly for the long-term, the economy is highly
politicized. As my colleague Kim Lane Scheppele
has been pointing out, political loyalties and
connections have become crucial for success in
Hungarian business. In that sense, it is actually
too imprecise to call the systems of Hungary or
also Russia “authoritarian capitalism,” as Michael
Ignatieff has done recently. Without wanting to
sing the praises of pure, impartial capitalism, one
can note that crony capitalism is a category of
its own. And crony capitalism can also be justified with yet another nationalist-populist moral
claim: Orbán and Putin, often through outright
nationalizations, say that they put the interests
of the nation first.
Apart from the combination of nationalism
and populism, there is another peculiar characteristic of Orbánism and Putinism, noted especially
in the context of Russia by observers such as
Maxim Trudolubov and Peter Pomerantsev. The
preservation of power—an overriding imperative—is achieved with a number of innovative
political techniques: for one, Putin built an entire
Potemkin political landscape, with nominally
independent parties and NGO’s. At the same
time, power is highly centralized, and, as in the
days of Kremlinology, political analysis is often
reduced to Putinology and Orbánology: with
whom has the leader recently been talking? How
is—what might look like an irrational policy—part
of a brilliant long-term Machiavellian plan? How
do the rhetoric for domestic consumption and the
rhetoric for international audiences differ? These
are the typical questions one hears in and about
countries like Hungary and Russia.
Part of the success of Putin and Orbán is due
to their ability to constantly destabilize both
public and expert expectations. They conduct
a particular kind of information warfare (Putin)
or at least perform elaborate “peacock dances”
(Orbán’s words), where the EU is told one thing
and government conduct within Hungary turns
out to be something quite different. In that sense,
Putin’s and Orbán’s approach is exactly the opposite of old-style ideologies that follow a blueprint
which is contained—and accessible—in some
manifesto or book of political philosophy. They
want to be strong leaders of what are essentially
weak countries; their goal is not ideological world
revolution, but a game of outsmarting the West
and deploying limited resources on the European
or global stage to maximum effect. What matters,
then, is not the articulation of principles, but
successfully projecting the image of the populist leader who truly cares about the people,
knows what is best (even if he cannot always
reveal what he will do next), and will defend the
nation against its innumerable enemies inside
and outside. JAN-WERNER MÜLLER
is a professor of politics at Princeton
University. His recent publications
include Contesting Democracy:
Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century
Europe (2011) and Wo Europa
endet: Ungarn, Brüssel und das
Schicksal der liberalen Demokratie
Photo: Archive Jan-Werner Müller
The Rise of Illiberalism
The project of Orbán and Putin contains a fundamental
contradiction, which cannot be overcome. Therefore, their
utopia will never become more than a utopia—says Ivan
Krastev in an interview with Maciej Nowicki.
Viktor Orbán has repeatedly criticized the EU,
but recently he went much further: in a keynote speech he said that the European model
has become obsolete and that we should seek
inspiration in authoritarian countries, Russia
and China. How should we understand that?
Orbán is now the most influential European
leader after Angela Merkel. Many of the mainstream
politicians secretly want to emulate him. In our
part of Europe he is constantly gaining in importance, since the majority of Bulgarians, Romanians
and Croats perceive the years of emerging from
communism as one big disaster. The right-wing
opposition in Poland hopes that Warsaw repeats
the “Hungarian variant.” And the speech delivered
in Transylvania on 26 July 2014, made ​​the Prime
Minister of Hungary an even more important figure.
For the first time the leader of a EU country
bluntly presents illiberalism as his political
project. And on top of that as the model to follow
he names Russia, which is in a state of undeclared
war against the EU. Of course his speech was
criticized in the USA and Europe. And that was
what he wanted, he provoked that on purpose…
is a Bulgarian political scientist. He is president of the Center
for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Permanent Fellow at the Institute
for Human Sciences in Vienna and a member of the European
Council on Foreign Relations.
Photo: Center for Liberal Strategies
that the old order is no longer valid, and he is the
only leader who has the courage to say the truth.
This is strikingly remindful of the 1920s. Orbán
stresses that since he won two consecutive elections and he is unquestionably representing the
majority, this majority should rule. Also Stalin,
Hitler or Mussolini did not rule against their
nations. On the contrary, they enjoyed huge social
support. At that time liberalism was regarded as
a denial of true democracy.
Just like Putin…
Exactly. Orbán’s speech is based on the same
logic as was the annexation of the Crimea by
Putin. The Hungarian Prime Minister evidently
wants to underline that times have changed and
Of course, Orbán does not want to become
a new Hitler or Stalin. However, he does attempt
to change the nature of the European project, in
which pluralism and minority rights are the foundation of politics. And one more thing: many people
present Orbán as a freak of nature. Unfortunately,
he represents the mainstream in a larger degree
than we realize. What we are seeing today is a kind
of global revolt against the checks and balances
principle. Politicians have come to a conclusion that
under the current regime they are unable to overcome the crisis. Increasingly often they speak against
the independence of the courts. They attack the
sovereignty of central banks. They claim that voters’
control of the government should be weakened.
us to an opposite conclusion: when Russia does
something stupid, we will not react. Because we
are too codependent.
Historically, people like Orbán were brushed
off in one sentence: we used to say that these
are empty promises. But it no longer works that
way. Which of his promises did Hollande fulfill,
to name but one example? Orbán is dealing
with the economy better than Hollande. And
he is a whole lot more popular. Does this mean
that an illiberalism which works may become
a model for others?
The Europeans are dissatisfied with what they
have and they are waiting for a different future.
What does Orbán really promise? He is drawing on
the repertory from the 1920s. He wants to sell this
past as the future. The falsehood of this promise
will finally come out.
Besides Orbán is a very talented politician. He
has a phenomenal political sense. He knows where
the red line runs—he is always careful not to go
too far. So that Brussels would be angry, but not
punish him by taking the money away. Just like
with playing cards. If there is just one clever crook,
in the short term he is winning. Therefore Orbán
is winning so far. But when others start cheating,
the advantages are much less obvious. In short,
an EU with many Orbáns is unthinkable. It would
no longer be the EU, but some ruins.
Orbán used to be a liberal, which makes his criticism even more painful: in a way it is internal
criticism, coming from a former ally…
We have the liberalism of Mrs Merkel, which
is working. We also have liberalism which is not
working—in the majority of European countries.
And finally, we have the illiberal proposal of Orbán,
which is presented as the only alternative. Orbán
says: I tried to introduce liberal solutions and
I can’t see any advantages of this system. And he
is doing that at a time when the liberal consensus is
crumbling. In many post-communist countries the
majority perceives the transformation as a disaster
and wants someone to pay for the lost hopes and
thwarted lives. All over the West young people
see capitalism as a dead end. They are afraid that
they will have to fight for jobs with machines,
and even if they do get jobs, they will be treated
as machines. Most Europeans are convinced that
their children will be worse off than themselves.
And this is not all. The Ukrainian–Russian war
destroyed some more illusions. We wanted to
believe that economic codependence would bring
us peace and harmony. This made us conclude that
Russia would not do anything stupid, because it
was too dependent on us.
Yet today the whole row about the sanctions—
which many EU countries do not want—leads
If Orbán will not find too many people openly
imitating him, why is he so important?
Because Orbán’s case shows how weak liberal
institutions and the liberal order are. We are
constantly hearing that Orbán must be punished,
but then nothing happens. In short, one precedent
follows another. The existing order is eroding as
a result.
We have learned not to react to anything. Take
the recent elections to the European Parliament.
I don’t even mean the fact that the populists had
such a good result. This is not the worst. I am
shocked by something completely different—
that this populist revolt has not provoked any
anti-populist response. And the crisis is getting
even bigger…
Union could save these countries—turn the
former “warfare” into future “welfare,” belligerence
into prosperity. But now that has changed. Let
us take Scotland… The Scots almost left Great
Britain! We are seeing the same thing in Catalonia,
and we will soon see it in other countries with
strong minorities. The existence of the EU is now
an encouragement to destroy nation-states. Rich
provinces feel safe and do not intend to share
their wealth with anyone.
This is a very important point: does the EU
defend countries against globalization? Or, it
rather destroys and weakens states? We must
ask questions of this type…
So far on the one hand we have politicians
who build their position by attacking the liberal
order, like Orbán or Le Pen. On the other hand
we have those who want to defend the status
quo at all costs, they ensure us that everything is
going perfectly, although they themselves do not
believe it. The only thing which is completely
lacking is honest reformism. There are no people
who believe that liberal democracy is the best
possible system, while at the same time understand how many things need to be changed.
Marine Le Pen probably will never become
president of France, contrary to what some
polls say. Still, owing to her extremely strong
position, almost no one abroad is treating
France seriously…
We knew that France was economically much
weaker than it used to be. Le Pen’s successes did
to France what the crisis did to Spain or Italy—it
deprived it of a significant part of its influence and
a huge part of respect. Before it was France which
was “inventing “ the EU. Now the National Front
dominates in the French debate about Europe.
In Great Britain it is slightly similar: the UKIP
sets the tone in European matters, which makes
London grow distant from the Union.
As a result we have a different Europe.
Germany is increasingly dominant, because their
two mainstream parties, the CDU and the SPD,
are still very strong. In short, all this is not about
illiberalism of all kinds gaining power overnight.
We are seeing a series of gradual changes instead,
which make the Union change its overall shape.
There is no more talk about further enlargement.
Immigration policy will definitely be changed.
And this is just a beginning…
You claim that we are living in a “democracy of
distrust.” To what extent is this distrust a side
effect of the crisis? And to what extent is it an
essential feature of today’s world?
Both factors work hand-in-hand. Of course
without the economic turbulence we would
put more trust in the world and politicians. But
this lack of trust is also an important part of our
culture. We distrust not only politicians: we do not
trust anyone. Of course there was a moment
when this lack of trust in a way strengthened
the individual. A modicum of distrust can help us.
But today our culture has become a machine for
destroying any kind of trust. This is a fundamental
problem, for people who do not trust anyone
are unable to bring about any social change.
There is a saying that it is better to let yourself
be cheated than to trust no one. And what is
It is not only the fault of people like Orbán
or Le Pen. Joschka Fischer is on to something
when he says that the true problem lies with
mainstream parties which do not have a lot
of sensible things to offer.
The liberal order has many drawbacks and
it would be silly to ignore them. I will give you
another example: contrary to what is often said,
the true aim of the EU was not weakening the
nation states, but the exact opposite—saving
them. Germans and Italians brought themselves
into disrepute during the war and the French
collaborated with the Nazis to a much larger
extent than they would admit. Only the European
happening today? People go out to the streets to
protest. Yet the very next day they again do not
believe anyone.
against it, the world eventually does become
your enemy… This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You wrote recently that what we are experiencing today is in 1968 à rebours. What does
it mean exactly?
Back then the threat to the system came
from the left and today it is coming from the
right. In 1968 only the past counted, and today
the opposite is true. Then the dream was global
solidarity, today the uniqueness of the nation
is highlighted. The people behind 1968 were in
love with the “other.” Today the populists deify
their own community, people who are exactly
the same as them.
Orbán, Erdogan and Putin perfectly fit this
description. They are radical nostalgia-mongers.
And they want to defend their community against
the pressure of the outside world.
They do, nevertheless, have a powerful enemy
in this war: global capitalism. To global capitalism,
every closed border means a decline in profits.
And it is not certain that Russians or Hungarians support their leaders in that matter. They
have nothing against the exaltation of their own
nation, but they also want access to the benefits
of the global economy. Orbán and Putin therefore are in a very difficult position. Their project
contains a fundamental contradiction, which
cannot be overcome. Therefore, their utopia will
never become more than a utopia. Some people say that the solution is to
increase transparency in politics. You claim,
in my opinion correctly, that this is an illusion.
European political institutions have never
been as transparent as they are today. But at the
same time they have never been as distrusted.
One in three Europeans believes in the Union, and
nine in ten Greeks think that their government is
a thief. I think this proves something.
Today we are not protesting against governments, but against the very idea of being
governed. The global middle class does not
even believe in any form of government. It is
constantly chanting the slogan, “we don’t want
the government to do this or that.” It is incapable
of coming up with anything else. As a result it is
losing in importance, it is becoming more and
more alienated, because lower classes want
something completely different: they want the
government to help them.
Politicians of course know that distrust is
reigning in today’s world. And they do not even
try to recover the lost trust. They use a different
strategy: managing distrust. They try to persuade
the voters that their opponents are even less
trustworthy. In a word, they are winding up the
spiral even more.
And politicians such as Orbán and Le Pen are
the winners of this situation, becoming the
kind of “bankers of distrust.”
Orbán captures the confidence of the
Hungarians, pointing at the enemies of the
nation; stressing how hard it is to be a Hungarian
today—because almost the entire world is against
the Hungarians. Putin operates in exactly the
same way, but in a much more radical form. Such
a strategy ultimately always turns against the
politicians using it. If you constantly present the
world as an enemy and encourage people to fight
is Deputy Editor in Chief of Aspen
Review Central Europe.
Photo: Maciej Nowicki
Did Austerity Kill
the European Dream?
José Ignacio Torreblanca
To break this vicious circle, which threatens both the
European project and domestic democracy, Europe needs
growth and jobs
Comparisons between the current crisis and
the 1930s have been pervasive. With steep falls
in the eurozone’s GDP growth, rising unemployment, and protracted price stagnation, economists have consistently warned the EU and
Western leaders against repeating the mistakes
made back then. Alongside this, the rise of xenophobic and anti-Europe parties across Europe
since 2010 has led observers to note with preoccupation the possibility that, much as it happened
in the thirties, the euro crisis might erode and
eventually destroy liberal democracies and with
that, the European project.
While this is not the place to deal in depth
with the parallelisms between the current crisis
and the 30s, one cannot but note how prevalent
comparisons with the 30s have been. Rightly
or wrongly, the fact is that policy-makers have
constantly used the frame provided by the Great
Depression. Successive G-20 Summit meetings
since the crisis started stressed the need to avoid
repeating the mistakes made in the 30s. Meanwhile the IMF and other leading economists,
among them the most vocal, Paul Krugman,
have regularly criticised the EU’s austerity policies because of the risk that they would lead to
a 30s style depression.
The fact that comparisons have been drawn,
rightly or wrongly, is less telling of the 30s than of
the severity of the current crisis. In 2009, GDP fell
4.4% in the EU, with lows of -17% in Latvia, -14%
in Estonia and Lithuania, and -6.8% in Hungary.
Then, following a feeble recovery in 2010 and
2011, austerity measures sent the eurozone back
into recession (with GDP hitting -0.7% in 2012 and
-0.4% in 2013). The impact on employment, the
perennial Achilles Heel of the European economy
has been marked. Unemployment in the eurozone, which stood at 7.5% when the crisis started
in 2007, went up to 12.0% in 2013, with countries
such as Spain or Greece going well above 20%
(26.1% and 27% in 2013 respectively). With these
figures, representing 18.4 million unemployed
men and women, politics in many EU member
states have resembled a loaded gun just waiting
to be triggered by extremism.
Indeed, electoral results for fringe parties
form a large part of the story of the crisis, and they
tell a story of growing success and consolidation.
While correlation between two events does not of
course imply causation, one cannot but note the
coincidence between the success of these parties
in the polls and the crisis. Rather worryingly, we’ve
seen these parties succeeding across the Euro-
pean compass, from the “old” Western Europe to
the “new” Central and Eastern Europe, and from
the Parliaments of Southern Europe to those in
Scandinavia. With every election, their virus has
spread over the European map, culminating in
the European elections of June 2014 in which
they emerged as the first or second political force
in a series of key countries such as France or the
United Kingdom.
Their apparent ability to captivate the electorate in countries so wide apart geographically
and so different in political culture questions
whether “austerity” is the only culprit or, in fact,
just another among many. Moreover, while the
rise of far-right parties has been well-documented
by the press, the rise of similar parties on the left
(such as Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain)
or, for that matter, of parties like Beppe Grillo’s
Five Star Movement in Italy, all of which are difficult to categorize with the usual left-right labels,
challenges the temptation to prematurely close
the file and cry the 30s are coming back.
It is not only the ideological (left-right) variable that should lead us to pause. Geography
is also important, for though the rise of UKIP in
the UK might well have to do with Europe, since
the UK is not a member of the eurozone and still
enjoys monetary sovereignty, its rise can hardly
have much to do with austerity. The UK is not
the sole exception; the same can be said about
other non-members of the eurozone where the
far-right has been doing extremely well, such
as Hungary, Denmark, or, lately Sweden, where
the so-called Swedish Democrats have become
the third political force in the September 2014
Within the eurozone, the ultimate paradox is
that austerity policies have provoked the rise of
far-right parties in creditor as opposed to debtor
countries. Looking at the geography of far-right
growth across the eurozone, it is France, the
Netherlands or Austria, where these parties have
assumed the greatest relevance. In comparison,
it should be noted that, with the exception of
Greece, the eurozone countries that have been hit
hardest by the crisis (Spain, Portugal and Ireland)
have not witnessed any significant increase of
far-right parties. It is true that Spain, for example,
has seen both new populist parties emerge on
the left (Podemos) and an increase in another
type of populism: secessionism. Nevertheless,
a common sentiment prevails across politics and
society, and that is a desire to stay in the EU and,
more relevantly, in the eurozone. This sentiment is
present even in Greece, where the rise of neo-Nazi
Golden Dawn is a worrying development, still the
truth is that despite the suffering associated with
the Troika and austerity measures, the majority of
Greeks, including those voting for the new radical
left party represented by Syriza, are manifestly
pro-EU and eurozone.
A final fact to consider is that the majority of
these parties existed long before the crisis, thus
the crisis cannot be the sole factor to explain
them. Does this mean then that Europe and
austerity are irrelevant when explaining the rise
of these parties? Certainly not. It appears that the
crisis has given them the milieu in which to grow,
offering them a new narrative from which they
could reinvent themselves and reach new electorates. In the majority of cases, from the UK’s UKIP
to France’s Front National and others, the European crisis has provided them the opportunity to
espouse party positions on their traditional issues
such as immigration, identity and sovereignty.
In this sense, Europe has done a great service
to these movements: helping them detoxify
their original narratives, generally anti-Semitic
or purely fascist (like the original British National
Party or the French National Front as founded by
Jean Marie Le Pen, the current leader’s father)
and aim at a new target, the EU. Already a very
unpopular entity and one which can’t by its very
nature stand up for itself, EU is allowing national
governments to apportion it the blame for the
issues they collectively agree on.
Across the continent, the European Union,
presented in the form of a bureaucratic monster
which strangles the economy, the hand that
opens the gates to immigration, joblessness and
multiculturalism, or the agent which demands
too much solidarity towards the failed peoples
of the South or East, has now assumed the identity of the much hated political, economic and
cultural liberalism which all these parties claim
to oppose. In Western Europe, these groups tactically vindicate democracy and present themselves as “Democrats” (e.g. in Austria, Denmark,
Finland or Sweden), but in practice they stand for
authority and order, economic protectionism and
cultural assimilation (for any remaining doubts,
see their praises of Putin). In Central Eastern
Europe, however, due to their different political cultures and history, they do not hesitate
to present themselves as fascists and directly
challenge liberal democracy.
Despite their differences, all these parties,
radical right or radical left, from inside or outside
the eurozone, produce the same affect. They
polarize politics and narrow the political space
in which traditional centre-right or centre-left
parties have to compete. Their challenge is to
place traditional parties in a lose-lose dynamic:
they can either try to compete with fringe
parties by assuming part of their agendas (and
in doing so risk losing the centre and facilitating
the extremist political opposition), or they can
reach to the centre and ally with their traditional
political opponents in order to resist the assault
of the radicals. In following the first strategy,
they may have to sacrifice some policies, especially at the European level, and become more
belligerent on a series of issues like immigration,
thus losing legitimacy and capacity to act on the
European level. In following the second strategy
and combining with the traditional parties, they
might further alienate their voters and incentivise
them to move further to the extremes. In both
situations, they face considerable risks.
This is where austerity comes back into
the picture. To break this vicious circle, which
threatens both the European project and
domestic democracy, Europe needs growth
and jobs. Whereas the reasons for the growth of
populism are complex and are related to wider
phenomena such as globalization, immigration
and social change in contemporary societies,
it is evident that Europe has been failing in the
attempt to find the right mix of economic policies and political leadership. Europe is unlikely
to go back to the 30s and democracy at home
is thus not under risk. What is undoubtedly at
risk, if it keeps failing to deliver to its citizens, is
the European project. And here we can certainly
speculate as to whether historians in the future
will conclude that austerity killed the European
is Senior Research Fellow and Head
of the Madrid Office at ECF
Photo: Photo Archive European
Council on Foreign Relations
European Far Right
and Putin
Peter Kreko
Russian influence in the affairs of the radical fringes is a
phenomenon seen all over Europe as a key risk to European
stability, security and Euro-Atlantic integration. These
forces not only oppose deeper integration in the EU, but
also impede stronger ties with the United States, including
the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
In the autumn of 2014, a spy story like James
Bond novel was published in the Hungarian news
website index.hu1 , written by András Dezső. Very
interesting new information put Béla Kovács in
the spotlight, a Hungarian MEP for the ultranationalist Jobbik party in Hungary, who was
charged by the Hungarian prosecutor’s office with
espionage for Moscow earlier this year.
We cannot say that his life is extraordinary
in any way. His foster parents have grown up in
Japan, and his foster father was working at the
embassy for Moscow. He attended the American University in Japan and then continued
his university studies in Moscow. Then he was
allegedly running businesses in Moscow and
Tokyo, and then moved back with his wife to
Hungary in 2003. His wife’s life seems to be much
more atypical—especially if we look at it through
the lens of the conservative family model that
Jobbik is advocating for. She has at least two other
husbands beside Béla Kovács, one in Japan, and
another one in Austria. She seems to live the life
of the KGB spies, with a lot of travels and several
identities. The seriousness of such claims is reiter-
ated by the fact that even Jobbik leaders are just
half-heartedly defending him anymore and are
talking about the needs for investigations as well.
Béla Kovács has joined Jobbik in 2005, a year
when it was still only a small party of marginal
importance. He donated a considerable sum
to the party in a period when it was seriously
lacking resources—this fact was proven even by
the leader of the party, Gábor Vona. According to
Index’s article, “his rapid rise in the party hierarchy
was due in part to this and his generosity.” Due
to his extensive ties with Moscow, even his party
members called him “KGBéla” behind his back.
He was an important party member who
shaped the foreign policy of Jobbik and was the
key player in building the Russian-Hungarian
relations. For example, he organized several
trips of Gábor Vona to Moscow to meet with
politicians and important ideologues such as
“Putin’s brain”—Alexander Dugin. He managed to
become a member of the European Parliament in
2010 (and was re-elected in 2014), where he was
mainly responsible for contacts with Russia and
for energy policy. And he was quite successful,
for example he was a rapporteur three times as
an independent MEP (all of them about energy
policy) which is not so easy even for members
of the biggest groups in the European Parliament. It suggests that Kovács might have several
supporters in the European Union as well. Béla
Kovács was also very helpful when it came to
legitimizing Russian leaders and their goals: he
participated as an election observer at the 2012
presidential election2, and then at the Crimean
referendum for independence as well—finding
both processes, of course, free and fair.
Is Béla Kovács’s (not totally revealed) story
only an isolated one or does it point to a more
general pattern? What seems to be completely
obvious is that Russia has a lot of great admirers
among far-right players in Europe, and this is
more than just a platonic love.
We can find some important contradictions
here. First of all, Russian propaganda, which is
always blaming the government in Kyiv with fascist
sympathies, appears to be quite sympathetic to
these forces. Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage, Marine
Le Pen and others are frequent interviewees in
pro-Russian media outlets such as Russia Today.
Furthermore, there have been several meetings in
Moscow, Turin, and elsewhere, between far-right
players (including leaders of Jobbik, Lega Nord,
FPÖ, Front National) and high-level Russian stakeholders, which obviously shows a commitment
from Moscow to help these far-right parties.
Vladimir Putin even went as far as to call FN leader
as one of the most promising future leaders of
Europe in an interview with RIA Novosti.
A second contradiction is that these far right
parties want to dissolve the EU because they see
it as a threat to national sovereignty. Yet at the
same time they either want to side with Russia to
enter into the Eurasian Union (Jobbik) or create
a “Pan-European Union” (Front National). Golden
Dawn leader went so far as to say that Greece and
Russia are natural allies, and in return for its security, Greece must provide Russia with access to
the Mediterranean sea. It seems that while these
countries are concerned about national sovereignty when the West poses a “threat” to it (EU,
NATO), they are happy to sacrifice national sovereignty to Russia. And here lies the third contradiction: while these political parties are claiming
that they are defenders of national interest, they
act more like defenders of Russian interests. But of
course, we can see similar contradictions on the
pro-Russian far Left as well, since they (e.g. Syriza,
Die Linke) act like the mouthpieces of Jobbik.
They are supporting a nationalist, authoritarian
regime of huge social inequalities that openly
goes against the key values of left-wing ideologies: equality.
There are eight EU countries where we can
find relevant, obviously pro-Russian radical forces:
France (Front National), Italy (Lega Nord), Belgium
(Vlaams Belang), Austria (FPÖ), Hungary (Jobbik),
Bulgaria (Ataka), Slovakia (Slovakian National
Party, Marián Kotleba), Greece (Golden Dawn). In
two countries (UK—UKIP and the Netherlands—
PVV), these parties are in the process of shifting
towards a more pro-Russian position. All of these
parties (except Kotleba’s LSNS) have delegates in
their respective national parliaments and/or in
the EU parliament.
After the EU Parliamentary elections there are
fourteen far right parties with seats. They have an
ethnocentric ideology and aim to destabilize the
EU. They range from the neo-fascist organization
Golden Dawn in Greece to the very dissimilar
Freedom Party in the Netherlands. Eight of these
parties are obviously committed to Russia (such
as the Front National, which received 25% of the
votes and sent 23 candidates to the European
Parliament at the end of May alone). Two of these
fourteen parties are openly hostile to Russia, an
example being the far right True Finns Party in
Finland whose history with Russia explains its
stance. The remaining four parties are “open” to
Russia—such as Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party that
also voted against the resolutions criticizing Russia
in the EP and it has spectacularly more positive
coverage in the pro-Kremlin media than before.
These parties can be a royal route for Russia
to influence political decisions on the national
and the EU level. But even more importantly,
they may use this influence to stall or derail many
political discussions or decisions, to promote
Russia’s standpoint in diplomacy, and thus spread
the pro-Russian views regarding for example the
Ukrainian and the Syrian conflict.
Furthermore, these parties seem to support
Russia not only with statements, but also with
votes, both on the national and the EU level.
Far-right parties (along with some far-left parties
such as the Die Linke in Germany) voted against
the resolutions criticizing Russia for the annexation of Crimea in the European Parliament, as
well as against the Association Agreement with
Ukraine. When explaining this latter decision, Nigel
Farage claimed for example: “Amongst the long
list of foreign policy failures and contradictions of
the last few years (…) has been the unnecessary
provocation of Vladimir Putin. This EU empire
(…) stated its territorial claim on the Ukraine
some years ago. Some NATO members said they
too would like Ukraine to join NATO. We directly
encouraged the uprising in the Ukraine that led
to the toppling of the President Yanukovich, and
that led of course in turn to Vladimir Putin reacting.
(…) In the war against Islamic extremism Vladimir
Putin—whatever we may think of him as a human
being—is actually on our side. (…) I suggest we
recognize the real threat facing all of our countries (…), we stop playing war games in Ukraine,
we start to prepare a plan to help countries like
Syria, like Iraq, like Kenya… to try to help them
deal with the real threat that faces us.
These forces obviously aim to undermine
stability in Europe. Russian influence in the affairs
of the radical fringes is a phenomenon seen all over
Europe as a key risk to European stability, security
and Euro-Atlantic integration; especially in view of
the Ukrainian crisis. These forces not only oppose
deeper integration in the EU, but also stronger ties
with the United States, including the Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership. All this is important for Putin, given that he is interested in a weak,
divided, chaotic Europe, and these parties, most of
whom are rather on the rise and doing their best
to undermine the legitimacy of their respective
governments and the European project. But they
also pose a threat to the United States because
most far-right and far-left groups are anti-American and can undermine U.S. policy interests. They
could destabilize NATO by halting its expansion and
setting off a “chain of mass quitting.” These parties
are also against importing American shale gas and
the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Radical parties are stronger than before: they now
sit in the EU institutions and have a considerable
impact on the political environment and even on
the political decisions.
While there is a growing interest in this topic,
most of the links between the far-right players
and the Russian stakeholders remain unrevealed.
An important task of analysts, investigative journalists, intelligence services and national and
European stakeholders in the future is to explore
the political, diplomatic, personal and ideological
links between Russia and these far-right forces in
order to destroy their credibility and reveal their
true agenda. Europe and the West should be able
to defend themselves against the threats that are
coming from the inside—but encouraged and
amplified from the outside.
is the Director of Political Capital
Photo: Archive Political Capital
1 András Dezső: A glorious affair made by Russia. Index.hu, 09. 28. 2014. http://index.hu/belfold/2014/09/28/a_glorious_match_made_in_russia/
2 OSCE: Vote up to standard but lacked competition Rt.com, 5 March 2012 http://rt.com/politics/osce-observers-election-russia-871/
Frost in Central Europe
Over the past year, traditional defences against antiliberal
populism have been considerably weakened: the case of
independent media
group of four men and women is
positioned at each entrance to the
Budapest underground, checking
tickets. In this way Viktor Orbán‘s government
has artificially reduced unemployment and the
Hungarians seem to have easily got used to their
presence. For visitors from abroad, however,
the sight is rather oppressive as they are clad in
black uniforms, inviting the idea that at a single
command the groups of ticket inspectors might
be transformed into an army of quite a different
It is no longer possible to dismiss this vision
as just a hysterical response of left-wing liberals,
as Viktor Orbán would probably claim. The fondness for uniforms, as symbols of power and
control freakery, is a typical sign of an illliberal
regime, which Hungary is progressing towards at
the speed of a lightning. The space for freedom
of expression has now shrunk to some 20 percent
of those who read the remaining opposition
newspapers and online news services; NGO
offices are regularly raided by the police and
elections have become a demonstration of how
to use legislative changes to ensure remaining
in power and retaining a supermajority.
Hungary has become Europe’s laboratory for
the exploration of a possible future model. Meanwhile the same Europe—whose liberal democratic heritage Orbán disdains, while looking
up to both Russia’s and China’s authoritarian
capitalism—has subsidized Orbán’s laboratory
is editor of the Czech weekly Respekt
Photo: Archive Martin M. Šimečka
by billions of euros from eurofunds (by 2020
Hungary will have received 22 billion euros), and
Europe’s democratic right has been prepared
to keep Orbán’s Fidesz party in its ranks. No
wonder Orbán regards Europe as hypocritical
and cowardly. That, in fact, is exactly how Europe
has behaved.
Putin’s Allies
Orbán’s Hungary sounds two alarm bells. The
first shows that liberal democracy can degenerate into an illiberal regime, something that was
widely considered impossible. And the second
demonstrates that this kind of regime can function within the European Union, which has also,
until recently, been regarded as impossible.
This is also why, despite the growing popularity of the extreme Right, of the ilk of Marine
Le Pen’s Front National or Nigel Farage’s UKIP,
the real threat comes from Central Europe. Even
though this has not been evident, Hungary
isn’t the only country in this part of the world
where illiberal movements have been gaining
in strength. Unfortunately, there are a number
of factors that have enhanced their potential
while the Czech Republic has seen the stupendous rise to power of a politician who translates
his antiliberal views into direct action. Andrej
Babiš, the current Finance Minister, elbowed his
way into politics two years ago as one of the
country‘s wealthiest businessmen. He took care
of freedom of expression by buying two of the
country’s most influential dailies as well as its
most popular private radio station.
Oligarchs on the Rise
Neoliberal political movements share
a number of features, including a fascination
with Putin (Poland being the only exception,
possibly only because the country‘s history
doesn’t allow for it). The causes of the growth
of these movements as a political force are also
pretty similar: the global economic crisis, the
weakness of the traditional political parties,
immigrants (also the Roma and other minorities), and so on. In Central Europe, particularly
in Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics,
another common feature is increasingly coming
to the fore: a decline in freedom of the media
which have been been key defenders of liberal
democratic values since 1989.
A few years ago the Hungarian media underwent a dramatic shake-up in ownership, passing
into the hands of Orbán’s oligarchs in what was
Viktor Orbán’s first step on his route to power.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia this change
is taking place or has taken place over the past
year, at a frightening pace. Nearly the entire
press has passed from foreign (mostly German)
owners into the hands of local oligarchs, most
of whom have a political agenda of their own.
Andrej Babiš, the Czech Finance Minister and
leader of the country’s second largest political
party ANO, is but the most egregious embodiment of this ominous trend. The Czech tabloids,
i.e. the most widely read section of the press, are
currently owned by an investment company with
a long history of corruption and intimate links
between politics and business. The remaining
In Central Europe,
particularly in Hungary
and the Czech and
Slovak Republics,
another common
feature is increasingly
coming to the fore:
a decline in freedom
of the media which
have been been key
defenders of liberal
democratic values
since 1989.
On the face of it, Poland is a model European
country, but it is quite possible that as early as
next year Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who sees Orbán
as his political idol, might win the general
election. The praise for Prime Minister Robert
Fico’s pro-European policies in Slovakia has overshadowed a gradual decline in liberal values. By
rejecting European sanctions against Russia, by
opposing NATO and by increases in defence
spending, which he described as grist to the mill
of the “arms industry,” Fico has rejected the West
with an openness that is unprecedented. Mean-
media do not fare much better. Although a few
islands of independence remain, these are now
rather exceptions to the rule: that freedom of
Czech media has become illusory.
Until recently it seemed that a few key media
in Slovakia would withstand the pressure of the
oligarchs. However, at the end of August Penta
(an investment company that makes no secret
of its disdain for liberal democracy and is linked
to the greatest corruption scandal in Slovakia’s
modern history) bought up two key publishing
houses. Currently it is seeking to acquire a 50
per cent share of the publisher of the country’s
most influential newspaper, the daily SME.
Russia—corruption and authoritarian regimes
are closely interconnected. And who is the
arch-enemy of both? Why, the independent
media, of course.
It is too early to claim that the Czech and
Slovak Republics have embarked on Hungary’s
path in terms of domestic politics even though
antiliberal views are gaining in strength (Babiš
has recently voiced his support for restoring the
death penalty and, quite symptomatically, his
statement went largely unreported by the media
he owns). However, this year, for the first time
since 1989, the two countries as well as Hungary
have joined antiliberal forces in foreign affairs
by indirectly supporting Putin and turning away
from the West, at least verbally.
By taking this position the politicians have
signalled to their voters that liberal democratic
values are not worth defending, thus sowing
confusion in their fellow countrymen’s heads.
Once the media, owned by oligarchs, stop
exercising their job of being a basic corrective
to populist politicians, the road to antiliberal
politics will unfortunately lie wide open.
Confusion in People’s Heads
Most of these new media moguls made
their fortunes over the past twenty years thanks
to a vast system of corruption that has gradually corroded democracy to the extent that
the two cannot really be separated any longer.
They are the very people who have created this
system. As we know from many examples—
Hungary is being a recent one, in addition to
Putin Cannot Sleep
To retain power, the Russian president needs the loyalty
of the elites. However, this loyalty is not certain today—says
Andrei Piontkovsky in an interview with Filip Memches.
The annexation of the Crimea significantly
increased the support of the Russian society
for Vladimir Putin. The Russian opposition
is virtually helpless. Does this mean that the
Russian president can sleep peacefully today?
No. TV propaganda presented the annexation
of the Crimea as a huge geopolitical success, but
when war begins, the Russians always receive it with
enthusiasm. We recently celebrated the centenary of
the outbreak of the First World War. In 1914, a huge
crowd fell on their knees before the tsar, who came
to the balcony of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Three years later, Nicholas II was deposed.
The 85-percent support for Putin will also not last
long. The war in Ukraine produces many problems,
including economic ones, some of them a consequence of the sanctions imposed by the West.
is Russian journalist and political analyst, a mathematician
by training, author of many works on control theory. He was
the executive director of a Moscow think tank Center for
Strategic Studies, one of the leaders of the Yabloko party,
activist of the “Solidarity” movement. He belongs to the
leading authorities of the Russian political opposition. He is
the author of the book Another Look into Putin’s Soul (2006).
Photo: Wikipedia
In 1917 Russia there were significant
revolutionary forces, while today they are
probably absent.
Indeed, opposition parties have been pacified,
but this is not the main thing. In a war situation,
social attitudes are changing rapidly. For this
reason precisely has Putin decided on a truce.
Russia had been suffering heavy losses in Ukraine,
and the authorities had been trying to hide this
from the public, but this was no longer possible.
There were funerals of Russian soldiers, people
started to learn about casualties from the Internet.
Hence the authorities started speaking about
alleged volunteers. Whenever more coffins with
dead soldiers come in, public support for military
operations decreases.
What can it lead to?
The anti-war sentiment among the public could
spread onto the establishment and ultimately lead
the elites to overthrow Putin. We live in an authoritarian regime. Under such a regime the leaders
do not go away as a result of democratic rivalry.
Indeed, formal democratic mechanisms do exist in
Russia—there are even elections—but they are the
same sham as they were in the USSR. Dictators are
brought down as a result of a palace conspiracy. To
retain power, Putin needs the loyalty of the elites.
However, this loyalty is not certain now. It is no
secret that many among the president’s entourage
(both officials and oligarchs) have suffered heavy
losses because of Western sanctions. The value of
assets possessed by these billionaires suddenly
plummeted. And these are people accustomed
to prolonged stays in the West. They have their
houses there, their wives and children live in them.
And now they are wondering why they should lose
all this on account of the ambitions of one man.
and eastern part of Ukraine. But it turned out that
in six of them the idea of the “Russian world”—the
integration of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine based
on the community of language, culture, religion
and history—promoted by the Kremlin does not
find support. Instead of the New Russia there
is a small stub composed of truncated Lugansk
and Donetsk circuits, called Lugandon. For some
people the Minsk agreement with Poroshenko
amounts to treason on the part of Putin. So we
have two informal oppositions against the president within the regime: the doves from among the
establishment liberals and oligarchs, and the hawks
from among the siloviki. This of course does not
mean that Putin will be soon overthrown. However,
the more trouble Russia has in connection with
the crisis in Ukraine, the bigger the dissatisfaction
with Kremlin’s policy will be.
For now, however, these are only
Not necessarily. These people articulate their
grudges, admittedly within the limits of loyalty,
in the press. You can name here a text by Sergei
Karaganov. The author, regarded as an establishment liberal, delivers his view in a subservient
form. He addresses the president as a genius of
politics. He praises him for the victory that he
assesses the annexation of the Crimea to be.
And he encourages Putin to fight for yet another
victory—so that Russia would not be entrapped
by the West in the war against Ukraine. This is the
only way to formulate such a concept. But the idea
is clear. A significant part of the elite does not want
a Russian-Ukrainian war because it does not want
Western sanctions.
This would mean that the enthusiasm for
the annexation of the Crimea and satisfying
imperial appetites do not go hand in hand
with enthusiasm for bloodshed. Russians
perhaps yearn for the empire, but they
do not want to pay for the return of the
empire with a war, killing Russian soldiers.
The price of human life in Russia is lower than
in Europe, but still the Soviet Union is gone. The
overwhelming majority of Russians do not want to
die for the Donbas. The idea of ​​the “Russian world”
is doomed to failure. On the territory defined by the
Kremlin as New Russia there is no support for the
separatists. For the Kremlin to succeed, the regime
would have to decide on a great occupation of
southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.
However, the doves and hawks are fighting
among themselves for influence on Putin, for
supremacy within the political elite...
Correct. We are dealing with a struggle of bulldogs under the carpet. I already recalled Karaganov’s text. On the opposite side of the barricade
there are columnists such as Alexander Prokhanov
or Alexander Dugin. While Karaganov represents
And another part is in favour of this war?
Putin unleashed a chauvinist hysteria and may
fall victim to it. People from the military and security services, siloviki, have already started accusing
him of not being tough enough. For some time
he proposed the New Russia project. This entity
would contain eight districts from the southern
You get the impression that Putin is the
winner of this confrontation. He is laughing
away the sanctions imposed on Russia—as
if he believed that the West is incapable of
effectively counteracting the Kremlin.
The sanctions which have already been introduced are effective. They are the reason Putin is
satisfied with Lugandon. Take a look at the situation on the global markets, how the value of the
ruble has fallen against the dollar and the euro.
In Moscow prices went up by 15–20%. And this is
the result of just the weak first wave of sanctions.
If the West shows determination, then such steps
as disconnecting the Russian banking system from
the SWIFT or limiting imports of raw materials will
bring the Russian economy to its knees. For the
last two years it was mired in stagnation even
without any sanctions.
the “party of peace,” they express the position of the
“party of war.”You can also mention Igor “Strelkov”
Girkin, one of the leaders of the Donetsk separatists. “Strelkov” sharply criticizes the Minsk agreement between Putin and Poroshenko; although he
claims he is not attacking the Russian president,
only the traitors around him. Putin cannot satisfy
neither the hawks nor the doves. He must balance
their influence, and thus he is not going forward.
Why? While Karaganov is a representative
of the political establishment, Prokhanov or
Dugin do not belong to the Kremlin elite.
Are you sure? Over the past few months I have
not seen Karaganov on Russian television, while
Prokhanov and Dugin appear in it almost every
day. Your point of view is no longer valid. “The party
of war” hugely gained in significance.
So Siloviki have gained a significant
advantage over the liberals, who at the
beginning of Medvedev’s presidency were
predicted to come into the fore…
Dividing the Kremlin elite into siloviki and
liberals was always a simplification. The camp
of those dissatisfied with the economic consequences of Putin’s policy is rife with siloviki.
They are also billionaires. Then this community also includes people who are ideologically
motivated—they are genuinely in favour of the
concept of the “Russian world” and this is why they
are opting for escalating the war. Even Medvedev
is using chauvinist rhetoric now. For what until
recently was only the fringes, that is the views of
Prokhanov or Dugin, is now in the mainstream.
Prokhanov is the leader of the Izborsk Club, which
co-operates with Putin’s aid Sergei Glazev. He
proposed to the president that in the light of
the Western sanctions Russia should disconnect
its banking system from the international SWIFT
network. Putin has rejected this idea for now. He
maintains a confrontational, anti-Western stance,
but he does not want to sever the economic relations with the West.
This brings us to another matter—Western
countries do not have a unified Russian
policy. The USA take one course, Germany
takes another course and such countries as
Slovakia or Hungary take yet another course.
America does not have such close economic
relations with Russia as Germany, so for Washington the sanctions do not constitute such an
economic problem as they do for Germany. Introducing the existing sanctions, Germany has already
gone quite far. Cutting off Russian banking or
energy sector from Western loans is a major blow
for the economy. If Putin successfully implemented
the idea of the “Russian world” in Ukraine, his next
targets would be other countries with a Russian
minority—not only Belarus and Kazakhstan, but
also such NATO countries as Estonia and Latvia.
European countries, however, are not worried
about these threats as much as about their own
economic losses.
What are the reasons for such radicalisation
of the political discourse in Russia?
It has not happened suddenly. Anti-American propaganda has always been there. As has
How does this situation translate into
Russia’s relations with Belarus and
Kazakhstan, that are the countries with
which it builds the Eurasian community?
These relationships have soured. Putin was
angry during the negotiations with Poroshenko
in Minsk, because Alexander Lukashenko and
Nursultan Nazarbayev did not support him. They
behaved like conciliators and mediators. This is
why Putin later spoke about Kazakhstan with
contempt—he said that there had never been
a statehood there. In turn, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and
other Russian politicians began to remind people
that a lot of Russians live in the north of Kazakhstan. So Nazarbayev has a cause for concern—
the idea of ​the “Russian world” could in fact be
a pretext for uniting the north of Kazakhstan with
Russia. And as far as Belarus is concerned, the
Kremlin has been trying to swallow this state for
20 years. Lukashenko is effectively opposing that.
juxtaposing Russia to the West. It did not appear
under Putin’s presidency. We are dealing here with
hangovers which are plaguing the whole political
elite in Russia. They stem from the defeat in the
Cold War, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the loss
of the Empire. Now we are only observing their
exacerbation. They have assumed a clinical form.
This is Putin’s work, because he got very scared of
the spectre of the Maidan in Moscow, which would
mean losing power for him. The experience of
the Arab revolutions had a heavy impact on him.
Putin saw what happened to Hosni Mubarak and
Muammar Gaddafi. His aim now is staying in power
until the end of his life. This is why he decided to
stop Ukrainian revolution in its tracks.
You said in the beginning of our conversation
that in terms of mentality Russians and
Ukrainians are similar to each other. Yet
admittedly the political systems in Russia
and Ukraine are significantly different. While
in Russia we have a soft authoritarianism
clad in democratic procedures, in Ukraine
we have a plurality of political clans which is
closer to real democracy.
This is true. Ukrainian society is politically more
developed than Russian society. In Ukraine, as
opposed to Russia, there have been presidential
elections the result of which you could not predict.
In terms of economic systems the power in both
countries held by cleptocracy, that is oligarchs.
And who are they? Yes, they are very rich people,
but not only that. The oligarchic system means
merging power and money. An oligarch multiplies
his fortune, because he is close to the ruling circles.
This was the case of Viktor Yanukovych, who in
2010–2014 incredibly enriched himself and his
family. In this sense, Ukraine taking the European
course and adopting European standards meant
attacking the oligarchic system. And this was also
what Putin feared. He started the war with Ukraine,
because such viruses as the Maidan revolution and
selecting the European development path by Kiev
could turn out to be contagious and reach Russia.
What remains for Russia then is to seek
allies in other parts of the word—especially
among the BICS. This year there was much
talk about an agreement on economic
cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
Russia cannot be an ally of China. It may only
be its vassal. People in the Kremlin probably even
realize that and yet they are going that way. One
must add to that the Chinese demographic invasion of the Siberia and the Far West and the historically grounded territorial claims against Russia.
This is a very dangerous policy that will end, first
de facto and then de jure, in annexing the Far East
and a significant part of Siberia to China. FILIP MEMCHES
is a columnist of the Rzeczpospolita
Photo: Archive Filip Memches
Ukraine’s Fateful Choice
kraine stands at a crossroad. Russia and
its proxies have seized about a third of
the eastern Ukrainian industrial region
known as the Donbas. Kyiv insists the territory is
an indivisible part of Ukraine. Moscow agrees—
at least officially, while insisting that the region
acquire an autonomous status that would enable
it—and Russia—to veto any Ukrainian move
If Ukraine holds on to the Donbas enclave
controlled by Russia, it will revert to its status of
a vassal of Russia and have to bear all the costs
of the region’s reconstruction. Russia, in turn,
will acquire leverage over Ukraine and get away
without paying for the destruction she and her
proxies caused. Once again, Ukraine will become
an impoverished colony incapable of reform and
unable to integrate into the West, while Russia
will retain its status as an imperial overlord.
In sum, the choice for Ukraine—and, politically, it is a very painful choice—is between
independence, democracy, and Western integration on the one hand and retention of the
Donbas enclave, political decay, and Russian
hegemony on the other. Russia’s dictatorial president Vladimir Putin knows this and is hoping
that an exalted sense of Ukrainian nationalism
will trump common sense and produce a disaster
for Ukraine.
If Kyiv keeps the enclave, it will be permanently saddled with a region that has consistently been most pro-Russian, most pro-Soviet,
most anti-Ukrainian, and most anti-Western in
its outlook. Those attitudes are unlikely to have
is a professor of political science at Rutgers University, a specialist
on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR.
Photo: Aleksandr Chekmenev
changed much during the last six months of
fighting and they will remain an obstacle to any
kind of move westwards.
Secondly, Kyiv will be permanently saddled
with the most reactionary political forces in
Ukraine: the terrorists who control the self-styled
Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics; the
Party of Regions that has sustained the corrupt
rule of former President Viktor Yanukovych; the
still Stalinist Communist Party of Ukraine; the
Russian Orthodox Church; the oligarch Rinat
Akhmetov; the Russian military authorities and
security services running the region; all manner
of Russian fascists, nationalists, supremacists,
and imperialists who streamed into the Donbas
to promote the region’s independence. Whatever
the political arrangement that Kyiv develops for
the region—decentralization, autonomy, federal
status, or something else—these forces, abetted
by Russia, will always be able to blackmail Kyiv
and prevent it from adopting pro-Western
reform measures. At best, Kyiv will be enmeshed
in endless, fruitless, and time-wasting negotiations with political troglodytes. At worst, the
enclave will serve as a conduit for Russian interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Thirdly, while Russia and its proxies have
destroyed vast swathes of the areas they
control, Ukraine, if it retains the enclave, will
be the one to shoulder all the costs of the area’s
reconstruction. Given that the area will exert
political blackmail on Kyiv, Ukraine will have
no choice but to sacrifice the economic development of the rest of Ukraine to that of the
Donbas enclave. The following data suggest
the extent of the destruction and the size of the
subsequent burden on Kyiv: industrial production in Donetsk province has fallen 29 percent,
while that in Luhansk province has fallen 56
percent. In particular, the following spectacular
drops have been recorded: 46 percent in light
industry; 41 percent in the chemical industry;
34 percent in machine building; 22 percent in
construction materials; 19 percent in pharmaceutical production; 13 percent in metallurgy; 13
percent in the coal industry. If Ukraine were not
on the verge of economic collapse—if Ukraine
were like West Germany after the reunification
with East Germany—the economic burden of
reviving Donbas might be manageable. But
Ukraine is not West Germany. Putin knows that
the enclave will retard Ukraine’s modernization and thereby freeze its neocolonial status
as a supplier of raw materials and low-quality
goods to Russia.
If, alternatively, Kyiv abandons the Donbas
enclave, all three of the negative consequences
listed above will be elided. Better still, lacking
a common enemy, Kyiv, the reactionary political
forces will turn on one another, and saddled with
the destruction it caused in the Donbas and
Luhansk People’s Republics, Moscow will have
to bear the costs of reconstruction or risk their
alienation and the collapse of Putin’s imperial
Is it better for Ukraine
to become modern,
independent, and
prosperous without
the Donbas enclave,
or is it better for Ukraine
to remain whole—and
a colony of Russia?
That is the choice.
Moreover, the economic costs of abandoning the enclave may be quite manageable
for Ukraine. As the authoritative Ukrainian Week
magazine points out, although Donetsk province
accounted for 17.5 percent of Ukraine’s industrial
production and 17.9 percent of its exports, the
lion’s share of that is produced by enterprises
that are located on territory controlled by Kyiv.
Ditto for the still-untapped Yuzovka shale gas
field and over 50 percent of Donbas coal mines,
most of which are fully intact—in contrast to
the others in the enclave, which were severely
damaged during the fighting. Kyiv will retain
control of most of Luhansk province’s agriculture, chemical industry, as well as the important
Lysychansk oil refinery. Moreover, Kyiv will no
longer have to fork out millions for pensions
and the upkeep of disloyal government and
security apparatus. Indeed, Luhansk and Donetsk
provinces—and, especially, their rustbelt industries—have been the recipients of vast amounts
of government subsidies. Those subsidies would
become largely irrelevant, while many of the
region’s loss-making industrial products and
much coal can be bought for comparative prices
Overall, Ukraine would benefit from abandoning the Donbas enclave, while Russia would
lose from having to become its caretaker. The
enclave itself is likely to go into steep and irreversible decline as a Russian protectorate, its
population—and especially its professionals
and middle class—are likely to leave for good,
and its deindustrialization is likely to proceed
apace. That will spell hardship for the residents
of the region, but it will not be tantamount to
the humanitarian catastrophe of a war. As the
region becomes a no-man’s land, it is also likely
to cease being a bone of contention between
Russia and Ukraine. An enduring peace might
even be possible.
All that is possible only if Ukraine abandons
its visions of territorial indivisibility and thinks
in cost-benefit terms. Is it better for Ukraine to
become modern, independent, and prosperous
without the Donbas enclave, or is it better for
Ukraine to remain whole—and a colony of
Russia? That is the choice.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has
stated that Russia rejects the notion of transforming the Donbas enclave into a “second
Transdnistria”—that is: into a frozen conflict.
Ukraine should reject Russia’s rules and deny
Lavrov his wish.
What Does China Want?
François Godement
Xi Jinping is establishing a system of checks without
balances. Although this intention defies the political
science equivalent of the law of gravity, his first two years
in power appear to be a success.
Two years after Mr Xi Jinping’s accession
to power over China’s Party-state and over the
military, the lines have hardened considerably
inside China. For one, most of the fairly public
debates that seemed to embody a political life
of its own for China have been either terminated
or considerably toned down. Then, a World Bank
report endorsed by key Chinese institutions could
clearly present extensive structural reform as
the only choice available to keep China on its
path of success. China’s prime minister along
with elements in the rump legislative assembly
and in the legal professions repeatedly staged
advocacy of rule by law and of constitutionalism
for the People’s Republic.
On China’s prosperous Southern coast, peasants demonstrated to get back the land that
had been acquired from them at outrageously
low prices at the beginning of the reform years.
These years had also seen ugly and open expressions of a new nationalism—culminating in
riots and violence against owners of Japanese
cars in September 2012. The succession year
was marked by the high drama of China’s most
flamboyant Party politician, Bo Xilai, falling from
grace in a murder case that Hitchcock would
have dreamed of, followed by the exposure of
gangland type elimination of tycoons tied to
a local rival.
All that has stopped. It is now at the periphery
of China—in Hong Kong where the “one country,
two systems” deal still allows for the expression of
dissent, or in Xinjiang where a violent cycle was
ignited with bouts of terrorist action followed by
massive repression, and also in the bloodless but
ominous tension at the edge of China’s maritime
domain—that open contest is taking place. All is
quiet at the centre, at least in appearance. There
is in fact a suffocating absence of public debate
on most issues of concern for China.
The enforced silence does not only hit liberals
or reformers. Has anyone seen an anti-foreign
demonstration lately in China? During the last
year, not only have there been growing tension
with Japan, and plenty of occasions to express
historical grudge against Tokyo: but the streets
that echoed with anti-Japanese slogans only two
years ago are now quiet. After China installed
a deep water exploration rig in waters claimed
by Vietnam, anti-Chinese riots ignited in Vietnam,
causing thousands of Chinese workers to flee:
there has not been a single public protest in
China after these incidents. “Mass incidents”
in general, or instances of collective protest
might, for all we know, be just as frequent as
they were before 2012. Only their numbers are
no longer cited, even informally, and popular
protest now goes unnoticed—perhaps one of
the latest instances was the movement staged by
relatives of the passengers of flight MH 370. But
of course what we tend to see most is the stifling
of liberal or dissenting opinion. The increased
censorship of the web and social media, the
silencing of debates on constitutional issues, and
the repression of activists—of which the most
striking example is the life sentence recently
meted out against Ilham Tohti, a mild academic
advocate of rights for Uighurs—is what catches
the eye.
Yet it is the silence that should attract most
our attention, because it speaks more loudly
than words of the Party-state’s ability to buck
of personal rule: not only had it been banished
after the extremes of Mao’s reign, but also Bo
Xilai had been taken down precisely because he
embodied that risk.
Yet here we are, with a strong leader who
took over the trinity of Party, state and army
posts from the very first day, who has accumulated anywhere between eight and twelve top
leadership functions since that fast track start,
who has relegated prime minister Li Keqiang,
China’s number two, to a humble existence in his
shadow, and whose newly minted thoughts are
the most often rewarded subject of research at
China’s Academy of Social Sciences. Most of all, in
a system where a basic assumption was that the
top leadership is first preoccupied by domestic
issues, Xi Jinping has taken a confidently assertive stance in foreign policy and has visited 32
countries, from Russia to the Maldives, from the
United States to the Republic of Congo.
Most of all, he has silenced the other leaders,
whether we see them as colleagues (a term he has
used rather than comrades) or as potential rivals.
A long and strenuous anti-corruption struggle
has taken down China’s former no. 1 security
boss, so far with almost no official publicity, as
well as high military figures, and has decimated
the ranks of China’s oil and energy sector in
what is also widely seen as a corralling of Jiang
Zemin, China’s Godfather-like former leader of
1995–2002. Unlike his immediate predecessor,
who avoided direct exposure to the masses,
Mr Xi craves photo opportunities in what looks
like personal campaigning—to the extent of
taking a taxi ride in Beijing or slurping dumplings at a downscale eatery. He has implicitly
denounced Gorbachev, Eltsin and the men who
brought down the Soviet Union, and instead
of moving towards separating Party and state,
he has brought increased control of the state
by the Party—a meticulous, top down control
that reminds one of Mao’s former alter ego Liu
Shaoqi; all of which does suggest a search for
a due process.
In a word, the question
of what does China
want is shaping up
increasingly into the
question of what does
Mr Xi want. Mr Xi has
accumulated power
more quickly than any
of his predecessors
since Mao.
the trend and “ride the tiger,” as Mao Zedong
used to say. Not much is really known about Xi
Jinping who has helicoptered his way to the top
in barely two decades (a short time for a Chinese
leader) and who came from a key insider family
of the regime’s formative years. Some political
scientists stuck to the idea of a slow transition to
institutional rule by way of collective leadership,
others saw a perpetual factional struggle inside
the Party between conservatives and reformers,
or between the scions of the regime (to which
Xi indeed belongs) and more plebeian cadres
rise through the ranks. Nobody saw the ascent
Mr Xi is establishing a system with checks
without balances, and although this intention
defies the political science equivalent of the law
of gravity, his first two years in power appear
to be a success. China’s economy may have
slowed—and there is no shortage of predictions
of doomsday bubbles—but it is still the world’s
fastest growing economy, with a record breaking
trade surplus achieved again in the summer of
2014, with ever expanding currency reserves that
provide for huge tied loans or prepaid purchases
of resources abroad. Many international firms now
have a Chinese fund as one of its main shareholders (which amounts to an internationalization of Chinese capital), while the renminbi itself
remains under capital controls, contrary to the
expectations of most liberal economists.
In a word, the question of what does China
want is shaping up increasingly into the question
of what does Mr Xi want. Mr Xi has accumulated
power more quickly than any of his predecessors
since Mao. The statement challenges, of course,
the unique figure of Deng Xiaoping, revered
in China and abroad as the man who started
China on the road to reform and opening up,
and who undoubtedly has made China’s voyage
to wealth and power possible. However, memory
fails the admirers who forget that after two years
of struggle in the dark (1976–1978) Deng had
to steer a conservative Party majority to reform
for eight years, until 1985. He had a free rein for
only three years, after which his own recoil at
demands for more change led him to ally with
his conservative colleagues from 1988 onwards—
bringing down his own reformist wing in the
process. By contrast, Xi Jinping currently appears
to have quickly manoeuvred himself at the apex
of power, with a series of quick alliance reversals
and a robust use of the anti-corruption tool in
a country where money has tainted everything
and everyone.
Grabbing power, however, is not the same
as using it, and considerable doubt remains as
to what Xi really wants. Can a man who cele-
brates the glory of Chinese civilization yet has
a discreet and unassuming daughter study at
Harvard, be one-sided? The same could be said
of a man who has dwelled in poetic Mao quotes
but fills Beijing libraries with the biography of
his own father—a leading moderate in an otherwise intemperate Party. The dualism appears
everywhere—in an ambiguous toast at the White
House in February 2012, or even more in the
recent visit to India, when 1 500 People’s Liberation Army soldiers appeared in Indian-controlled
Ladakh while Xi toasted Prime Minister Narendra
Modi in Gujarat. There are those who want to
reassure themselves with both of these incidents,
by suggesting a fragmentation of power that
shows Mr Xi, in fact, does not control the essential
instrument of state power in China—the People’s
Liberation Army and its projection in the near
abroad. The pattern of the incident, which had
a precedent on a smaller scale some days before
on another visit by a Chinese Prime minister, and
where the intrusion increased in size immediately
after Mr Xi left India, suggests otherwise.
For a period of unpredictable length, we
can assert China’s course through a study of
personal power and how it can either rigidify
the system or ram change throughout its circles.
We have already seen cases of both. Stopping
political debate as well as populist nationalist
expression belongs to the former, as does the
celebration of the military and of the possibility
of war. Nevertheless, presiding over an unprecedented expansion of e-commerce and e-banking,
putting China in the driving seat worldwide,
belongs to the latter. Deng Xiaoping, too, had
facilitated the sprouting of new enterprises rather
than face the direct reform of the state-driven
economy. Xi has considerably slowed down the
check book diplomacy for natural resources, from
the developing world to Australia: his profligacy
towards Mr Putin, with two recent energy deals,
may have a more strategic design and is in fact
not entirely proven, since the actual size of the
outlays remains secret.
Mr Xi has captured power, but does he possess
the dynamics of it? Political power is a mysterious
alchemy whereby you get others to want what
you want, beyond your own formal power. Mao
excelled in revolutionizing China by mobilizing
zealots and crushing his opponents under their
weight. Deng Xiaoping hinted more reform than
he could sustain, and achieved immense support
as the man who would save China from itself—
from the revolutionary tragedy. The only area
where Xi suggests a dream is in foreign policy,
with the suggestion of China’s past grandeur
being reborn. To control that policy, he can
brook no spontaneous expression, as he carefully
balances challenge and restraint towards China’s
competitors. Fine-tuning China’s rise implies a lot
of ambiguity: many incidents in the South and East
China Seas, not one casualty. A “new type of big
power relationship” with America, but there also
exists one with Russia. Funding the appearance of
a BRICS union with Chinese money, but endowing
it with IMF-like rules in order to limit financial risks.
Inside China, the limit of Mr Xi’s power lies in
the fear he instils in the Party state machinery.
Cadres will certainly obey any of his orders
and march over a cliff if told to. As the sword
of anti-corruption campaigns hangs over their
heads, it is a powerful deterrent against taking
any initiative. Can terror create reform? Catherine
II’s dilemma awaits Mr Xi. His private religion
probably lies more with the Party reformers and
enlightened scions of the CCP aristocracy, pedigreed movers and shakers, than with ideologues,
policemen and diplomats. He seeks transparency
not of the Party-state to the outside world—on
the contrary, secrets are better protected than
ever—but transparency within the Party-state:
the ability of the supreme leader to know all,
control all, and correct all faults. (There has also
been a nasty trend to make denunciations based
on private lives—in a country that has revelled in
obliterating Mao’s puritanical streak.)
If the system could police itself from above,
Xi Jinping would create a continent-sized Singa-
pore. However, Chinese society rests on balances
too, and not only on checks. If they do not exist
within the Party, then they must appear outside.
Failing to acknowledge this, even the apparently
level-heeded and pragmatic top leader that is
Xi, with the ability to turn around on a dime (an
ability that Mao and Deng also possessed), risks
to be egged on the road to despotism when the
first real bump appears on the road. Power itself
remains the first object and the first problem of
China’s political system.
Director of China & Asia program,
European Council on Foreign
Photo: Archive François Godement
India and China—
More Similar than You
Might Think
Pankaj Mishra
China is shakily “authoritarian” while India is a stable
democracy—indeed, the world’s largest. So goes the
cliché, and it is true, up to a point. However, have we
noticed the growing resemblance between the two
countries, induced by more than two decades of exposure
to global capitalism?
Not long after we were told that India and
China were “flattening” the world, expediting
a historically inevitable shift of power from
the West to the East, their political institutions and original nation-building ideologies
face a profound crisis of legitimacy. Tainted
by corruption scandals, by elites consisting of
dynastic politicians and crony global capitalists in both India and China, they struggle to
persuasively reaffirm their country’s founding
commitments to mass welfare. Protests against
corruption and widening inequalities rage
across their vast territories, adding to the
long-simmering disaffection between the
neighbours, while their economies slow down
If anything, public anger against India’s
political class seems more intense, and the
disaffection there assumes militant forms, as
in the civil war in Central India, where indigenous peoples led by armed Maoist militants
across a broad swathe of commodities-rich
forests are locked in a battle against security
forces. India, where political dynasties have
been able the rule for decades, has also many
more “princelings” than China: nearly half of
the members of the Parliament (MP) come from
political families.
To those in the West, who reflexively
contrast India to China (authoritarianism versus
democracy), or yoke them together, equally
tritely, as the “rising” powers, seem the solutions to their internal crises very clear: “democratic” India needs more economic reforms—
in other words, greater openness to foreign
capital. Meanwhile, “authoritarian” China, now
endowed with cyber-empowered and increasingly assertive middle class, must expose its
anachronistic political system to the fresh air
of democracy.
Such abundant commonplaces draw upon
the broad Whig-like assumption shared by most
The limits of Indian democracy had been
outlined early by the co-author of India’s Constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, who famously lamented
that “democracy in India is only a top dressing
on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” Thirty years later, Sen was still warning
that “it is important to understand the elitist
nature of India to make sense of India’s policies.”
Western commentators on the “developing”
and non-democratic world: that middle and
other aspiring classes created by industrial
capitalism bring about accountable and representative governments. This was, in fact, the
main axiom of the “Modernization Theory,” first
proposed by American army during the Cold
War as a gradualist and peaceful alternative
to Communist-style revolution. It always had
its critics, most notably Samuel Huntington,
who in his Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) questioned whether social and
economic transformation in developing societies is always benign, or leads to democracy.
Certainly, Modernization Theory never took
into account the possibility that certain forms
of raw capitalism—primitive accumulation,
for instance—violate the basic principles of
democracy in a country like India, where it
has long been inseparable from promise of
delivering social justice, equality and dignity
for the majority.
It is often forgotten that for much of their
existence the ruling elites of both India and
China presented themselves as socio-economic engineers, working hard to release their
desperate masses from the curse of poverty,
ill health and illiteracy. Rhetorically committing themselves to national development and
social welfare from the late 1940s, they actually
became rivals decades before the words “India
and China” turned into a tiresome mantra.
Despite investments in institutions of
higher learning—that would later help provide
highly skilled labor to Western banks and tech
companies—India was always a straggler in
public health and education, left behind not
just by China but also by Sri Lanka (it has now
been overtaken by Bangladesh). This was
largely due to what Amartya Sen, writing in
1982, called “an astonishingly conservative
approach to social services,” which in turn was
the product of “the elitist character of Indian
society and politics.”
It is often forgotten
that for much of their
existence the ruling
elites of both India
and China presented
themselves as socio­
‑economic engineers,
working hard to
release their desperate
masses from the curse
of poverty, ill health
and illiteracy.
Notwithstanding regular elections, a small
minority, consisting largely of men from the
upper and middle Hindu castes, set national
priorities, and were loath to do anything that
did not enhance their own power. For instance,
as Sen pointed out, “removing the quiet presence of non-acute, endemic hunger does not
have high priority in that elitist morality and
politics.” (Expanded by globalization, and armed
by the rhetoric of neo-liberalism, Indian elites
are more determined than ever to defend and
extend their privileges. Deploring the many
subsidies for the rich, Amartya Sen was heard
lamenting last year, “Whenever something is
thought up to help the poor, hungry people,
someone brings out the fiscal hat and says, “My
God, this is irresponsible.”) Some women and
Dalit (low-caste) Hindus were elevated into the
“charmed circle of the Indian elite,” but their
compatriots remained exposed to violence
and discrimination, often perpetrated by the
upper-caste-dominated state itself.
The contrast with the fanatically, even
violently, anti-elitist nature of China’s revolution
was stark. The communists had empowered
Chinese women, brutally cracking down on the
various social “evils” of feudalism. Despite Mao
Zedong’s calamitous blunders, which caused
the premature deaths of tens of millions of
people, Communist China took an early lead
over India in all the important indices of human
India’s own advantages over China were
substantial. But far from taking pride in India’s
press freedoms or expanding its constitutional
liberties, many in the small middle class created
by the country’s early investments in higher
education were exasperated with any manifestations of mass democracy—especially
the flexing of electoral muscle by low-caste
groups in the 1980s, which caused a middle
class exodus to the upper-caste Hindu nationalists. Chafing at India’s protectionist policies,
these Indians regarded the Singaporean
strongman Lee Kuan Yew as their hero and
his squeaky-clean authoritarian state a more
suitable political model for India than Westminster democracy.
Ironically, it was post-Mao China that in
the late 1970s embraced the Singapore model:
technocrat-supervised national development
of a one-party state. The country’s world-class
infrastructure—airports, highways, high-speed
railroads—would have been inconceivable
without an efficient state that ruthlessly appropriated land from peasants while providing
financial assistance and the best scientific and
technical expertise. Shelving its mass ideological campaigns in the 1980s, the CCP has since
then promised to deliver prosperity through
capitalism (albeit with Chinese characteristics) rather than socialism while periodically
upholding its own and the state’s role as the
mitigator of inequality and provider of welfare.
India’s political class began to reformulate
its own compact with the Indian masses in the
1980s. As in China, a generation of technocratic
politicians spearheaded India’s liberalizing and
modernizing program. However, embedded
with the country’s biggest capitalists, they were
much less willing or able than China and other
East Asian countries to enhance the state’s role
in national development. On the contrary: many
Indians exposed to neo-liberal orthodoxies of
the Reagan-Thatcher era and often, like the
present Indian Prime Minister and Finance
Minister, attached to the institutions of the
“Washington Consensus” (the World Bank, the
IMF), seemed convinced that diminishing the
role of government was as much the right thing
to do in India as in a developed economy like
As GDP growth rates accelerated in the early
2000s, the market in India began to seem like
yet another Hindu deity, one that would eventually shower—presumably through the great
trickle-down miracle—prosperity on all, and
also empower Dalits and women by unleashing
entrepreneurial energies among them. India’s
structural weaknesses—the poor quality of
its education and governance, for instance—
were temporarily obscured as credit-fuelled
consumption transformed large parts of Indian
cities. Davosed businessmen and day tripping
foreign journalists working synergistically with
various “analysts,” “experts” and hack-economists that proliferated overnight in Mumbai
and Delhi hailed the “New India” of software
parks and shopping malls.
Never mind that India’s much-ballyhooed
information technology and business-processing offices employed less than 2 million
of the country’s 400 million-strong workforce; that the large majority of illiterate or
badly educated Indians gained little from the
“booming” economic sectors of mining and real
estate speculation; or that India’s service-oriented economy could not create enough jobs
for the swelling ranks of the young unemployed
in India—described in the cloud cuckoo land
of “New India” as a “demographic dividend.”
For a while at least, elections provided
legitimacy to politicians who, as is only now
becoming public, built up enormous personal
fortunes. Improvising fast, they could achieve
the necessary electoral appeasement of the
poor majority through populist programs made
possible by increased revenues, such as the
rural employment scheme that helped re-elect
the Congress party in 2009.
Since then, however, India’s rulers, beset by
a slowing economy, inflation and a cheapening
rupee, have struggled to achieve the golden
mean between economic growth and political
stability. Several corruption scandals in the
previous two years have clarified that economic
liberalization, presented as the fastest means of
reducing poverty, provided cover for a wholesale plunder of the country’s resources by some
of the country’s best-known politicians and
businessmen, often assisted by media figures
eager to get a piece of the action. Anglo-American periodicals such as Foreign Affairs, Economist and Financial Times that in 2005 affirmed
India as a “roaring capitalist success story”
now wonder if the country is descending into
a Latin-American-style oligarchy. Yet what is
more disturbing, and only little discussed, is
the budding likeness to China—the onset, in
particular, of an informal authoritarianism in
the hollow shell of a formal democracy.
The police and army have long enjoyed
a range of arbitrary powers—the infamous
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) allows
soldiers to kill Indian citizens with impunity.
Innumerable Liu Xiaobos—intellectuals and
activists arbitrarily detained for their political
views, and denied legal recourse—languish in
prisons in Central India now as well as in the
“disturbed” territories of Kashmir and the North
East. In recent years, the Chinese regime has
alarmingly enhanced its ability to police the
internet, and to crackdown on dissent. Relatively little attention, however, has been paid
to the Indian government’s schemes to censor
websites and access mobile phone records;
the federal Communications and Information
Technology Minister made the absurd demand
that social media sites pre-screen their content.
In India, it is not just an overbearing state
that mocks the ideals of freedom and justice.
The recent beneficiaries of global capitalism
also show contempt for them; and they have
a particular scorn for the courageous intellectuals and activists of the country’s civil
society—India’s continued great advantage
over China.
Modernization Theory never considered the profound isolation, insecurity and
aggressiveness of the newly prosperous in
the largely underdeveloped and extremely
unequal countries. China’s integration into
the global economy has created a bellicosely
nationalistic rich minority. India’s big industrialists such as the Tatas and Ambanis, and
the emerging middle class and its representatives showed an explicit preference in the
media for such politicians as Narendra Modi,
India’s new Prime Minister, and the first to be
accused of involvement in a murderous assault
on a minority group—over 2000 Muslims died
in 2002 under his watch. Indeed, expropriating
public resources for private industrial and infrastructural projects, and ruthlessly suppressing
his critics as the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi
was the primary Indian exponent of capitalism
with Chinese characteristics.
Certainly, the cold-war binary of democracy and authoritarianism will be an even more
unreliable guide to India and China as they
host fierce battles over inequality and corruption. “The natural counterpart of a free market
economy,” John Gray warned in False Dawn:
The Delusions of Global Capitalism (1998), “is
a politics of insecurity.” Not surprisingly, political
stability and legitimacy have become harder
goals for governments everywhere, elected or
not, European and American as well as Asian,
in an age where private wealth creation is
deemed more important than national wellbeing, and politicians with journalists as well
as businessmen stand exposed as paid-up
members of transnational elites.
It is true that neither India’s elected nor
China’s unelected rulers have run out of options
yet. Modi may turn to the mix of nationalism
and crony capitalism that was patented by
Malaysia’s Mahahir Mohamed and Indonesia’s
Suharto. China’s new leaders may yet again
follow the example of Singapore, a cannily
adaptive one-party state, and deploy their
country’s fresh elite of economists, corporate
managers and lawyers in shoring up their
centralized political authority and prestige.
They may also draw upon the evidently inexhaustible resources of Chinese nationalism.
Nevertheless, uneven development and rising
inequalities will create ever-bigger problems
of governance, perhaps even the upending of
the established order in China, following the
model of the Arab Spring. What follows then
may turn out to be less—rather than more—of
a democracy, and a lot more of chaos.
is an Indian essayist and novelist,
his literary and political essays have
appeared in The New York Times,
the New York Review of Books,
Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy,
the Guardian, the London Review of
Books and the New Yorker. His most
recent book is From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against
the West and the Remaking of Asia (2013).
Photo: Archive Pankaj Mishra
Ten Years in the European
Union: The Czech Republic
Tomáš Klvaňa
Don’t ask what the EU can do for you,
ask what you can do for the EU
Thanks to EU membership the Czechs have
lately been having what might, from a recent
historical perspective, be regarded as a luxurious
time. In spite of the new geopolitical situation
in Central Europe created by the resurgence
of Russian imperialism, the Czech Republic is
still arguably secure. It enjoys good relations
with its neighbours, is a member of the most
powerful military alliance on the planet based
on the Three Musketeers’ motto “All for one and
one for all,” and the country has no enemies. Its
national identity is not under threat. To begin to
comprehend the Czech sense of fear, fragility and
inability to take their nationhood for granted, one
has to resort either to poetry “Behind the gates
of our rivers / hard hooves clatter / behind the
gates of our rivers / dug up by hooves / is the
earth / and the terrible horsemen of the Apocalypse / brandish their banner”1), or to historical
documents, such as the 1941 speech given by
the Deputy Reichsprotektor Heydrich at Palais
Schwarzenberg, in which he detailed the plans of
exterminating the Czech nation.2 Going further
back in history to the beginning of the Great War
a hundred years ago demonstrates even more
clearly the extent to which political and moral
awareness has shifted, how much Europe has
changed and how radical a discontinuity occu-
rred in the course of the gradual establishment
of European communities in the second half of
the 20th century.
One of the things that have changed is
the very concept of national interest and the
corresponding concept of national sovereignty,
something that traditional realists and eurosceptics seem painfully unaware of. They never fail
to emphasize what they regard as the costs or,
indeed, losses, resulting from EU membership.
However, these views need not be taken seriously
at a factual level—as opposed to the political and
rhetorical level where they need to be challenged
in earnest, because they lack a robust analytical
As a matter of fact, it is quite obvious that
our EU membership has had a considerable
positive impact. This trend began already a few
years before accession, when it became quite
clear that the Czech Republic was going to
join the EU, and it took the form of an influx of
direct foreign investment that helped transform
a plodding, unsophisticated economy marked
by underinvestment into one that was competitive, export-friendly and open. A conservative
scenario of a convergency model developed for
the study Ten Years in the EU3 calculated the
Czech Republic’s benefit from membership in
the EU at 3.1 trillion Czech crowns. It has also
made the economy grow by 1.1 per cent faster
on average. The authors of the study believe that
had the country not joined the EU, its 2013 GDP
would have been 12 per cent lower.4 Between
2002 and 2008 the Czech Republic achieved its
fastest growth in its history. The authors note that
at this rate it would take the country 17 years
to catch up with Western Europe. The financial
and economic crisis had a greater impact on
the Czech Republic than its neigbours in the
region, slowing down the catch-up rate, which
has more recently come to a complete standstill.
On the other hand, its neighbours Slovakia and
Poland have begun to catch up on the Czech
Republic. Nevertheless, in 2013 alone the Czech
economy had a net budget income from the EU
of 84 billion; the total income since 2004 amounts
to 334 billion Czech crowns.5
The growth might have been even faster had
the Czech Republic exploited its membership
potential as well as the economies of the Irish
Republic or Poland and Slovakia had. A factor
hampering growth is widespread corruption at
all levels of society. Corruption has spread to the
drawing of EU structural funds, which in some
regions has been virtually controlled by political
parties and various ‘’political enterpreneurs’’6
who have dealings with them. The corruption
associated with European funds has been grist to
the mill of eurosceptics who claim the EU transfer
policy is one of its causes. This is reminiscent of
the rather absurd assertion that by criticizing
Czech corruption, the West is guilty of hypocrisy
because it has been precisely the West that has
encouraged its growth in this country.7
A further illustration of the country’s failure
to make full use of its EU membership potential is
the fact that it has not joined the currency union,
thus lumbering its export-focused economy with
transaction costs. To some extent, the growing
euroscepticism in society is the result of the two
terms in office served by the eurosceptic President Václav Klaus. The economists he appointed
to the Czech National Bank Board of trustees
were mistrustful of the common currency. This,
combined with the eurozone crisis, has created
a political atmosphere in which the adoption of
the euro is not conceivable in the near future,
even though this attitude is not backed by any
convincing economic arguments. Nevertheless,
the positive impact of the EU membership for the
Czech economy has to be emphasized, as from
a historical perspective it has certainly contributed to the country’s good position.
So how have we handled this luxurious position unprecedented in our national history? Not
particularly well. What we see is a situation of
a kind rather parallel to what Thomas Masaryk
discussed in his 1895 book The Czech Question. In
his evaluation of the 19th century national revival
Masaryk critiqued the empty patriotism as well as
the slavophile orientation of the Young Czechs.8
He juxtaposed this attitude with the need for
a more profound, higher quality cultural and
scholarly work. Looking at the quality of Czech
arts, scholarship and education following ten
years in the EU we have to state, sadly, that no
substantial progress has been made. The Czech
Republic boasts a woefully small number of world
quality scholarly and artistic institutions.
Prague, a potential cultural magnet, lives off
its past glory. The amount invested by the city
authorities and state budget has been minimal.
The first things seen by tourists who have come
for a couple of days are bottles of green absinthe
in supermarket windows, the Museum of Sex and
the Museum of Torture Instruments.
Back to Europe, Back to the West
Dreams of the 1989 revolution generation
came true ten years ago. Nowadays few people
remember that one of the slogans chanted in the
frozen Prague squares went ‘’Back to Europe!”
This referred to Western Europe, which the Czech
Lands, like all of Central Europe, had culturally
been a part of for centuries. Those with a memory
have used every suitable opportunity to bring
this up. For example, in her 1988 Bruges speech
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that
East European countries behind the Iron Curtain
had been cut off from their roots.9
The impact of our temporary half-a-century-long separation from Europe is still felt today. It
includes the underrating of the practical usefulness of historical memory. For understandable
reasons most people focus on their day-to-day
lives and on planning their future. For reasons
that are more difficult to understand, the historical
view is often burdened with a rose-tinted view
of the totalitarian period, reinforced by the pop
culture (hit pop tunes and reruns of TV serials from
the normalisation period) as well as a revisionist
view of this period, from the left of the political
centre. This revisionism is, to some extent, an
understandable reaction to the simplistic anti-Communism exhibited by a certain part of the
Right, which has resorted to it in order to cover up
its lack of a political programme. It also represents
a rejection of the dominant economic and political
view, dubbed neo-liberal by critics on the Left, and
the reading of history associated with this view.
Since anti-communist dissent in Czechoslovakia, in contrast to Poland, was limited to
a sparse elite and representatives of the alternative culture, few Czech citizens feel inclined to
take a critical view of the past, be it because of
a hidden sense of guilt or open indifference. This
is why, like many people in EU countries of the
West, we have erroneously perceived the process
of integration solely as a widening and deepening of the economic space that would bring
about an increased prosperity. In this respect,
therefore, we are not all that different from the
dominant political forces in the European Union.
However, we have fewer reasons, and even less
justification for it than the Germans, Dutch
or Swedes, who have, after all, been through
a period of critical reflection on their past, and
who, somewhere deep down in their awareness,
carry a vision of integration based on a range of
values, spanning from economic to ethical ones.
There is actually some perverted logic to
the fact that the Czech Republic has turned into
a bastion of euroscepticism, even though it is
more a feeling than a programme, and (fortunately) a rather superficial one at that. Our capacity
for imaginative visions seems to have ended ten
years ago with the moment of accession and it
was belatedly buried following Václav Havel’s
passing three years ago. Havel, too, is to blame for
failing to explain the EU accession more clearly
and loudly, not in terms of a goal but rather
a process. EU membership in itself, indeed the
European Union itself, is an instrument rather
than a goal. It proved itself as an instrument for
a gradual transformation of European awareness, more specifically, of the European polis,
through integration and increased prosperity.
What I have in mind is a single, pan-European
polis, a vision that is still a long way away but
certainly worth all the trouble the EU is going
through at the moment. So what has been the
Czech contribution to the creation of this polis
over the past ten years? To say it has been negligible would be a euphemism. Let’s face it, there
was no political leader right at the start to raise
his voice and state with Kennedy: Don’t ask what
the EU can do for you, ask what you can do for
the EU. As a consequence, our relationship with
the EU has been a one-way street, a tune with
a single chord. We have gained a lot, especially
in economic terms, and have given very little.
So what is it that we have gained, in addition
to an indisputable economic impetus? The most
significant advantage of our membership—and
this has been the case with all post-communist
countries—is the least concrete one: we have
gained entry to a space governed by certain
standards of political, democratic and civic
culture, which are the basic precondition for all
other aspirations, including prosperity. Nowadays, this framework is more solid in our country
than ever before, partly due to the Copenhagen
criteria and partly due to the influence of values
prevalent in established democracies. These
values play a more important role in the Czech
Republic, as well as in other post-communist
countries, than in established democracies
because the quality of any democracy depends
on the quality of its most numerous constituency. Democracies always gravitate towards the
lowest common denominator. In the past fifteen
years this trend has been encouraged by the
increased use of the Internet and the advent of
social media, which have democratized public
discourse. The capacity of the elites and political
leaders to deal with, and limit, these trends is
often the key factor determining the quality of
democracy. However, in the Czech Republic this
capacity has not quite developed yet.
A significant achievement accomplished by
the European polis over the past 50 years nevertheless, the framework of democratic values,
is neither a panacea nor is it unassailable, as
demonstrated by the established democracies’
experience with extremist populism. The dual
crises of the turn of the past decade (the crisis
of the financial markets and the sovereign debt
crisis) have undermined the trust in the eurozone and, to some extent, in the EU as such,
encouraging in Western and Southern Europe
the growth of political formations directed
against immigrants, minorities, Islam, and the
tolerance of other cultures and civilisations.
Some of these forces are relatively moderate,
while others sail very close to neo-Nazism.
This has a detrimental effect on Czech society,
which is still immature. However, by far the most
dangerous assault on the framework of political
values has come from Hungary, where Prime
Minister Viktor Orbán has started testing how
far he can go in destroying the liberal character
of Hungarian democracy. The EU and the Czech
Republic ought to take a decisive stand against
this kind of weakening—albeit verbal—of the
consensus of shared values. (Even though Orbán’s
policy of using party politics to monopolise the
civic space goes far beyond mere utterances.)
Although in the Czech Republic this corroding
of the consensus on basic liberal values has so
far been only marginal, we must not ignore the
fact that over the past five years the displays
of intolerance, xenophobia and antisemitism
have become more frequent and visible. Even
some statements by mainstream politicians have
verged on extremism. A statement by the former
President, Václav Klaus, praising the ‘’genius’’ of
a marginal antisemitic writer, is one of the most
disgraceful examples. The former President’s
circle includes people professing anti-Western,
ultra-conservative views, who have often praised,
or at least justified, Russian President Vladimir
Putin’s authoritarian policies.10
Following the 1989 revolution championing
human rights and civil liberties under dictatorships was a key pillar of the Czechoslovakian, and
later Czech, foreign policy. This was shared not
only by the official makers and representatives
of the country’s foreign policy but also by the
citizenry, via private and nonprofit activities. The
best known organisation, Člověk v tísni (People in
Need), has been supporting human rights defenders all around the globe and organizing a well-attended, annual human rights documentary
film festival, Homo Homini. This foreign policy
consensus started to break up in 2005, under Jiří
Paroubek’s social democratic government. Nor
did human rights enjoy the requisite respect
as a key value informing the country’s foreign
policy with reference to our recent, totalitarian
past under Petr Nečas’s coalition government
(2010–2013). Nečas disgraced himself through
his critique of “empty Dalailama-ism and Pussyriotism.” However, the final coup de grace for
the support of human rights and civil liberties
apparently came last year, with the social democrat Lubomír Zaorálek taking over the foreign
affairs portfolio and announcing a departure
from this line and an emphasis on foreign trade.
While it is possible that diplomatic bureaucracy
and inertia will maintain the Czech support for
human rights and civil liberties within European
foreign policy, this considerable contribution of
the Czech Republic to the EU has been notably
One of the key lessons of this country’s EU
membership is the fact that it is a dynamic entity
and that even medium-sized countries such as
the Czech Republic can help shape it. The European Union derives its dynamism from its radical
enlargement over the past twenty years, which
has made it more varied internally, as well as
from a transformation of the present-day world
resulting from the economic and cultural globalization in the post-war period. In this dynamic
environment countries both large and small
have sought a new role, going through anxiety,
uncertainty and traumas. The influence yielded
by the Czech Republic has been quite insignificant, for which the country has only herself to
blame. Czech foreign policy continued to be
divided well beyond the 1990s, shaped as it was
by three centres: the Prime Minister’s office, the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President’s
office. It seems difficult to find consensus on even
the most fundamental foreign policy issues. As
a result, both the country’s reputation as well as
its readiness to act in foreign affairs, suffer. The
nadir was reached during the rift between the
government and President Václav Klaus, when he
obstructed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Eventually, to save face, Klaus exacted an irrelevant exemption “guaranteeing the validity” of
the Beneš Decrees, on which he insisted even
after the Constitutional Court found that the
treaty was in full harmony with the country’s
constitutional order and after it was ratified by
the parliament. The conflict caused great damage
to the Czech Republic’s reputation and in terms
of the dead issue of the Beneš Decrees it may
have been counterproductive.11
of a European banking union), thereby confirming
our reputation as an opponent of more profound
federalisation of the EU. The formation of Bohuslav
Sobotka’s cabinet and the election of President
Miloš Zeman in 2013 has marked a certain pro-integration turn in Czech foreign policy, although
any concrete outcomes are still to be seen.
Those critical of the eurosceptic position on
the part of former governments and President
Klaus point out that it has marginalized the Czech
Republic, turning it into an unpredictable and
unreliable ally. However, this criticism fails to
take into account the real flaw of eurosceptic
views, which some representatives of the Czech
Right have managed to popularize by populist exploitation of national stereotypes. This
approach is based on an antiquated premise
of sovereign national states seeking to assert
their national interests within Europe. Seen in
this way, the European Union is regarded as
a common market and a space that allows its
citizens free movement, where medium and
small states hardly stand a chance to assert
themselves vis-à-vis the big powers. However,
the EU has been transforming and transcending
this framework by gradually and painstakingly
creating a European polis. Of course, European
states still pursue their national interests but
these are nowadays understood quite differently
than in the past, and in addition, European Union
citizens pursue interests that transcend national
interests. Eurosceptics and traditionalists who
emphasize the fact that the process of integration
deprives states of their sovereignty are right in
the traditional sense. The bone of contention
concerns the question what provides a better
guarantee of invidual freedom: the traditional
state or an integrating European entity? What is in
the interest of the Czech Republic and its citizens
is a gradual, long-term, albeit not dangerously
accelerated federalisation of the EU, which will,
of course, give them more opportunities to assert
themselves and succeed than a loose alliance
of national states. A federation will weaken the
A New Political Map
The eurosceptic orientation of Prime Minister
Nečas’s cabinet has pushed the Czech Republic
outside the mainstream of European integration
(the country has yet to participate in the creation
national principle, and thereby also the influence
of large states.
The civic principle has so far been rather on
the margin of the public discourse within the
EU, which makes sense in light of the eurozone’s
economic and monetary difficulties. However,
unless this principle is strengthened it will not
be possible in the long term to develop the EU
on a federal basis. These days the civic principle is
limited to a few technical procedures, such as elections to the European Parliament, the occasional
referendum, free movement of labour and social
benefits for foreigners following the accession of
new countries. With few exceptions, issues relating to a vision of the EU are largely absent from
Czech public discourse. Some non-governmental
organisations and universities have been dealing
with these issues more or less systematically (e.g.
the think-tank European Values, the Václav Havel
Library, New York University of Prague and a few
others), however, their efforts have so far had only
a limited impact on political discourse.
To illustrate this, let me cite the 2013 presidential election, a key moment in the history
of the free Czech Republic. Because of the
behaviour of MPs who were responsible for
electing the President in the past, parliament
changed the constitution, introducing direct
presidential elections by popular vote. Constitutional experts have criticized the fact that the
President’s mandate was strengthened without
a corresponding adjustment of his constitutional
powers or some other way of balancing his position. The European Union as such, let alone its
vision, hardly featured in the actual presidential
campaign. Compared with their predecessor, the
media regarded both candidates, Miloš Zeman
and Karel Schwarzenberg, as ‘’pro-European‘‘,
without going into the details of key policy
issues that form part of presidential powers, for
example, the place of the Czech Republic within
the EU and its ideal orientation. By contrast, the
campaign was dominated by the populist and
irrelevant issue of Beneš Decrees, which one
of the candidates demagogically used against
the other.
Starting with Paroubek’s government,
through the national debate on the anti-missile
defence system and the 2013 presidential
campaign up to the discussion on the growth
of Russian imperialism in 2014, a realignment
of traditional political forces on the Czech political scene has become increasingly evident.
This realignment has replaced the left/right
division, although it, in turn, had lacked any
meaning since at least the mid-1990s due to
the programmatic emptiness of Czech politics.
The consensus within Czech society regarding
the country‘s unequivocal pro-Western orientation both in terms of the European Union and
its Transatlantic Alliance has started to break
down. A group of vocal critics has emerged who
question some Western democratic values, such
as cultural and political diversity and tolerance.
Some of these critics have been looking up
to what they, mistakenly, regard as authentic
conservativism and defence of traditional values,
in the politics of Russia’s President Putin. Some
individuals, whose views are close to those of
Václav Klaus, as well as a considerable number
of sympathizers of the ODS (Civic Democratic
Party), a party completely decimated in the last
election as a result of corruption, have been
expressing similar or exactly the same opinions
of Putin as far-right politicians in Europe such as
Marine Le Pen or nationalists of Viktor Orbán’s
ilk. During the presidential campaign these
groups of people launched highly nationalist
and xenophobic attacks on Schwarzenberg. The
pro-Zeman faction of the Social Democratic Party,
which has close business ties to and shares many
values with Russia, holds similar views. Although
it professes to be pro-European, in any clash of
values between nationalism and integration it
always sides with the former.
Until Russia invaded Crimea, the pro-European, pro-Western and pro-Atlantic group of
intellectuals and politicians was on the defensive.
Since then, however, it has begun a virtual mobilisation. Given how closed off the countryside and
small cities are to other views and values, many
observers were pleasantly surprised by the fact
that Schwarzenberg made it to the second round
of the presidential election, achieving—to use
football terminology—a more than decent score.
The presidential campaign itself has resulted in
an unprecedented mobilization of pro-Western
voters. The defence of an open, tolerant society,
the importance and practical impact of defending human rights and civil liberties at home and
in the world, fostering civil society as a preliminary stage as well as a necessary precondition of
liberal democracy, an emphasis on integrating
minorities and striving to eradicate corruption—
these have become the dividing and defining
issues in the public discourse.
Another topic is the election success of
Andrej Babiš, a populist enterpreneur and one
of the wealthiest men in the Czech Republic.
The owner of key media outlets (particularly the
dailies Mladá fronta DNES and Lidové noviny), of
a vast agricultural and food empire, a Communist
Party official during the normalisation era and
currently Minister of Finance, Babiš has built his
political career on an optimistic image, a rhetorical war against corruption and a promise to
run the country like a business enterprise. His
success, reminiscent of the election of Silvio
Berlusconi as Italy’s Prime Minister in the 1990s,
is a symptom of the inability of traditional parties
to appeal to their natural constituency, as well
as the electorate’s increasing alienation from the
traditional political sphere. The Babiš phenomenon is also indicative of the way the Czechs
have reassessed their recent history. The voters
don’t mind his 1970s and 1980s communist
official background, which is in line with the
revisionist efforts of some left-wing intellectuals
to re-assess the normalisation period of the 70s
and 80s. This conflict came to the fore particularly
during the battle for the control of the Institute
of Totalitarian Regimes, as some left-wing critics
questioned whether the final phase of communism should be classified as totalitarian.12
What is the link between the Czech political
reallignment and the country’s European Union
membership? Experience shows that the post-cold war world is only now coming to an end,
ten years after the greatest EU enlargement.
This period was characterized by an optimistic
expansion of new borders, not dissimilar to the
new boundaries of President John F. Kennedy’s
generation in the early 1960s. Their conquest
of the moon corresponds to our expansion of
freedom, democracy and prosperity deep into
the territory of the former Soviet Union. The now
not completely inconceivable expansion of the
EU into Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia is one of
the faces of the transitional period. The other
is the internal transformation of the European
Union. Globalization and the eurozone crisis
have reawakened the spectre of renationalisation. A lesson that our countries, the relatively
new post-communist EU members, can learn
from the experience of established democracies
such as France and the Netherlands, is that the
battle for openness, decency and tolerance can
never be won for good. One thing we have definitely learned from our EU membership is that
an argument beginning with the words: ‘’Such
a thing could not happen in the West...‘‘ is quite
erroneous. After ten years in the EU we see that
there are many things we share with others.
We are thus about to approach the end of an
era that presented the Czech Republic with the
beginning of a great opportunity, of which we
have so far failed to make full use. What can we
wish as a new era begins, corresponding with
the second decade of our EU membership? Let
us learn from Masaryk and his way of posing the
Czech question at the end of the 19th century.
The way to a gradual, rather than rash, building of
a pan-European polis (an excessive acceleration
of integration and federalisation would most
certainly prove counterproductive as it would
only encourage further renationalisation and
1. Halas, F.: Torzo naděje (Torso of Hope).
Praha 1938.
2. Chmelař, A. , Zahradník, P., Novotný, J. ,
Kudrna, Z. et al: Ten years of the EU. The
Czech Republic in the European Union.
A study prepared by a group of economists
for the Office of the Czech Government.
Prague 2014. Chmelař, A. – Zahradník,
P. – Novotný, J. – Kudrna, Z. a kol.: Deset let
EU. Česká republika v Evropské unii. Studie
zpracovaná skupinou ekonomů pro Úřad
vlády. Praha 2014.
euroscepticism) is via deepening and expanding of education and culture. Let us hope that
we will live to see the kind of political representation that will recognize the importance of
these two portfolios—education and culture—as
a matter of primary national and civic interest.
Let us hope that a future vision of the EU and
a potential Czech contribution to it, will become
a dominant theme in Czech political discourse.
And who knows, maybe we shall live to see the
emergence of a politician who will look beyond
the boundaries of his constituency and who, like
Kennedy, will appeal to citizens to engage also
in matters that transcend their own material
interest. However enjoyable it is to just be on the
receiving end of European funds, we often fail to
grasp that someone had to create these funds in
the first place: wealthier and more mature states
that have given them to us not as a gift but rather
as an investment in our common future. And
the least we could do for this common future is
to engage in thorough analysis, discussion and
future investment on our part. TO M Á Š K LVA Ň A
Vice President of the Aspen Institute
Prague and the Editorial Board
Chairman of the Aspen Review.
He lives and works in Prague.
Photo: Archive Tomáš Klvaňa
1 František Halas: Torzo naděje (Torso of Hope) 1938.
2 Deputy Reichsprotektor, Obergruppenführer SS Reinhard Heydrich, made this speech to members of the Nazi Party on 2 October 1941 at
Prague‘s Palais Schwarzenberg.
3 Chmelař – Zahradník – Novotný – Kudrna et al, 2014.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 The term ‚‘political enterpreneur‘‘ was coined by the shady Prague lobbyist Roman Janoušek, with reference to himself in a newspaper
interview. The collocation, which has a slightly ironic undertone, is now common Czech political parlance.
7 Dušan Tříska, one of the prime movers in Czech privatization, in a private conversation with me in the 1990s, claimed that it was
Western companies that imported corruption into the country.
8 Mladočeši (The Young Czech Party), also known as Národní strana svobodomyslná, (National Liberal Party), was founded in 1874.
9 In her speech to the College of Europe in Bruges on 20 September 1988 Margaret Thatcher said, among other things: ‚‘We must never forget
that east of the Iron Curtain, people who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their
roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities.‘‘ http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107332.
10 Meanwhile, Klaus admitted in a 2014 media interview that in the 2003 referendum he voted against the Czech Republic joining the EU,
something I regard as unprecedented and almost inconceivable. His admission went almost unnoticed by the media even though it was
Klaus who a decade earlier, in his capacity as prime minister, had submitted the Czech Republic’s „application“ to join the EU. Of course,
Klaus had every right to vote as his conscience dictated, however, I believe it was his duty to make his choice public and in case of
a negative vote, he should have resigned as President. In that period I briefly served as Klaus’s presidential spokesman. When I asked
Klaus in private how he voted, he refused to answer, claiming secrecy of the ballot.
11 A representative of the expelled Sudeten Germans, the Euro-MP Bernd Posselt, said: „Klaus has helped our cause because we, Sudeten
Germans, and Beneš‘s racist Decrees are now being discussed in Europe as never before.“
12 A key proponent of this view is Michal Uhl, currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian
Gavrilo Princip’s
Wojciech Stanisławski
Over the past two years Russia’s relations with Serbia
and Republika Srpska in Bosnia have witnessed
a significant turn, the scale of which often remains
unnoticed in the West
This summer, with the approach of the
hundredth anniversary of the assassination in
Sarajevo, and the outbreak of the First World War
five weeks later, the memory of the 19-year-old
assassin was resurrected in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BaH) and Serbia. And he is remembered not
only in Sarajevo: the Canadian tourist guide to
Bosnia which encourages us in its title to “Follow
in the footsteps of Princip,” is by no means an
exception. Less famous in his time than Breivik
or Lee Oswald, he is certainly remembered more
vividly than dozens of perpetrators of regicides,
quite numerous in nineteenth-century and
modern Europe.
or from the treasury in Belgrade, but a heavy
brass plaque from Sarajevo...
The fact that even the Führer had a vision
of the consumptive 19-year-old, in whom he
wanted to see the epitome of “Slavic cunning”
and at the same time the destroyer of former
Austria, is the best illustration that anyone can
imagine Princip in his or her own way. Last spring,
the most original interpretation was presented
by some leftist activists who wanted to make
him a symbol of rebellion against all kinds of
oppressions personified by Archduke Ferdinand, from patriarchy to imperialism. Indeed,
a significant role in the development of Princip’s
fascinations was played by “libertarian” thinkers
from the poet Walt Whitman to the classics of
anarchism such as Bakunin’s. However, making
him an “icon of rebellion,” styled partly after Che
Guevara and partly after the characters from
Hair, eagerly reaching for a joint, seems to be
a risky example of presentism.
This is how he is shown by the Serbian Egeria
of the left, a columnist and playwright Biljana
Srbljanović. Her play “The Tomb is Too Small for
Me” (Mali me by ovaj tomb), staged and directed
by the avant-garde Polish director Michał Zadara
A Plaque for Hitler
His symbolic meaning is well evidenced by
a fact recalled this spring in the wave of celebrations: the plaque unveiled in Sarajevo in 1930
commemorating the assassination was the only
“spoil of war” which Adolf Hitler demanded after
the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941.
When Hitler’s parlor car stood on the rail tracks
near the bunker in Monichkirchen, what was
brought in as his 52nd birthday present was not
the crown jewels from Cetinje in Montenegro
An Angel in Andrićgrad
Serbs have many reasons to feel “at odds
with the world.” Commenting on many key
issues—from disputes over responsibility for the
war in Bosnia in 1992–1995 to the assessment
of the legitimacy of proclaiming sovereignty
by Kosovo—they are entitled to firm (even if
controversial) assessments, and they may feel
that they defend views which are unpopular
or even rejected by others. Serbian journalists
are indignant that the world is ignoring their
country (many essays on Princip began with
calls for “bringing an unjustly forgotten figure
back from oblivion”). At the same time, when
Serbian past is discussed somewhere, they are
not really able to see themselves in a role other
than that of a victim. This is probably a side-effect of the events, debates and court cases
from the last 20 years—but it does not bode
well for the future.
Worthy of note are also the well though-out
and far-reaching actions of the authorities of
the Republika Srpska in Bosnia: not only the
decision to turn the memory of Princip into an
important part of the historical policy of Banja
Luka, but above all the momentum and scale of
involvement in the main celebrations held on
the anniversary of the assassination of Ferdinand. They took place in Andrićgrad, which is
a combination of an open-air museum, a classical
museum and a “stage set for a historical reconstruction,” built since 2011 on the outskirts of
Višegrad by the director, animator and “man-orchestra” Emir Kusturica.
About the artistic career, ambitions and
evolution of Kusturica we had an opportunity
to write on the pages of the Aspen Review two
years ago: here it is sufficient to recall that the
charismatic 60-year-old has for several years
been a strong advocate of Serbian arguments
in the dispute about the past and present of
Bosnia, Kosovo and the Balkans. Having hung
up his camera (though he still promises to
return to directing films) he got involved in
in the Vienna Schauspielhaus, was aptly summed
up by an Austrian critic as “pot, petting & party,”
which is rather a projection of dreams and ideas
of the playwright than an attempt to find the
truth about the hero from a century back. And
what can we say about a group of left-wing
activists from the former Yugoslavia who during
a happening staged in Sarajevo donned Princip
masks and chanted, “We are occupied by fascism
and capitalism”?
Serbian journalists
are indignant that the
world is ignoring their
country. At the same
time, when Serbian past
is discussed somewhere,
they are not really
able to see themselves
in a role other than that
of a victim.
But such things are happening on only on
the fringes: the vast majority of Serbian initiatives commemorating Princip in the spring and
summer of 2014 were attempts at renewing
(through re-enactment) and reviving the narrative, showing Princip as one of the founding
fathers of Yugoslavia, the state of southern Slavs,
an activist of the “Young Bosnia” organization,
seeking the liberation of all the peoples inhabiting the lands of Bosnia from Austrian imperial
Two things deserve our attention: the clearly
polemical nature of these initiatives and the
fact that at least in one case the celebrations
were sponsored by the government, organized
with the participation of Prime Ministers of both
Serbia and Republika Srpska.
projects combining politics, culture and large
scale building development. First, on his property located in Serbia he built Drvengrad—an
archetypal “Serbian village,” enriched with tourist
infrastructure and state of the art screening
rooms, where he has been organizing an
international film festival for several years. In
June 2011 he started an even more ambitious
project demanding even more money: in the
place where the Yugoslav Nobel Prize winner
Ivo Andric set the plot of his best-known novel
The Bridge on the Drina, he decided to erect
a town named in his honor.
Andrić City, that is Andrićgrad, was financed
largely from grants provided by the autonomous
authorities of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia,
within the borders of which Višegrad lies. The
Father of the Nation—that is two times Prime
Minister, and the President of RS of four years
Milorad Dodik—was the principal figure in the
celebrations. Walking by his side was the Prime
Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, and both
were guided by Kusturica, who also choreographed the all-day celebrations.
Some see a creative spin on Fellini in Kusturica’s style, while others see a lot of opera buffo
and camp, but it is certainly recognizable at
the first glance. And so it was this time: choirs
sang, gigantic mosaics depicting Princip and his
companions flickered, high mass was celebrated
there by the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox
Church (which usually takes place on the assassination anniversary in one of the Kosovan
monasteries), and alighting on the stage was
a little unorthodox, but much feathery-winged
“angel of freedom” with features of a certain
19-year-old from a century ago. The presence
of the Prime Minister of a neighboring country
was tangible evidence of the special relations
between Belgrade and Banja Luka, and the information that Dodik has already allocated a dozen
million euro for the construction of Andrićgrad
shows that he attaches a great importance to
historical policy and identity politics. It is to
become the foundation of the growing independence of Republika Srpska, therefore it was
not accidental that the Prime Minister stated in
his speech: “Today international occupants try
to impose on us [the Serbs] what Austria failed
to impose on us one hundred years ago.”
Celebrations in Andrićgrad were graced by
as many as three choirs, but before we list all
the basses and baritones singing the glory of
Princip, let us take a brief look at the actors on
the international stage who are most vitally
interested in the situation in Bosnia. All gestures
and campaigns, even if intended primarily as
a symbolic rivalry between Serb and Bosnian
versions of history, do not occur on a deserted
island: other powers and states are party to
Russia’s Balkan Leverage
The European Union and its member states
are constantly present in Bosnia and Herzegovina in dozens of ways and on many levels: as the
creators and executors of a political framework
for the entire process of normalization in Bosnia
(High Representative of the EU, Peace Implementation Council dominated by the “forces of
the West” and EUFOR peacekeepers); as a very
distant, but longed-for perspective, which the
country is trying to pursue through the neverending process of “accession negotiations” and
through Croatia its direct neighbour; and last
but not least as the largest economic partner.
But this is just one of the powers which want
to make their presence felt in the Balkans: Russia,
not only because of its position, but also because
of past events and the hopes invested in the
nineteenth century in Moscow and St. Petersburg, possesses a special “Archimedean point,”
which gives it such a leverage that even a very
limited involvement meets with a disproportionately large resonance and gratitude.
This “Balkan leverage” worked very well
already in the 1990s and in the beginning of
the new century. Moscow, although not pursuing
an active Balkan policy and supporting both the
Dayton peace and the progressive emancipation of Kosovo from Serbia, remained a point of
reference and hope for many Serb communities
and political groups, not only in Serbia but in
the whole Western Balkans, from the “diaspora”
in Macedonia and Kosovo to the power elite in
Republika Srpska in Bosnia.
and are able to appreciate—and even, it seems,
Until recently, they could not count on too
much, except for the Russian non-recognition
of the sovereignty of Kosovo, its distance to the
attempts at unifying Bosnia at the expense of
the interests of the local Serbs and—always well
received while inexpensive—cultural initiatives.
However, over the past two years Russia’s relations with Serbia and Republika Srpska in Bosnia
(and, to a lesser extent, with Montenegro) have
witnessed a significant turn, the scale of which
often remains unnoticed in the West.
But this is just one of
the powers which want
to make their presence
felt in the Balkans:
Russia, not only because
of its position, but also
because of past events
and the hopes invested
in the nineteenth
century in Moscow
and St. Petersburg,
possesses a special
“Archimedean point”.
The Natural Gas Juggernaut
Perhaps the most important Russian “juggernaut,” crashing the existing scruples and loyalties of the Serbian elite, is the prospect of the
construction of the South Stream pipeline and
related investments. A detailed description of
the games around the Russian pipeline in the
last few years would expand this article out
of proportion: suffice it to say here that both
Belgrade and Banja Luka see the perspective of
the pipeline running through their territory as an
even greater opportunity than the EU Member
States from Bulgaria to Austria involved in this
initiative, and attach even less importance to
reservations formulated more and more vocally
by Brussels.
The reorientation of attitudes in Belgrade
was easier to notice, because it coincided with
the changes brought about by the results of the
parliamentary and presidential elections: in 2012
a parliamentary majority coalition embraced two
groupings—SNS and SPS—with roots (and sentiments) reaching back to the times of Milosević,
and Tomislav Nikolić, one of the leaders of the
SNS community, became president of Serbia.
The Serb-Russian relations have grown in their
intensity. (To name only a few: the several meetings between Nikolić and Putin; the Declaration
on Strategic Partnership signed in May 2013;
the “pilgrimage” of leaders of the SNS and SPS,
We should distinguish between them,
because the “paleo-communists,” whose
memory (and often also more specific connection) goes back to the USSR, are different from
people perceiving Russia as an embodiment
of social order and a champion of Orthodoxy.
Another group yet are the Serbs for whom the
“disappearance” of Kosovo is too deep a trauma
in the symbolic, historical and identity sense to
be able to overcome it and who are desperately
looking for someone in the world who would
share their sentiments or at least offer them
some kindness. All these communities have
longed for gestures of solidarity from Russia
Nikola Vučić and Ivica Dačić, to Moscow in the
spring of 2014 when faced with difficulties in
forming a new cabinet; or a general support
of the media, parliamentarians and the public
for—to quote the new Prime Minister Nikola
Vučić’s statement during his visit to the Kremlin
on July 8, 2014—”the Russian peace initiatives
in Ukraine.”)
Much less attention has been devoted by the
media to Bosnia, where the ambassador of the
Russian Federation, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, lavishes Milorad Dodik with favors. The
game he plays brings to mind the characters
from Ivo Andrić’s another novel, The Days of the
Consuls, proudly presenting the game played
in the early nineteenth century in Travnik by
the representatives of European superpowers:
France and Austria. For Botsan-Kharchenko is
capable of tricks in the spirit of Metternich;
with increasing determination he defends
the interests of Republika Srpska at the Peace
Implementation Council, in talks with the EU
High Commissioner he opposes any initiatives
(though not very numerous now and launched
with less and less conviction) aimed at unifying
Bosnia, and—as sarcastic journalists report—he
spends more time in Banja Luka than in Sarajevo.
This is also followed by Russian involvement in the energy sector: Russian investors
(Zarubezhneft) bought and modernized the
refinery in Brod Bosanskim (RS) and now shower
Dodik with promises that Republika Srpska will
host one branch of the South Stream. In April
this year it was announced that Russia is ready
to provide RS with loans totalling 270 million
EUR, which would allow it to completely ignore
the appeals and recommendations of the IMF.
Only in the light of this information you
can appreciate the commitment with which
the Russian media followed the “dusting-off
of Princip” and recollected the anti-imperialist
avant-la-lettre. The culmination of Russian
involvement in the celebration was the semi-official presence of the “Alexandrov Choir” at the
Andrićgrad celebrations, the strongest musical
representation of the Russian armed forces. The
melancholy waltz On the Hills of Manchuria
resounding in the hills above the Drina was an
eloquent proof that not only fans of the old
limos from Sarajevo dream of reconstructions
of the events from a century back. WOJCIECH
historian of Russia and
the Balkans, columnist
of the Rzeczpospolita daily
Photo: Archive Wojciech Stanislawski
On the “Wrong”
and the “Right” Ukrainians
Mykola Riabchuk
It seems that Vladimir Putin and his associates fell
victims to their own propaganda. A simple fact that many
members of the Ukrainian government, as well as the
volunteers fighting the terrorists in Donbas, still speak
Russian as their primary language is carefully omitted in
Russian/pro-Russian media.
Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian fascist philosopher
and, unsurprisingly, professor at the respectable
Moscow State University, has recently offered
a radical recipe for a resolution of the pending
Russo-Ukrainian conflict. “We should clean up
Ukraine from the idiots,” he wrote on his Facebook. “The genocide of these cretins is due and
inevitable… I can’t believe these are Ukrainians.
Ukrainians are wonderful Slavonic people. And
this is a race of bastards that emerged from the
sewer manholes.”1
It is not (yet) radicalism that makes Dugin’s
statement remarkable. Within the past years and
especially months, Russian intellectuals offered
a broad range of measures to be applied against
Ukraine—starting with a humble proposal
from Igor Dzhadan to make a nuclear strike at
a Ukrainian atomic station,2 to a more universal
call by a leading SF writer Sergey Lukyanenko
“to crush the vermin.”3 Dugin’s statement is interesting primarily as a paradigmatic illustration
of the inability of Russian thought to accept an
inconvenient reality—to recognize the existence
of real Ukrainians and abandon their virtual image
cherished by Russians for years.
True Ukrainians, in this mythical thought,
are “younger brothers”—village cousins, rather
dull but funny, especially with their folk clothes
and songs and ridiculous dialect. They are nice
but stupid and therefore need some brotherly
care and occasional punches. Most Russians—
exactly like Aleksandr Dugin—love Ukrainians
(“wonderful Slavonic people”) but only as far as
Ukrainians agree to play the role of obedient,
subservient village bumpkins vis-à-vis Russian
cultured, urbanized relatives. Students of (post)
colonialism may compare this to the relations
between Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Robinson
“loves” his Friday—as long as the savage recognizes superiority of his master and does not
insist on his own culture, language, and dignity.
But Friday who wants to be equal to Robinson
and called by his real, however unspeakable
name, looks apparently crazy or, worse, is being
manipulated by some other Robinson—American, German, Polish or Jewish-Masonic. In
a word, it is not a true “wonderful” Friday any
more but a “bastard that emerged from a sewer
East Slavonic “Ummah”
Russian imagination created Ukrainians as
“Little Russians” a few centuries ago—alongside
with the appropriation of Ukrainian territory and
history—during the transformation of medieval
Muscovy, under Peter the Great, into the Russian
Empire. Ukrainian intellectuals who grew up in the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and had got
some sort of European education were assigned
to play an important role in the modernization
plans of the new Russian ruler. It was them, ironically, who invented the modern idea of continuity
between Kyiv and Moscow (and, eventually, St.
Petersburg) and the very name “Rus-sia” (from
medieval Rus) itself. Until then, the Kyivan Rus
legacy was rather latent in Muscovites’ thought.4
They referred occasionally to their dynastic,
ecclesiastic and patrimonial ties, but ethnization of Slavia Orthodoxa was a quite modern
idea developed by Ukrainian clerics alongside
the concept of “Little Rus” and “Greater Russia,”
and was derived from the European humanism.
Within this framework, “Little Rus” referred to the
core lands of historical Rus while “Greater Russia”
(like ancient “Greater Greece”) referred to the land
of eventual colonization.
The Ukrainian intellectuals did not have
any nationalistic agenda in modern terms. They
pursued a corporatist goal—to assert their special
role and therefore status within the new political
milieu that emerged after a part of Ukraine broke
with Poland and made alliance with Muscovy. The
historical (and symbolical) analogue between
Little Rus and Little Greece as Greece proper
had to grant Ukrainians the central status within
the newly born empire and bestow upon their
land a special symbolical role as the cradle of
Russian/Rus civilization. (One may compare this
logic to today’s Aleksandr Lukashenko’s claim
that “Belarusians are actually Russians, only of
a higher quality”—“со знаком качества.”)
The Greek-style model, however, was soon
reversed, and Realpolitik took predictably upper
hand over historical symbolism. Great Rus natu-
rally became the central part of the empire,
whereas Little Rus was downgraded to the status
of its provincial appendage. The “Kievan Russia”
myth was established as a founding myth of the
Russian Empire and promoted eventually to the
level of the internationally recognized “scientific
truth.” Its side effect, however, was very harmful
not only to Ukrainians and Belarusians, whose
existence as separate nationalities it simply
denied (and who, to various degrees, internalized
Russian view of themselves); it was harmful also
for Russians whose development into a modern
nation was strongly retarded.
The “continuity” myth appeared highly anachronistic in the modern world as it overemphasized and fixed for decades the religious (Eastern
Orthodox) identity of Eastern Slavs as a base of
their quasi-national unity, and introduced the
dynastic ties between Kyivan dukes and Moscow
tsars as the main institutional legitimization of
the Russian state. Little if any room was left for
modern civic identity and modern state institutions to evolve within this rigid and antiquated
model. With due reservations, it can be compared
to Islamic “ummah”—a spiritual community of
true believers. Actually, West European “Pax Christiana” might provide even a closer analogue to
Eastern “Slavia Orthodoxa.” The profound difference, however, comes from the fact that Pax
Christiana has not been nationalized/etatized
by any European nation, and no national identity
in modern Europe was fused primordially with Pax
Christiana and sacralized by this syncretic fusion.
Such an imaginary belonging and anachronistic loyalties clearly complicate development
of modern national identities and nation-state
institution building, rather than facilitate them.
Not incidentally, today’s Russian conservatives
claim to have more in common with the Islamic
tradition than with Western liberalism. Alexandr
Dugin believes, for instance, that “in the Islamic
and Orthodox traditions, almost everything corresponds. We both reject specific aspects of secular,
Western, European, individualistic conception
of human rights.” The Patriarch of the Russian
Orthodox Metropolitan Church Kirill avers that
“there are values no less important than human
rights. These are faith, ethics, sacraments, Fatherland.”5
the Soviet legacy as colonial alien and opted
for the European way of development following
its western neighbors, the south-eastern part
remained firmly attached to the Soviet values,
symbols and way of life, and thus prone to the
authoritarian “Eurasian” model predominant in
Russia and Belarus.
The regional and ideological polarization
makes many observers conceptualize Ukraine
as a cleft country where the West and the East not
only epitomize incompatible values, orientations
and attitudes, but also represent different ethnic
and linguistic identities (Ukrainian/Ukrainophone versus Russian/Russophone). The reality,
however, is much more complex. Firstly, there
is a huge region of Central Ukraine in between,
which mitigates the extremes and blurs differences. Secondly, both the West and the East
themselves consist of different regions, which
make the country even more heterogeneous.
And thirdly, most importantly, Ukraine’s divides
are primarily value-based and identity-driven;
and while they are partly determined by regions,
languages and ethnicities, this is only a statistical
correlation, not iron-clad deterministic dependence. In fact, as the regression analysis shows,
the divide between the Soviet/Pan-Slavonic and
anti-Soviet/Pan-European Ukraines correlates
much less with ethnicity and language of the
respondents than with their education and age.
Higher education and younger age predictably
correlate with pro-Western orientations, whereas
lower education and older age correlate with
the Soviet nostalgia and Slavophile anti-occidentalism.
Uneasy Emancipation
The “Kievan Russia” myth as a sort of “invented
tradition” dramatically hinders modern development of three nations: Ukrainians, Russians, and
Belarusians, all of whom internalized it to a certain
degree and still struggle with emancipation from
its quasi-religious spell. The myth reinforces, and
is reinforced by, the very strong anti-Western
forces that emphasize the profound “otherness”
of mythical, essentialized, East Slavonic, Eurasian,
Orthodox Christian civilization and reject Western
values and institutions, including the notion of
human rights, civic national identity, and liberal-democratic nation state as a viable alternative to the pre-modern patrimonial empire. East
Slavonic/Orthodox Christian “ummah” is highly
instrumental in this rejection and preservation
of pre-modern structures, habits, and institutions. Centuries-old controversy between the
Slavophiles and the Westernizers is just a particular reflection of a more fundamental “clash of
civilizations” and “clash of identities” in modern
Russia—but also, to various degrees, in modern
Ukraine and Belarus.
Of all three East Slavonic nations, Ukrainians,
for a number of reasons, seems to be the most
advanced in terms emancipation from the East
Slavonic “imagined community.” It results in
a higher political pluralism in the country and
persistent rejection of “sultanistic,” authoritarian
systems, so characteristic for Russia and Belarus
and most of the other post-Soviet states. On the
other hand, the unequal level of emancipation
(nearly complete in the west of the country
and very low in the east) determines internal
tensions within Ukraine and its convoluted,
incoherent development. Whereas the western
part of the country had decidedly abandoned
The “Two Ukraines” Reconsidered
The relative size of the “two Ukraines” (or,
rather, public support for the two respective
projects) can be measured by popular vote in
some crucial elections or referendum, tantamount
to civilizational choice. In 1991, 90 percent of
Ukrainian voters supported national independence but only one quarter cast ballots on the
same day for the leader of democratic opposition
and former political prisoner Viacheslav Chornovil as the president of the new independent
state. Two thirds supported a former communist
boss—a clear sign that only minority wished
Ukraine to break radically with the Soviet past
and follow the European way of development.
The majority still envisioned the new Ukraine as
a mere continuation of the old one, with largely
the same institutions, habits, and personnel.
By 2004, the “European” Ukraine defeated
the Soviet Ukraine in a dramatic Orange revolution but the preponderance of the former over
the latter was too small, unstable and wasted
ultimately in political infighting. By the end of
2013, incompatibility of the two projects evoked
a new crisis -- after president Yanukovych shelved
the Association Agreement with the EU, so dear
symbolically for the pro-European Ukrainians, and
put his bets on the Eurasian integration. Euromaidan brought a crushing defeat to Ukraine’s
neo-Soviet orientation—despite a hysterical
Russian reaction and occupation of parts of
Ukrainian territory. In May 2014, for the first time
in Ukrainian history, all the main presidential
candidates represented pro-European political
platforms whereas their Sovietophile rivals gained
mere seven percent of vote altogether.
Opinion surveys graphically confirm the shift
that occurred within Ukrainian society—partly
because of its internal development and diffusion
of Western ideas and values, and partly because of
the Russian invasion that caused a dramatic split
in Donbas but also an impressive consolidation in
the rest of the country (beyond the Russia-occupied Crimea). In July, as many as 86% of respondents in a nationwide survey declared themselves
“patriots of Ukraine” (6% did not), a 12% increase
since April 2012, despite a 7% fall in Donbas,
from 76 to 69%. Still, only 10% of respondents
in Donbas declared they did not consider themselves patriots of Ukraine—hardly a sign of the
separatist fever that reportedly affected the
region.6 An earlier (April 2014) survey by another
company revealed that only 16% of the proverbial
“Russian-speakers” would like Russian military
to “protect” them,7—contrary to what Putin and
his propaganda claim. In five regions of Putin’s
proverbial “Novorossiya” (Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Odesa), only 4 to 7
percent of respondents would like to see Russian
“peacekeepers” on their soil. Only Donbas and
Kharkiv are different—in the sense that people
there are twice as supportive of Russian invasion but even there this number is balanced by
a similar number of people who intend to fight
Russian aggressors with arms—and who are actually doing so today as volunteers.8
It seems that Vladimir Putin and his associates fell victims to their own propaganda. For
years, they promoted the notion of Ukraine as an
“artificial” state, deeply divided and ready to split.
For months, they brainwashed their own citizens
and gullible foreigners with hysterical invectives
against the “fascist junta” in Kiev which allegedly
persecutes ethnic Russians and forbids Russian
language. A simple fact that many members of
that “ultra-nationalistic” government including
the president and his interim predecessor (as well
as the volunteers fighting the terrorists in Donbas)
still speak Russian as their primary language is
carefully omitted in Russian and pro-Russian
media, like many other inconvenient facts.
Forging a Civic Nation
Ukraine is a bilingual country, where most
people have a good command of both Ukrainian
and Russian and often use them interchangeably,
depending on circumstances. Russian strategists
miss—or deliberately ignore—the fact that the
absolute majority of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and a solid plurality of ethnic Russians in
Ukraine are patriots of their country, not of
Russia,—exactly like Irishmen or Americans who
speak English remain patriots of their respective
countries rather than of England. This confusion leads Russian leaders to dramatic mistakes
and miscalculations, including their belief that
all of the south-eastern Ukraine was ready, like
the Crimea, for takeover—just because so many
people there speak Russian and therefore are
“almost the same folk,” in Putin’s terms. Yet, for
better or worse, they are not. And this forces Putin
to send not only mercenaries but also regular
troops to Donbas, because too few of the locals
are willing to fight. And the Putinists are increasingly puzzled with a strange disappearance of
“true Ukrainians” (“wonderful Slavonic people,”
in Dugin’s imagination) and a sinister emergence
of the “wrong” (Banderite) ones.
Back in May, a prominent film director and
ardent Putin’s loyalist Nikita Mikhalkov recorded
a hysterical video-address to the Odessites who
had bitterly disappointed him and his patron
by not following the Donbas footsteps and
supporting the anti-government uprising,
despite all the efforts and investments Russia
made. “Where and why the Russian army should
come?” he asked rhetorically. “Whom to save and
protect? The city where a million of inhabitants
live their usual life and only a host of activists
fight? What should the Russian army do in
a Banderite city where only a miserable minority
fights the Banderites? Are you, the Odessites,
Russians yourself? Prove it!”9
A seemingly simple fact that ethnic Russians
can be political Ukrainians—exactly as they can
be political Americans, Germans or Estonians—is
still very difficult to grasp by most Russians in
Russia and, regretfully, many foreigners. Ukraine,
since its very inception, has been built as a civic,
inclusive nation; despite notorious dysfunctionality of the state institutions, predatory elites,
and Russia’s relentless efforts to undermine or
even destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty. It seems,
ironically, that the results are the opposite.
The “wrong” type of Ukrainian identity based
primarily on symbolical distancing from Russia as
the main “Other” becomes the only viable type,
and the distance is increasingly perceived as
political (in terms of democracy, human rights
and civil liberties), rather than of language or
is a Ukrainian writer and publicist,
research fellow at the Institute of
Political and Nationalities’ Studies
in Kyiv and the president of the
national PEN-center.
Photo: Archive Navýchod
Edward Keenan, On Certain Mythical Beliefs and Russian Behaviors, in S. Frederick Starr (ed.). The Legacy of History in Russia
and the New States of Eurasia (Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 19–40.
As quoted by Robert Coalson, “Russian Conservatives Challenge Notion of ‘Universal’ Values,” RFERL Report (10 December 2008).
The “Rating” Sociological Group, Dynamics of patriotic feelings, August 2014, p. 6–7; http://www.ratinggroup.com.ua/upload/files/
International Republican Institute, Public Opinion Survey. Residents of Ukraine, April 2014, p. 10; http://www.iri.org/sites/default/
The New Generation
of Russian Warfare
Jānis Bērziņš
Russia’s actions in Ukraine surprised the West. Although
they were based on known strategies, the scale and the
simultaneous operationalization of asymmetric methods
was something new.
Russians call it “New Generation Warfare.” It
is based on Sun Tzu’s idea that “supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance
without fighting.”
In practice, after blocking Ukrainian troops
in their bases in Crimea, the Russians started
the second operational phase, consisting of
psychological warfare, intimidation, bribery,
and internet/media propaganda to undermine
resistance, thus avoiding the use of firepower.
The operation was also characterized by great
discipline of the Russian troops, display of new
personnel equipment, body armor, and light
wheeled armored vehicles. The result was a clear
military victory on the battlefield by the operationalization of a well-orchestrated campaign of
strategic communication, using clear political,
psychological, and information strategies, the
full operationalization of New Generation Russian
Warfare. A similar strategy was used in Eastern
Ukraine, although this time it was necessary to
employ military power. However, Russia still
denies that it occupied Crimea militarily or that
Russian troops are in Ukrainian territory.
Figure 1
Changes in the Character of Armed Conflict According to General Valery Gerasimov,
Chief of the Russian General Staff1
Traditional Military Methods
New Military Methods
Military action starts after strategic
deployment (Declaration of War).
Military action starts by groups of troops during
peacetime (war is not declared at all).
Frontal clashes between large units
consisting mostly of ground units.
Non-contact clashes between highly maneuverable
interspecific fighting groups.
Defeat of manpower, firepower,
taking control of regions and
borders to gain territorial control.
Annihilation of the enemy’s military and economic power
by precise short-time strikes in strategic military and
civilian infrastructure.
Traditional Military Methods
New Military Methods
Destruction of economic power
and territorial annexation.
Massive use of high-precision weapons and special
operations, robotics, and weapons that use new physical
principles (direct-energy weapons—lasers, shortwave
radiation, etc).
Combat operations on land,
air and sea.
Use of armed civilians (4 civilians to 1 military).
Management of troops by rigid
hierarchy and governance.
Simultaneous strike on the enemy’s units and facilities
in all of the territory.
Simultaneous battle on land, air, sea, and in the
informational space.
Use of asymmetric and indirect methods.
Management of troops in a unified informational sphere.
It follows that the main difference between
regular and New Generation Warfare moves:2
Therefore, the Russian view of modern
warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind. As a result, new-generation
wars are to be dominated by information and
psychological warfare, in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control, morally and
psychologically depressing the enemy’s armed
forces personnel and civil population. The main
objective is to reduce the necessity for deploying
hard military power. Instead, the objective is to
make the opponent’s military and civil population support the attacker to the detriment of
their own government and country. It is also
interesting to note the notion of permanent war.
It denotes a permanent enemy. In the current
geopolitical structure, the clear enemy is the
Western civilization, its values, culture, political
system, and ideology.
1. From direct destruction to direct influence;
2. From direct annihilation of the opponent to
its inner decay;
3. From a war with weapons and technology to
a culture war;
4.From a war with conventional forces to
specially prepared forces and commercial
irregular groupings;
5.From the traditional (3D) battleground to
information/psychological warfare and war
of perceptions;
6. From direct clash to contactless war;
7. From a superficial and compartmented war
to a total war, including the enemy’s internal
side and base;
8.From war in the physical environment to
a war in the human consciousness and in
9.From symmetric to asymmetric warfare by
a combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns;
10. From war in a defined period of time to a state
of permanent war as the natural condition in
national life.
The phases of new-generation war can be schematized as:3
First Phase: Non-military asymmetric warfare
(encompassing information, moral, psychological,
ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures
as part of a plan to establish a favorable political,
economic, and military setup).
Second Phase: Special operations to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures
carried out by diplomatic channels, media, and top
government and military agencies by leaking false
data, orders, directives, and instructions.
Third Phase: Intimidation, deceiving, and bribing
government and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties.
Fourth Phase: Destabilizing propaganda to
increase discontent among the population,
boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants, escalating subversion.
Fifth Phase: Establishment of no-fly zones
over the country to be attacked, imposition of
blockades, and extensive use of private military
companies in close cooperation with armed
opposition units.
Sixth Phase: Commencement of military action,
immediately preceded by large-scale reconnaissance and subversive missions. All types, forms,
methods, and forces are deployed, including
special operations forces, space, radio, radio
engineering, electronic, diplomatic, and secret
service intelligence, and industrial espionage.
Seventh Phase: Combination of targeted information operation, electronic warfare operation,
aerospace operation, continuous air force harassment, combined with the use of high-precision
weapons launched from various platforms (longrange artillery and weapons based on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation,
non-lethal biological weapons).
Eighth Phase: Rolling over the remaining
points of resistance and destroying surviving
enemy units by special operations conducted by
reconnaissance units to spot which enemy units
have survived and transmit their coordinates to
the attacker’s missile and artillery units; firing
barrages to annihilate the defender’s resisting
army units by effective advanced weapons;
airdrop operations to surround points of resistance; and territory mopping-up operations by
ground troops.
In operational terms, the first phase is pure
asymmetric warfare. It encompasses information,
moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and
economic measures. The objective is to establish
a favorable political, economic, and military setup
on the ground for the next phase. This includes
creating discontent with national institutions
among the population, using the question of
Russian as an official language, matters of citizenship, the poor level of social and economic
development in border regions and high level of
corruption, just to name a few. In Eastern Europe
and the Baltics the fundamental instrument in
the first phase is the Russian media controlled
by the Kremlin.
The second phase is a direct complement
to the first. It is mostly based on deception
measures. It includes leaking false plans to the
enemy’s intelligence, simulating military exercises or calculated escalating conflicts in other
regions. It includes manipulating international
organizations such as the United Nations, the
Red Cross, and NGO’s. The objective is dual.
On the one hand, it diverts the international
community’s attention from the main objective;
on the other, it misleads the opponent regarding
the real operational objectives.
The third phase’s objective is to make the
opponent’s legitimate political and military
leaders support measures against their own
country. A recent example was part of the
Ukrainian military joining the Russian Armed
Forces. The fourth and fifth phases are the ones
where green men start to act. It is the beginning
of the military part of the attack. A fundamental
aspect is to avoid admitting by all means that it
is a disguised military operation. The strategic
objective is to evade the opponent armed forces’
intervention. Since—officially—the men in green
are only local protesters, the police has to take
responsibility. A country’s police forces are rarely
ready to deal with special operations troops.
Together with the imposition of blockades and
the extensive use of private military companies
in close cooperation with the local armed opposition units, the opponent is unable to properly
defend its territory as a result. The sixth phase is
the start of direct military operations. These are
based on the idea of minimally deploying troops
and using high-precision weapons.
In other words, the Russians have placed the
idea of influence at the very center of their operational planning and used all possible levers to
achieve this: skillful internal communications;
deception operations; psychological operations and well-constructed external communications. In Ukraine, they have demonstrated
an innate understanding of the three key target
audiences and their probable behavior: the
Russian speaking majority in Crimea and Eastern
Ukraine; the Ukrainian government; and the
international community, specifically NATO and
the EU. Armed with this information they knew
what to do, and when and what the outcomes
were likely to be. They demonstrated that the
ancient Soviet art of reflexive control is alive
and well in the Kremlin.4
This is very relevant to understanding its
strategic significance, since it is the operationalization of a new form of warfare that cannot
be characterized as a military campaign in the
classic sense of the term. The invisible military
occupation cannot be considered an “occupation,” by definition. Not only were the troops
already on Crimean territory stationed at Russian
naval bases, but they were also officially part of
the local civilian militia. The deception operations occurred inside Russian territory as military
exercises, including those in Kaliningrad in order
to increase the insecurity of the Baltic States and
Poland. At the same time, the Crimean parliament
officially (although not legally according to the
Ukrainian Constitution) asked to join the Russian
Federation. Ukrainian media was jammed. As
a result, Russian channels of communication
propagating the Kremlin’s version of facts were
able to establish a parallel reality, legitimizing
the Russian actions in the realm of ideas.
To achieve this objective, it will most
probably not go beyond the fifth phase of
new-generation warfare. The first phase, the
one of non-military asymmetric warfare encompassing information, moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures, as
part of a plan to establish a favorable political,
economic, and military setup for the next phase
is already happening in many countries of the
post-Soviet space. This includes creating discontent among the local population with national
The Russians have
placed the idea of
influence at the
very center of their
operational planning
and used all possible
levers to achieve
this: skillful internal
deception operations;
psychological operations
and well‑constructed
institutions. The question of Russian as an official
language, matters of citizenship and the poor
level of social and economic development in
border regions are some examples.
The biggest challenge for a country’s security and defense is its unpreparedness to deal
with such a scenario. Usually, it is the result of
the simplification of strategy by many people
outside the defense and security sector to 3rd
generation military deterrence. There should be
no doubt that the defense ministry and the armed
forces should be ready to act in any scenario.
However, national security requires a multilevel
approach. Nations need to develop multilayered
and comprehensive defense plans.
Since Russia’s strategy is opportunistic,
reflecting the notion that any campaign is to
be pursued only in the case of certain victory,
it will not initiate the second, third, and fourth
phase unless favorable conditions are met.
Ensuring that such conditions do not take place
is entirely a country’s own responsibility. As
this is a non-traditional form of combat, just
recently being operationalized on such a scale,
a fair question arises whether NATO’s own legal
framework and instruments are ready to deal
with it. Moreover, it leaves open the possibility
for doubt. Supposing a Crimea-like situation
occurs in Narva, Estonia, for example. Can Article
5 of the North Atlantic treaty be invoked if there
is no armed attack, but instead there happens
what Russia would call a “democratic right
of self-determination of the same nature as
Kosovo and Crimea”? How should this issue be
managed: militarily or politically? If the Washington Treaty remains as it is, Europe faces the
risk of NATO’s military forces being willing to
fight, but being prevented from doing so by
Managing Director, Center for
Security and Strategic Research,
National Defense Academy
of Latvia
Photo: Archive Jānis Bērziņš
1 Gerasimov, V. (2013, 27 February). Neobkhodimo pereosmyslit’ formy i sposoby vedeniya boyevykh deystviy (It Is Necessary to
Rethink the Forms and Methods of Warfare). Voyenno-promyshlennyy kur’yer no. 8 (476), available at http://www.vpk-news.ru/
2 Adapted from Peter Mattsson’s DSPC lecture in Riga “The Russian Armed Forces Adapted to New Operational Concepts in a Multipolar
World?’, February 19, 2014.
3 Chekinov, S. G., Bogdanov S. A. (2013) O kharaktere i soderzhanii voyny novogo pokoleniya (The Nature and Content of a War of New
Generation). Voyennaya mysl’, no. 10, ISSN 0236-2058, pp. 13–24.
4 Reflexive control can be defined as “(...) a means of conveying to a partner or an opponent a specially prepared information to incline
him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action’ (Thomas, T. L. (2004). Russia’s Reflexive
Control Theory and the Military. Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 237–256). For a comprehensive analysis of the
Russian and Chinese achievements in this area, see (Tatham, S. (2013). U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic
Communications: a Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute
and U.S. Army War College Press).
Finding a Visegrad’s
Raison d’Être
Dariusz Kałan
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have
to decide if they want to be a player or just four more
tennis balls. If the latter, they will be easily played by both
domestic radicals and external actors.
A Hangover from the 1990s
In some readings, the Visegrad Group is the
child of an internecine dispute over the fate of
Central Europe triggered among dissidents and
intellectuals. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the
Eastern Blockers were keenly looking to locate
their identity in opposition to the Soviet one. The
likes of Miłosz, Konrád and Havel thus initiated
a dialogue about the region’s own history, heritage
and experience. Thirty years on, however, in an era
when politics is understood as a pure pragmatism,
a mere tool for engineering economic growth
and high levels of consumption, this soft, idealist
side to the V4 would look like a relic of old times.
Now entering its early 20s, the format faces
questions regarding its raison d’être that go
beyond mere intellectual problems. Central
Europe experts fielding queries from journalists
have had to learn to give a simple answer to the
recurrent question: “What is the Visegrad Four
for?” Or the cheekier alternative: “Can you list the
V4’s recent achievements?” The public remains
largely unaware of the V4’s goals. And much of
the trouble is that the V4’s founding objective
has been achieved: the V4 was formed in 1991
to facilitate the Euro-Atlantic integration of three
former Eastern Bloc countries—Czechoslovakia
(later the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary
and Poland. Today, all of four are members of
both EU and NATO.
Indeed, the V4 was useful in the early 1990s
when its target was to bring Central European
countries into the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
There were certainly clashes between the Four
at that time—the most eye-popping one being
when Václav Klaus’s Prague practically refused
to cooperate. And yet, the resolution of these
problems, and the proof of collective solidarity,
was much appreciated by both NATO and the
EU which opened their doors in 1999 and 2004.
With that, however, the EU took over as guarantor
of Central Europe’s economic and civilizational
development, and NATO extended its protective
umbrella over the region.
It is true that, although much less experienced
than its Western or Northern counterparts such
as the Benelux Union (est. 1944) and the Nordic
Council (est. 1952), the Group managed to build
its own brand over the past two decades among
EU policymakers. But still the V4 had lost its raison
d’être and, with the establishment of the International Visegrad Fund in 2000, the format looked
set to become a provider of grants and scholarships. Unfortunately, no V4 achievement will be
listed among the great triumphs of EU history,
and it clearly needs to deliver “more concrete”
and “more visible” results.
projects. The real stimulus for cooperation, it is
argued, can be joint projects leading to decent
and shared infrastructure that creates strong ties
between cities and people. Today, these ties are
surprisingly weak. It is challenging to get from one
Central European city to another, and we know
very little about the history, past or present of our
neighbors. These factors are potentially treacherous as they can be easily used by populists,
who are always happy to exploit a lack of popular
knowledge for their own purposes. Leaving the V4
format to politicians would severely undermine
its potential for developing social contacts and
mutual understanding.
Mission Is Not Accomplished Yet
And yet, it may be that the V4 still does have
a strong rationale—the problem is only that it has
failed to locate it. This is clear to those analysts
of Central Europe who consider the long term
perspective. They acknowledge the qualitative
difference between Central Europe’s first two
decades of the new century and the turbulent
inter-war period of the last one. Back then, not
one of the Four had trouble-free relations with
its neighbors. Hungarians looked for revenge for
Trianon from Slovaks; the Poles were at loggerheads with the Czechs. That world is now long
gone, and the post-1989 period is the first time
in history that relations in Central Europe are
not based on hegemony, domination or fear.
This, however, does not mean that such positive
juncture will persist.
Petty nationalism, historical resentments and
minority problems—all of them sooner or later
may resurface, especially in times of economic
turmoil, when the EU is exerting a strong normative influence on each of the four, and where large
member states are talking about a repatriation
of EU competencies. And this is precisely why
the region needs a platform for dialogue and
cooperation such as the Visegrad Group. This
platform allows its members to discuss their
common interests, voice them jointly in the EU
and thereby balance national egotisms. Bearing in
mind the experience of the past, the closest-possible collaboration between Central European
countries seems sensible. This cooperation should
not only include the search for a common political
voice in the EU, but also contribute to strengthening ties in many non-political areas.
Thus it will not just be about squeezing
money out of the European Union for large-scale
Looking for a New Foundation
But then the question remains whether all this
could be achieved under a different umbrella. We
tend to forget that after the collapse of Communism a variety of Central European formats was
established, but all of them have lost their significance or tasted extinction over the last twenty
years, the Central European Initiative (CEI) being
the most expressive example. Today, there is no
competition for the V4 in the region. This is something which should not really be a feather in the
format’s hat. But nevertheless, it does suggest
that the V4 has the potential to become something more important than a grant provider or
an initiative completely subordinated to the EU.
There are at least four areas where the V4 could
play a more proactive role. In these areas the
Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia
have to decide if they want to be a real player
or just four more tennis balls.
Energy security—and more specifically gas
security—points to a potential success story. In
many ways, the “formative experiences” for the
region were the 2006 and 2009 gas supply cuts.
These led to many substantial improvements
within the so-called North-South Initiative, and
today the Fours’ readiness to deal with similar
problems is higher than it was back in the second
half of the 2000s. Still, this is only the starting
point for more ambitious joint goals. The Four
must resist falling prey again to national egoisms,
which would mean wasting the chance for both
diversification and for creating a common market
in the region.
Another challenge is arranging the relationship with global powers, the U.S., China and
Russia, which for economic and political reasons
are still investing in their presence in Central
Europe. From the perspective of large powers
such a creature as the Visegrad Group simply does
not exist, nor does its common voice. This is why
global powers so easily play the game of “divide et
impera” in the region, while at the same time they
pay court to brand entities such as “Scandinavia.”
For the V4, a stark choice will present itself: ether
take a greater and more solidary interest in global
issues (also with the wider EU), or face isolation.
This certainly may be a chance for the region to
establish its own political identity.
Now is also the right time to initiate a healthy
dispute about the Visegrad Group. In none of
the Four has a dialogue on “Central European
policy” been successfully implemented. In Poland,
for instance, the intellectual heritage of “Central
European policy” is hardly smaller than of the
Eastern Policy (the Giedroyc doctrine), but still it
is the latter that stirs public emotions, provokes
arguments and remains consistently at the heart
of publicists’ attentions. Perhaps it is an effect of
the process of joining the EU: in their own affairs,
the Four have been Europeanized and taught
by Brussels, but when it comes to the East, they
still feel they have something to teach Brussels.
However, the discussion on greater institutionalization using the experiences of the Nordic
Council should be initiated, as well as on the
Visegrad Plus format, which until now has not
been used properly.
all have a strong interest in developments in
Ukraine, with which they either share a common
border or the support for Ukrainian civil society.
But the recent crisis has been showing that even
the V4 members tend to act separately, and with
moderate success. Truth to tell, the Group has
always faced problems taking up common positions on topics of a strategic nature: members of
the V4 could not speak with one voice on the 2008
war in Georgia, or the installation of American
anti-missile defense systems. However, the war
in southeastern Ukraine is unique, as it is about
the stability and safety of a V4 neighbor, and so
indirectly, also of Central Europe.
Let’s be honest: this is a test that the V4 has
never faced before. And the Group is failing it.
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia still
share the conviction that Russia is a key partner
in the East and as such should not be marginalized, and that all disputes (regardless of the
scale of action inspired or directly carried out by
Russia in Ukraine) should be resolved through
diplomatic dialogue. Finding greater risk from
possible deterioration of its trade with Moscow,
than in Russia’s aggressive actions in EU’s closest
neighborhood, takes form in practice of passive
acceptance of the status quo, sort of a “Visegrad
do-nothing” policy. Public statements by the V4
leaders on “impartiality” in the crisis in Ukraine
(Viktor Orbán), “unnecessary and harmful sanctions” (Robert Fico) or “civil war between groups
of Ukrainian citizenship” (Miloš Zeman), even if
not always fully reflective of the views of their
governments, testify to the fact that these Central
European elites do ignore the importance of the
Ukrainian-Russian conflict and its direct threat to
their own region.
It is nothing but a mistake. For so many years,
the V4 watched calmly as Russia played a game
of divide and rule in the region, which was able
to speak with one voice only in few cases. There
was a strong conviction that with an accession
to the Western structures, the place of Central
Europe in the world, between Germany and
Ukraine as a Matter of Survival
Last, but not least: a common Visegrad voice is
still missing in relations with its eastern neighbors.
Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic
Russia, had somehow changed. It has not. Now
the region may be wealthier, better educated
and better connected than ever before, but it is
just as exposed to the unpredictability of its big
eastern neighbor as it was a hundred years ago.
Now, the Visegrad countries are all a members of
NATO, a fact that should surely be some consolation, but if history teaches us anything, it is that
such alliances should not be overrated, especially at a time of U.S. retrenchment, but should
be treated rather as a supplement to national
defense capabilities.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which, unlike
Georgia, is not on another planet, but right next
door, should remind the V4 not only of where it
is on the map, but also of how fragile the heritage of the past twenty-five years can turn out to
be. In Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava and Prague,
one must realize that there will be no hesitation
to reconstruct nineteenth-century methods of
doing politics in this region too, if the right excuse
appears. This excuse may be anything, maybe the
protection of minorities or economic interests.
Edward R. Murrow once said that our history will
be what we make it. If the region will go on as it
is, then history will take revenge, and retribution
will not limp in catching up with it.
Senior Research Fellow, Central
Europe analyst, Polish Institute
of International Affairs
Photo: Archive Dariusz Kalan
The Ukrainian Policy
of Poland and Romania
Russian aggression in Ukraine has shown that in Eastern matters Poland
takes the same position as Romania, but differs significantly from the
Visegrad Group countries. This community of interests should be turned
into specific actions particularly concerning Ukraine.
he illegal annexation of Crimea and the
Russian invasion of Donbas was the
moment of truth for the cohesion of the
Visegrad Group. Unfortunately, it has shown very
deep differences of position between Poland and
its southern partners. On the other hand, Poland
could count on full support of Romania in the
Ukrainian matters in the EU and NATO. Romania
has been pursuing a decidedly pro-American
foreign policy, supporting NATO and EU expansion. Economic relations between Romania and
Russia are limited and Russia is treated as the most
important potential threat for Romanian security.
Poland and Romania should utilise this community of interest now for creating a triangle with
Ukraine, which needs the support of its Central
European neighbors more than ever.
The Polish interest in the East has always been
directed to a large degree towards the Black Sea,
and it had encompassed the lands of Romania.
From the late 14th century, Moldova (the largest
part of which is in Romania) was a Polish vassal
state for more than a hundred years. Then, until
the end of the 17th century, Moldova was a de
facto Polish–Ottoman condominium—for long
periods. The Polish expansion in the south had
its climax in the early 17th century, when Wallachia became its fiefdom for a short time. Conse-
lecturer at the Centre for East European Studies
of the Warsaw University.
Photo: demosEuropa
quently the Polish sphere of influence reached as
far as Bulgaria. Romania regained an important
position in Polish foreign policy in the interwar
period, when it became our only ally among
our neighbours (although some tensions were
also present). Its importance stemmed from its
role of the safest route from Poland to the West.
This was confirmed in September 1939, when
the Polish government along with many Polish
soldiers found refuge in Romania.
In the cultural sphere a particularly important
and little-known fact is the huge influence of
Polish culture on Romanian intellectual life in the
17th century. The greatest Romanian intellectuals
of the baroque period (Miron Costin, Gheorghe
Ureche, Dosoftei) went to schools in Poland, wrote
in Polish and followed Polish patterns of culture,
thus opening their own culture to contacts with
the West. Due to their contacts with Western
culture (through the Latin language) in Poland,
they spread among the Orthodox Romanians the
idea of their nation originating from the Romans.
For many centuries the north-eastern Moldova
(in 1774 occupied by Austria) played the role of
a bridge between Poland and Romania. In the
19th century many Poles and Jews from Galicia
settled there. Before the outbreak of World War
I the Poles constituted 5% of the population of
Today the foundation for closer cooperation
between Poland and Romania is a strategic partnership, which was signed in 2009 by the presidents of both countries. Unfortunately, in the
area of foreign policy, this agreement remained
largely on paper. In recent years, Romania has
been preoccupied mostly with itself. It is faced
with a much more serious internal problems
than Poland. These problems are exacerbated
by the fact that Romanian public institutions
are certainly much less effective than the Polish
ones. Bilateral contacts have been regular, but not
intensive. In the years 2005–2014, Polish Prime
Minister Donald Tusk visited Romania three times,
while visiting Hungary five times in the same
period. In 2010–2014, Polish President Bronisław
Komorowski visited Romania once and Hungary
four times.
On the other hand, much has been achieved
in bilateral economic cooperation. Poland has
become one of the most important economic
partners of Romania in recent years. The Polish
share of Romanian trade is now 3.5%. By the
end of 2012 the accumulated Polish direct
investments surpassed $750 million. In the
following years economic cooperation may
increase significantly. According to IMF forecasts, in the period of 2015–2019 Poland and
Romania will grow at the rate of 3–3.5%, which
will make them the two fastest-growing major
economies in the EU.
Romania may also be an important partner of
Poland within NATO. Warsaw needs such a partner
in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.
Romania has the second-largest military potential
among the countries of the former Communist
bloc after Poland. Poland has recently launched
a programme of modernising its armed forces.
A great opportunity for tightening the Polish-Romanian security cooperation was created by
the decision made by Bucharest in April 2014,
significantly increasing defence spending from
1. 4% in 2014 to 2% in 2017. Another positive
development is the increase of effectiveness of
government institutions in Romania, the most
important example of that being the successful
fight against corruption (dozens of politicians
and officials convicted and arrested). But there
remains the problem of the negative image of
Romania and Romanians in Poland. Opinion polls
show that Romanians are the most disliked nation
in Poland after the Roma. This irrational hostility
stems from associating Romania with the Roma
and from widespread ignorance. Romania is
perceived in Poland as a very corrupt country.
Unfortunately, information about Romanian
successes in the fight against corruption have
not reached the Polish public opinion.
Romania stands out in the EU as a country
with big advantages in the post-Soviet area. It is
a key player in Moldova, and it maintains active
relations with South Caucasus and Central Asia,
especially Kazakhstan. On the other hand, its relations with Ukraine are not very good. Bucharest
and Kiev were in dispute for almost 20 years after
the downfall of Communism about the course of
their maritime boundary. There are still several
contentious issues between the two countries,
including the Ukrainian plans to re-open the
Bystroye channel between the Black Sea and the
Danube, the status of minorities, especially the
Romanians in Ukraine, and differing interpretations
of the verdict of the Hague Court in the dispute
over the Snake Island in the Black Sea, which
was favourable for Romania. Mutual ignorance
and stereotypes constitute a serious challenge.
Romanian identity was built in the 19th century on
a staunch rejection of historical ties with Orthodox
Slavs, often treated as a homogenous mass. This
process was made easier by the fact that since the
establishment of the Romanian state in 1861, the
political elite has been clearly dominated by the
Balkan-directed Wallachia, followed by Transylvania looking to Central Europe, while Moldova,
cultivating its relations with Ukraine, comes third.
The legacy of this situation is a limited expert
knowledge on the eastern neighbour (e.g. very
few experts speak Russian or Ukrainian). On the
other hand, since gaining their independence
Ukraine wrongly perceived Romania as a country
threatening its territorial integrity.
However, there are very strong social and
historical bases for building friendly Romanian-Ukrainian relations. A personification of the
very close cultural links between Moldova and
Ukraine is the seventeenth-century Patriarch of
Kyiv Peter Mohyla, originating from a princely
family from Moldova, who had a huge contribution to the culture of both countries (academies, publishing houses). Common historical
space favoured intermingling of the two nations.
Romanian and Romanian-speaking Moldovans
are the largest minority in Ukraine after the
Russians. According to the 2001 census more
than 400 thousand Romanians live in Ukraine.
On the other hand, close to 450 thousand Ukrainians live in Moldova. Ukrainians constitute the
largest minority in Moldova, more than 10% of
the population. At least 50 thousand Ukrainians
live in Romania alone. Ukrainians are not this
intermingled with any other nation in the EU.
The rather poor political relations mean
that the potential for economic cooperation
between Romania and Ukraine is largely wasted.
The border between the two countries is over
530 km long, about 100 km longer than the PolishUkrainian border. However, the Romanian exports
to Ukraine are the same as to Moldova, despite
its economy being many times smaller than the
Ukrainian one. Furthermore, the volume of trade
between Romania and Ukraine is only slightly
bigger than that between Ukraine and Lithuania.
The revolution in Ukraine has opened
a window of opportunity for improving
Romanian-Ukrainian relations, strengthening
Polish-Romanian and Polish-Ukrainian cooperation and ultimately establishing a Polish-Romanian-Ukrainian triangle. It should especially
focus on trade, investment, energy, infrastructure,
higher education and security. Development of
cooperation in the Polish-Romanian-Ukrainian
triangle requires profound changes in mutual
perceptions. It will not be easy, but it is not impossible. Poland should play the role of an intermediary in this process. It is crucial for each of these
countries to realise that their strategic interests
overlap and are tightly connected. Finlandisation of Ukraine by Russia, the loss of its access to
the Black Sea, or its transformation into a failed
state would not only undermine the interests of
Romania in Moldova, but also directly jeopardize the security of Romania. From the point of
view of Polish security the stability of Ukraine is
fundamental. Ukraine‘s integration with the EU
is the most important tool for modernization and
defence against Russian domination.
In the EU, Ukraine cannot count on many
fully devoted friends. Poland is one of the few
of its advocates. Despite bilateral issues, Kiev
can also count on Romania much more than
on most EU members, including its neighbors,
Hungary and Slovakia. If close cooperation in
the Polish-Romanian-Ukrainian triangle could
be established, then it could be an engine for
cooperation with other countries in the region,
especially with Turkey. R
Russia’s Economy
after the War with Ukraine:
Where Is It Heading?
Vladislav L. Inozemtsev
Russian economy is entering a recession caused primarily
by domestic political factors. The overall costs of Putin’s
Ukrainian adventure may be estimated at not less than
1.5 percent of the country’s GDP and the sanctions aimed
on the financial sector will add to this by at least another
1.5–2 percent.
Even a year ago, Russia’s economic prospects
did not look very rosy: the GDP growth slowed
down (from 4.9 percent in the 1st quarter of
2012 to 0.9 percent in the 4th quarter of 2013),
most industries were affected by a noticeable
drop in investments, while inflation-adjusted
personal incomes increased by just 3.2 percent
in 2013—a 2.2 times slower pace than in 2000s
on average. But even the most skeptical analysts
have not talked about a recession that may be
comparable to the crisis of 2009, when Russia’s
GDP declined by 7.8 percent. That all changed
in February 2014, when it became clear that
Russia would interfere in Ukraine’s domestic
affairs, and this policy may have serious longterm consequences.
Today it seems obvious that Russia already
conducted a series of de facto military operations
against Ukraine: first were its actions during the
annexation of Crimea, then it orchestrated the
destabilization of Ukraine’s eastern regions, and
later Moscow sent its regular troops into Ukraine’s
sovereign territory. Since the last spring I reiterated several times that Russia will inevitably start
a full-scale military operation in Ukraine1, and now
I’m convinced that its actions will deprive Ukraine
not only of Crimea, but also of a number of territories in the south-eastern part of the country2.
The political climate in Europe, apparently, will
not return to normal over the next several years—
but what will happen during this time to Russia’s
economy? To answer this question one should
evaluate at least four factors that today have the
biggest impact on the economic life of the country.
First, there will be a sharp increase of the
government’s grip on the economy, the rise in
budget outlays, and, as a result, the tax burden
will grow and the financial reserves will decrease.
The fundamental reason is the need to fund the
Crimean adventure, to finance the operations
in eastern Ukraine (and in the future to pay
the bills of the newly established quasi-independent states in the region), and to increase
spending both on the military and on the security services. If one looks on Ukraine’s budget
for FY2014, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea
was entitled to receive subsidies amounting to
about UAH 3.2 billion, or roughly of US $380
million using the exchange rates effective by
December, 2013. According to current Russian
projections, the “development of Crimea” till
2020 will cost around RUB 1.1 trillion, or US $30
billion (or about US $5 billion annually). Simple
arithmetic shows that the expected amount of
Russian costs exceeds Ukraine’s levels by up to
12–14 times. In the case of Donetsk and Lugansk
regions the situation is much more complicated.
These regions received from Kiev much bigger
subsidies—for social needs, for protecting the
coal industry and for purchasing Russian natural
gas at affordable prices. The central authorities
allocated around US $4.2 billion annually for
both eastern regions (figures are average for
2012–2013). Even if one multiplies this amount
at least 3–4 times (that figure reflects the difference for example in average pension standards
between Russia and Ukraine), she or he gets the
amount in between US $12 and US $17 billion
annually. And I’m not talking about the need
to rebuild the war-ravaged infrastructure of
the region. To sum it up, I would say that the
Ukrainian adventure will cost Russia up to RUB
600–700 billion per year, or 4.5–4.7 percent of
overall federal budget outlays. Russian authorities already responded by announcing their
plans to increase the VAT from 18 to 20 percent,
the flat income tax from 13 to 15 percent and to
introduce a sales tax on regional level that may
be as high as 3 percent of any goods’ face value.
All this will lead to a further decline in economic
growth. I would say that the direct impact of the
war in Ukraine may cost the Russian economy
1.2–1.5 percent of annual growth from 2015 to
2017 onward, if not more.
Secondly, starting the aggression against
Ukraine, Russia faced sanctions from several
Western countries, and in response introduced
its own restrictions on trade with the EU and
the United States. Western sanctions are still
primarily financial in nature, limiting the ability
to raise funds from abroad. Meanwhile, this
source of capital has been a key engine of
growth for the Russian economy for many years,
compensating for the meager expansion of
domestic money aggregates. As a result, the
I would say that the
direct impact of the war
in Ukraine may cost the
Russian economy
1.2–1.5 percent of
annual growth from
2015 to 2017 onward,
if not more.
combined foreign debt of Russian companies
and banks at the start of sanctions campaign
(April 1, 2014) stood at $646.9 billion, of which
$134.2 billion were due before December 31,
2015. Therefore the sanctions may result in
“squeezing” money from the domestic interbank
market, as well as in urgent allocation of funds
from both the Reserve Fund and the National
Welfare Fund. To realize how huge the needs
of ineffective state-owned companies may be,
it is enough to remind that just one company
(Rosneft) has already applied for RUB 1.5 trillion
(US $41 billion)—a sum that roughly amounts to
the whole capital accumulated in the National
Welfare Fund. All this means that interest rates
on the domestic market will go up (the Central
Bank already has raised its refinancing rate from
5.5 percent p.a. in February, 2014 to 8.0 percent
p.a. effective from July 28, 2014), and this may
lead to both higher inflation and costs. The
consequence of this—taking into consideration the stagnant personal incomes—will be
a decline in consumer activity and subsequent
production cuts. At the same time it should be
noted that the government introduced some
“anti-sanctions” of its own, in particular banning
the import of agricultural products from the
EU, the United States and some other Western
countries. These measures have already led not
only to higher prices, but also to bankruptcy of
several retail chains and processing companies
using imported raw materials. I would assess the
impact of financial sanctions at 2.0–2.5 percent
of Russia’s GDP, and the effect of the reciprocal
trade embargo at 0.3–0.5 percent of GDP.
Third, the emerging economic uncertainty,
of course, affects both the consumer and investment plans. In the spring of 2014 most of the
companies working in the catering and retail
trade have already noted a significant reduction in visitor spending, if not a decline of the
number of customers. Passenger car sales in
Russia fell in August, 2014 by 25.8 percent
compared with the same period of the previous
year. Since the beginning of 2014, suburban
luxury homes and estates around Moscow and
St. Petersburg, which for many years were one
of the best investment destinations, are not too
easy to sell, despite the much lower prices that
have fallen by more than 40 percent from their
2013 post-crisis peak. In fact, all of these are the
clear signals of an approaching decline in investment activity. Capital flight from Russia, which
in 2013 amounted to US $62.7 billion, reached
US $74.6 billion in the first half of 2014. An indirect confirmation of the sharp disappointment
Russians experience in their economic future
is the growing emigration: during 2008–2011,
even during the transient crisis, the number
of Russians leaving the country for permanent
residence abroad approached on average 35.5
thousand people per year, but in 2013 it reached
182.6 thousand persons, and the first half of
2014 was estimated at around 122 thousand.
One may say without exaggeration that in some
sectors of the economy a genuine panic is in
place—and these negative expectations will
also affect economic growth, though it is very
difficult to evaluate it in precise numbers.
The causes of the
approaching crisis
of the Russian economy
today are hidden not
in cyclical fluctuations
in market conditions,
but in country’s inability
to make a successful
transition to a new
technological cycle.
Fourthly and finally, the consequences
of the war in Ukraine and of the increase of
government’s role in the economy resulted in
serious disagreements within the government
and the ruling elite. Economy Minister Alexei
Ulyukayev disagreed with the Central Bank officials concerning the use of the Reserve Fund
and allowing the budget to go into red. Finance
Minister Anton Siluanov refused to support
the position of Deputy Prime Minister Olga
Golodets on the pension system reform (in
the course of the debate President Vladimir
Putin fired a Deputy Economy Minister Sergei
Belyakov who openly criticized the government’s approach). After Regional Development
Minister Igor Slyunyaev tried to “correct” Mr.
Putin’s ideas on the methods of the development of the Russian Far East, the whole ministry
was disbanded on September 8, 2014—and one
may insist with confidence that the disagree-
ments inside the government shall not vanish
as the economic difficulties continue to grow.
This, in turn, means that economic decisions
will be made more slowly; the anti-crisis recipes
will become more cautious, and therefore all
the concrete steps will come late, exacerbating
the economic difficulties.
What conclusions can be drawn from
these trends? Today, it’s almost obvious that
Russian economy is entering a recession
caused primarily by domestic political factors.
The overall cost of Putin’s Ukrainian adventure
may be estimated at no less than 1.5 percent
of the country’s GDP and the sanctions aimed
at the financial sector will add to this by at
least another 1.5–2 percent. Therefore I would
predict contraction of the Russian economy
by at least 3 percent in 2015 and a slow return
back to “zero growth” in 2016–2017.
The main topic, with which the economic
bloc of the government is now obsessed,
concerns where to get money for injecting it
into the economy to resume growth. But this
seems to be a false focus since the very idea
presupposes the “normality” of the Russian
economy and therefore its susceptibility to
such measures. The major problem, however,
is that (unlike the most of the economies of the
West all mechanisms for effective management
and healthy competition at grassroots level of
Russian economy are largely destroyed. One
should realize that for example in the years
following the Great Depression in the United
States (from 1932 to 1938) both federal and local
governments allocated around US $3.7 billion
(US $152 billion in 2010 prices) to a program
of building roads—primarily for promoting
employment and growth—and that in Russia
from 2004 to 2013 for similar purposes (i.e. for
the construction of new and reconstruction
of existing roads) more than RUB 3.8 trillion
(US $122 billion) were spent. The difference,
however, lies in the result these investments
produced: in the United States more than 190
thousand km of roads were built, while in Russia
less than 20 thousand km. This example shows
that the state in Russia is unable to restore
economic growth simply because the money
it may accumulate for these purposes will be
either stolen or will be used very inefficiently.
And the growth of both the public sector and
budget spending does not give any hope that
the efficiency and competitiveness in the foreseeable future will be on the agenda of Russian
The causes of the approaching crisis of
the Russian economy today are hidden not
in cyclical fluctuations in market conditions,
but in country’s inability to make a successful
transition to a new technological cycle. Russia’s
lagging behind the advanced Western nations,
which was visible back in the Soviet time, looks
really catastrophic nowadays. The country
doesn’t produce computers, mobile phones,
modern means of communication; it is by 70–80
percent dependent on imports of drugs, medical
equipment, and of many crucial components
for aerospace and defense industry. The history
of Russian modernizations—from the time of
Peter the Great till the 1960s—shows that for
each new “turn” the country needs a massive
borrowing of technology from the outside
world. However, the major consequence of the
war with Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions today is the fact that Russian economy
is becoming a new autarky in nature, which
prevents it from any radical technological
change. In other words, the conflict with Ukraine
will not only slow the economic growth in Russia
and provoke an outflow of both capital and
creative people, but, even more importantly,
it will stop the influx of new technologies that
are critical to the transition to a new stage of
technological progress.
Thus, from an economist’s point of view,
Russia’s prospects for the coming years look
grim. Since the end of 2014 the economy will
enter into recession, which will continue in
2015, with the GDP declining by 2.5–4.0
percent. This decline will be accompanied by
a fall in investment and with the rise of inflation
to 8.5–9.5 percent p.a. in 2014 and to more
than 10 percent p.a. in 2015. The government,
faced with the need to increase ruble-denominated budget outlays to meet its obligations,
will allow the national currency to depreciate
against the dollar from its current level of RUB
37 / $1 to RUB 39.5–40.0 / $1 by the end of
2014 and to RUB 43.0–45.0 / $1 by the end of
2015. To be precise one should also add that
the population will react relatively calmly to
all that for two reasons. On the one hand, the
government propaganda is still very successful
in its efforts to shift responsibility for the newly
arising problems on the West (e.g. according
to the recent polls, 85 percent of Russians
believe that a ban on food imports was introduced not by Moscow, but by both the
European Union and the United States). On the
other hand, almost 58 percent of working
Russians get their income (wages, benefits or
pensions) either directly from the government
or from the state-owned corporations—and
the authorities may increase these payments
regardless of the actual state of the economy.
This situation leads to a situation where the
real concern about the economic situation in
the society will arise only when it will become
too late to correct the mistakes. This is what
allows me to assert that the conflict with
Ukraine has in Russia spawned a whole range
of economic, social and political processes
capable to stall its economy, and to give rise
to huge changes both in Russian society and
in the Russian state.
is Professor of Economics, Chair of the
Department of International Economy
at Moscow State University’s School of
Public Governance
Photo: Archive Vladislav Inozemtsev
1 Vladislav Inozemtsev. “Putin sólo espera el mejor momento para la invasión” in: La Razón [Madrid], 21 de Abril 2014, p. 25;
Vladislav Inozemtsev. “Nach 15 Jahren Macht bleibt niemand rational” in: Der Standard [Wien], 2014, Marz 25, S.
2 Vladislav Inozemtsev. “Оekraïne moet het Oosten afstofen” en: NRC Handelsblad [Amsterdam, The Netherlands], 2014, September 2,
pp. 16–17;
Владислав Иноземцев. “Украина vs. Россия: выбор пу-ти” в: The New Times, № 28, 8 сентября 2014, сс. 25–27 (Vladislav
Inozemtsev. “Ukraine vs. Russia: The Choice of the Path” in: The New Times [Moscow, Russia], № 28, 2014, September 8, pp. 25–27,
in Russian]
Lithuania: Cold Winds
Blowing from the East
Žygimantas Mauricas
Russia is only the 8th largest export partner of Lithuania
after Germany, Latvia, Estonia, UK, Netherlands, Poland
and Sweden. This implies that trade disruptions with Russia
would have comparably limited effect for Lithuanian
success story,” which showed good example to
other eurozone countries “that adjustment is not
only necessary, but also possible—even without
currency devaluation.” And finally, in a couple of
weeks Lithuania will finish the construction of
liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which will
substantially decrease Lithuanian energy market
dependence on politically capricious Russia.
And yet as Mr. Murphy would remark “if situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
In spite of remarkable economic achievements,
the year 2014 brought an event that may have
a damaging effect on Lithuanian economic development for many years, if not decades, to come.
An ongoing economic war between Russia and
the European Union, triggered by geopolitical
tensions in Ukraine, threatens erecting yet another
Berlin Wall (should rather be called “Donbass
Wall”). This threatens to deprive Lithuania of its
status as a bridge between the East and the West
and could push Lithuania to the periphery of
Western civilization—just as Western Berlin once
was. And yet, I argue that the situation is not as
dangerous as it may appear—looking at a number
of studies predicting that Baltic region in general
The year 2014 will be seemingly the best
year for Lithuanian economy. Surely not only
because Lithuania succeeded in negotiating
yet another EUR 6.7 billion package from European Union, which sweetened the celebration
of the tenth anniversary of EU membership.
Firstly, Lithuania became the first among the
Baltic States to reach the pre-crisis GDP level,
which is an impressive achievement given that
Lithuanian economy contracted by as much as
14.8% in the year 2009 alone. Secondly, Lithuanian GDP per capita (in PPS) increased to 75% of
average EU level and for the first time in living
history surpassed that of Greece and Portugal.
This achievement is highly symbolic as it challenges the deep-rooted perception about the
poor Post-Soviet Eastern Europe and the rich
Western Europe (or at least what concerns the
southern part of it). Thirdly, Lithuania has met
all the Maastricht criteria and will become the
19th member of eurozone in January 1, 2015. This
is again an impressive achievement given that
Lithuania managed to reduce its budget deficit
from 9.4% to a mere 2.2% in just 4 years. Mario
Draghi prized Lithuanian experience as a “Baltic
and L­ ithuania in particular would perish, or at
least undergo severe recession if the relations
between Russia and the West will come back to
the Cold War times.
Transport sector (primarily road transport)
is far more vulnerable with close to 30% of total
export revenues coming in from Russia. Slowdown of Russian economy, weakening ruble and
potential trade disruptions will restrict west-east
movement of goods. Hence, transport sector
revenues from Russia may fall by as much as
25–35% in 2014 and 2015. However, even this
magnitude is not extraordinary: similar fall was
observed in 2009, whereas a massive drop of
60% during the Russian economic crisis in 1999
was by far of greater magnitude.
Statistics and Reality
There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Statistically, as much as 19.8% of Lithuanian
exports were directed to Russia in 2013—the
highest rate in the whole European Union.
However, large majority of goods exports are
re-exports (85%), which is essentially a westeast transit of goods from the Western Europe
to Russia and other CIS countries. Exports of
Lithuanian origin (excluding re-exports) to
Russia accounted for a mere 4.8% of overall
Extraordinary Flexibility
It is not the first time Lithuania experienced
temporary import bans from Russia. For example,
in October-December 2013 Russia banned all
dairy imports from Lithuania during the so called
“milk war.” However, this apparently did not have
any material long-lasting negative effects on
Lithuanian dairy industry. Lithuanian producers
were flexible enough to find new export markets
for their products ranging from Central Asia to
Middle East and China. Exports to other Eurasian
Customs Union countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan)
also had a tendency to increase, suggesting that
some of these products were later “re-exported”
to Russia. Another “economic war” episode
occurred in end-2009 when Russia imposed
stricter border control procedures several months
before the creation of the Eurasian Customs
Union. Exports fell by close to 50%, but this ban
did not have any material long-term effects either
(in fact, exports to Russia were growing very fast
both in 2010 and 2011). Hence, if history is to
repeat itself again, the ultimate effect of Russian
economic sanctions on Lithuanian producers will
be somewhat limited.
As a consequence of this, existing Russian
economic sanctions (i.e. import ban on meat, fish,
fruit, vegetables and dairy imports from all EU
countries for the period of one year starting from
August 7, 2014) will have somewhat limited effect
on Lithuanian economic growth ( 0.8 p.p. of GDP).
Existing Russian
economic sanctions
(i.e. import ban on meat,
fish, fruit, vegetables
and dairy imports
from all EU countries
for the period of one
year starting from
August 7, 2014) will have
somewhat limited effect
on Lithuanian economic
growth ( 0.8 p.p. of GDP).
exports of Lithuanian producers. In this
respect, Russia is only the 8th largest export
partner of Lithuania after Germany, Latvia,
Estonia, UK, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
This implies that trade disruptions with Russia
would have comparably limited effect for Lithuanian producers.
Hence, in spite of existing economic sanctions,
Lithuanian economy should remain in positive
GDP growth territory both in 2014 and 2015.
Furthermore, Lithuania’s Baltic sisters—Latvia
and Estonia—would have even lower negative
effect (0.4–0.5 p.p. each); hence the whole Baltic
region should remain one of the fastest growing
regions in the EU despite the Russian sanctions.
Obviously, if situation were to escalate further
with Russia and the EU exchanging counter and
counter-counter sanctions, then the effect would
be bigger, but this scenario is highly unlikely. First
of all, other Eurasian Customs Union members (in
particular Belarus and Kazakhstan) do not support
further sanctions against the European Union.
Secondly, the European Union, being dependent
on Russian energy resource imports, will be highly
unwilling to extend sanctions (at least before the
heating season starts).
energy generation in Lithuania with gas-powered plants supplying close to 25% of overall
electricity consumption (2012). Gas is also widely
used for heat generation in all the Baltic States
with the share of gas in central heating system
still standing at close to 50%. Hence, in case of
gas supply disruptions, the effect on Lithuanian
economy would be considerably larger than the
existing ban on food product imports.
However, high dependence on Russian gas
should not be confused with supply insecurity,
since security of gas supply not only depends on
import dependence, but also on other factors
such as the existence of gas storage facilities,
availability of substitutes, the status of a country
as a transit country or development of new energy
security enhancing projects.
First of all, Lithuanian gas energy security
is enhanced as a result of its status as a transit
country to Russian Kaliningrad district, which
receives 100% of its gas supplies via Lithuania.
Existing underground gas storage facility in Kaliningrad district is able to supply Kaliningrad with
only 7–12 days of gas consumption while Nord
Stream offshore gas pipeline, running directly
from Russia to Germany via Baltic Sea does not
have a branch to Kaliningrad. Moreover, according
to the existing agreements, Lithuania has a right
to reduce transit volumes to Kaliningrad proportionally to the import volumes from Russia, hence
if Lithuania would suffer, so would Kaliningrad.
Secondly, the risk of gas supply disruptions
is significantly reduced due to the existence of
Incukalns Underground Gas Storage Facility in
Latvia, which has a capacity to store up to 2.32
billion m³ of natural gas (140% of annual Latvian
consumption). The facility plays very important
role in enhancing gas supply security not only
in Latvia, but in the Baltic region as a whole. It
buys gas from Russia in summer (when demand
is low) and sells it in winter to their customers in
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and even Russia itself. In
this respect Finland, for example, is much more
vulnerable to unforeseen gas supply disruptions,
High Dependence on Russian Gas
Formally, Baltic States in general and Lithuania in particular seemingly have an exceptionally
high dependence on Russian gas imports. First
of all, in all of these countries Russia is the sole
supplier, providing 100% of natural gas imports.
Moreover, none of these countries at present have
alternative sources of gas imports with the only
gas supply channel being Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, operated by Russian government-owned gas
export monopoly Gazprom. In addition, none of
the countries extract their own gas (even though
attempts are being made to look for shale gas
in the Baltics) thus making the gas market fully
dependent on Russian imports.
Majority of imported gas in Lithuania is
consumed by industrial companies (i.e. fertilizer producers consume close to 50% of overall
Lithuanian gas imports), which are important
players in Lithuanian labour market and account
for a significant share (3%) of Lithuanian exports.
Is spite of increasing usage of renewable energy
sources (e.g. wind, biofuel), Russian gas still
remains among the most popular resources for
since it has no large scale storage facilities. To
reduce this vulnerability, Finland is implementing
“Balticconnector” gas pipeline project, which
would connect Finland to the Baltic grids and
would allow access to the Latvia’s natural gas
storage facilities in Incukalns (expected: 2016–
Finally, Lithuania is in the final stages of
building Klaipeda LNG terminal, which is scheduled to begin operations on December 2014.
The terminal has a capacity to supply up to 2
billion m³ of natural gas per year (~2/3 of annual
consumption in Lithuania) and would provide
real alternative to Russian imported gas (gas
supplier—Statoil). In addition, Lithuania fully
implemented The EU’s Third Energy Package,
which will enable to create competitive and
transparent gas market (as a consequence of its
efforts to liberalize gas market, Lithuania was
paying the highest gas import price for the last
couple of years).
In addition, Lithuania is carrying out other
energy security-enhancing projects: construction of NordBalt (700MW) cabel between Lithuania and Sweden and LitPol Link (1000MW)
cabel between Lithuania and Poland, which are
expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
This would reduce the need to use gas powered
plants for electricity production, which covers
around 25% of overall electricity consumption in
Lithuania. Heating sector is also expected to move
almost completely towards renewable energy
sources. To achieve this aim, Lithuania will use
2014–2020 EU funds to build renewable energy
cogeneration plants in the biggest cities—Vilnius
and Kaunas.
society. First of all, Lithuania should focus on
plenty of opportunities that come from the West,
rather than allow being paralyzed by anxieties
and phobias that come from the East. Lithuania
should exploit the existing (a hard-working and
educated labour force) and to promote the new
centres of future growth (attracting high-tech
from the West via direct investments and generating in-house high-tech ideas by promoting
research and development activities). Lithuania
should also focus on more efficient usage of
generous EU funds.
Secondly, Lithuania should resist the temptation to overspend and continue pursuing responsible fiscal policies. And finally, Lithuania should
continue carrying out vital economic reforms,
which would help Lithuania become one of
the most business-friendly countries in Europe.
Geopolitical and economic turbulences in Russia
should not become an excuse for postponing
reforms, investments and action. L­ ithuania has
a good opportunity to become one of the leading
countries in the EU. Otherwise, there’s a good
chance that Lithuania will be caught in longlasting slow growth or even stagnation trap.
Which way Lithuania will follow depends only
on her. Ž YG I M A N TA S
Chief Economist at Nordea
Bank Lithuania and Lecturer
at ISM University of Management
and Economics
Photo: Nordea Bank
The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is...
Fear Itself
During his first inauguration speech in
1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt told to crisis-troubled American citizens that “the only thing we
have to fear is... fear itself.” The same idea would
perfectly fit the Russian-sanctions-hit Lithuanian
Is Turkey Economically
K. Ali Akkemik
It is likely that the Turkish economy will suffer from
serious structural defects in the coming years. The reforms
are over and no one expects massive influx of foreign
funds as before.
Since the famous Gezi Park uprising in May
2013, politics has been over and above everything
in Turkey. In December, prosecutors launched
bribery and corruption investigations against
four ministers in the cabinet. The government
responded by replacing top officials in the judiciary and law enforcement forces, strongholds of
an Islamic movement which undermined Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power. Municipal
elections in March and the victory of Erdogan’s
Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has
been in power since 2002, in the presidential
elections in August 10, 2014, essentially ended
political instability, at least on the surface.
While all this was happening, significant
flaws in economy went unnoticed and forgotten.
Since politics settled down after the presidential
election in August and the new government is
formed by AKP under the new party chief and
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, it is now time
to discuss economic weaknesses that the political
instability masked so far.
and achievements of the past 12 years. “Reform
fatigue” seems to be an impediment now.
Embarking on Kemal Derviş’s economic reforms
under the auspices of the IMF, which started in
2001, AKP successfully carried out reforms whose
main pillars were fiscal discipline, central bank
independence, better banking regulation, and
inflation targeting. They all proved successful.
During 2011 general election campaign—
which he won—Erdogan announced an ambitious set of economic targets for 2023, which
will be a centenary of the country. These include
rising to the list of 10 largest economies and
having export revenues of $500 billion. It appears
that these targets can be achieved only with
a remarkable growth performance of about
10% a year in the next 10 years, with exports
as its propeller. These are, by no means, downto-earth targets today. A quick look at recent
growth performance gives us a clue. The strong
growth during 2003–2007 (6.9%) stopped during
the global financial crisis (minus 4.8% in 2009).
However, the economy bounced back with strong
recovery (9% during 2010–2011). Unfortunately,
growth slowed again recording 3% during 2012–
2013. In World Economic Outlook (WEO), IMF
Vision 2023
An important mainstay of AKP’s election
campaigns this year was economic reforms
projects growth rate between 2.2% and 3.5% for
2014–2019. Good old days of rapid growth are
over and low economic growth rates may persist.
also reasons to be optimistic. Trade relations
with Iraq may develop further if politics calms
down there, particularly in the northern part of
the country. The geopolitical position of Turkey
and international politics will assuredly affect
international trade.
In the case of exported goods, Turkey still
specializes in mid-stream manufactures. There
is a need to increase the level of technological
sophistication of exports. However, this seems
difficult in the near future considering high
import dependency and lack of a clearly defined
industrial policy. Therefore, as WEO data also
suggest, foreign trade will hardly serve as an
engine of growth in the short-run.
International Trade
Vision 2023 targets $500 billion of export
revenues by 2023. WEO estimate of export growth
for 2014–2019 is between 6–7%. But the required
rate for 2014–2023 to reach Vision 2023 target is
much more than that: a full 13%. Two workable
options to achieve such high growth rates for
exports are expanding the export markets or
making structural changes in the composition
of exports.
Many believe that
one of the AKP
governments’ biggest
achievements is
ensuring massive and
continuous inflows of
foreign capital under an
open-door policy which
financed an expanding
domestic consumption.
Structural Problems in the Economy
Rapid economic growth, large-scale
economic reforms aiming to strengthen the
market economy, and extension of health services
to large masses, among many other factors, have
contributed significantly to the rise of AKP and
Erdogan since 2002. Notwithstanding, certain
structural flaws in the economy carried a potential
to reverse the economic gains. Some of those
important flaws are: excessive dependence on
consumption financed by foreign capital, low
savings rates, diversion of resources to unproductive areas, and rising indebtedness of the private
sector. So far, the weaknesses of the economy
did not stand in the way. But this does not mean
they will not do so in the future, because global
economic conditions are going to go through
serious changes.
Many believe that one of the AKP governments’ biggest achievements is ensuring massive
and continuous inflows of foreign capital under an
open-door policy which financed an expanding
domestic consumption. National savings rate
(approximately 14% of GDP) is much lower than
investment rate (21% of GDP). Government
officials admit that household savings rate is
fairly low and there is a need to increase it. The
key point here is that the Turkish economy is
As to expanding export markets, about half of
Turkish exports were destined historically to the
European Union. But this has been declining since
2007. The shares of EU and Middle East in Turkish
exports in 2004 were 12.5% and 58%, respectively.
In 2013, the share of EU declined to 41.5% and
that of Middle East rose to 23.4%. Middle East
emerged as the second most important trade
partner. The slow-down in the EU will persist for
some more time in the near future and the EU’s
share may decline further. However, diversification does not seem easy due to political turmoil
in the Middle East. On the other hand, there are
consumption-driven and consumption spree
is financed by bank loans. It was more difficult
for consumers to borrow from banks in the
1990s. During Erdogan’s term, the conditions
for obtaining bank loans were eased and credit
card usage became widespread. Given the rise
of middle class and enormous availability of
loanable funds at a global scale, this is typical.
What Erdogan succeeded at, however, is making it
easier. The size of household credits as percentage
of credits hit 39% of GDP in the first half of 2014.
For comparison, the relevant figure was only 2%
in 1998, and 11% in 2007. Increasing liabilities
of households and private firms raise concerns
about the possibility of financial collapse.
The second flaw is about resource allocation.
Starting in the 1980s, investible funds were channeled not to productive industries but to services,
construction in particular, which accounts for half
of total fixed investments. Investments diverting
away from industry in a country where there
is a need for further industrialization cannot
contribute to future growth. For one thing, they
do not stimulate technological progress. There
is a severe mismatch between the government’s
economic targets and its implementation.
Infrastructure investments accompanied
construction boom. In 2011 general election
campaign, the government launched “crazy
projects” (as they were named), including a third
international airport in Istanbul, new highways,
and high-speed rail projects. These are under
construction. Infrastructure investments may
pay off well in the future but this is hardly true for
construction. On the other hand, infrastructure
investments may fail expectations as well. Given
unavailability of funds domestically, the expectation of foreign capital inflow slowing down and
international borrowing rates increasing from
2015; it remains a big challenge for the government to find the needed funds. These projects
may even be impeded.
Financing of consumption and investments
and foreign capital inflows are responsive to
interest rates. In Turkey, interest rate is not only
an economic issue; it is political as well. Normally,
under such macroeconomic circumstances as
rising inflation, depreciating currency, and an
alarmingly large current account deficit, the right
“textbook” policy for an independent central bank
is to raise the interest rate. But Erdogan, known for
his strong aversion to high interest rates, has been
arguing against it strongly since last year. The
Bank had complied until the beginning of 2014, at
the cost of damaging its independence. When the
Bank substantially raised the benchmark rate from
6.75% to 11.5% in January, Erdogan criticized this
move harshly. It is understood that low interest
rates are needed to sustain the consumption
boom, especially in the construction sector.
Indebtedness of the Private Sector
During the course of economic growth, a new
class of conservatives and entrepreneurs believing
in the supremacy of the market economy was
nurtured. Private firms obviously received the
biggest share of profits from economic growth.
However, a cost had to be paid during this
process. Due to the high-interest-rate-and-lowexchange-rate policy, which was adopted until
the global financial crisis to secure inflows of
foreign capital, domestic borrowing had become
extremely costly for private firms who turned to
borrowing from international markets at more
favorable rates. They accumulated and keep
accumulating exceptionally high amounts of
foreign debt. Things changed after the global
financial crisis. Private firms turned to borrowing
from domestic banks, whose capital was made
stronger after the banking sector reforms earlier.
Credits extended by banks to the private sector
(including household credits) passed 100% for
the first time in 2014. It was only 56% last year
and merely 25% in 2007. Private sector is highly
dependent on bank loans.
As long as there is excess liquidity in the
world’s capital markets, things are easy in Turkey.
But when this liquidity named “hot money” is
unavailable, vulnerabilities of the economy come
to the surface. Economic growth was realized by
boosting private consumption financed mainly
by foreign borrowing. But, much of these foreign
funds are coming in the form of short-term debt.
These will be paid in foreign currency. With the
recent “corrective” depreciation of the lira against
the dollar since mid-2013, the exchange rate
risk exacerbated the situation. As a highly open
economy, Turkey is vulnerable to adverse effects
of the exchange rate. Due to Fed’s decision to
raise the interest rates gradually, it is expected
that 2015 will witness a strong dollar. Surely, this
will negatively affect the large foreign debts of
the private sector.
industrial policy. Such a strategy should have
a long-run perspective so that the country can
overcome high import dependency and reduce
current chronic account deficit.
January 11, 2014 edition of the Economist
stated that “Superficially, the country modernized
rapidly, observers say, but underneath the old
habits of government-by-favor, which Mr. Erdogan
had once opposed, seemed to wheedle their way
back.” How will it go? Time will tell. At the moment,
the situation is not encouraging.
Associate Professor of Economics at
Kadir Has University in Istanbul,
Photo: Archive K. Ali Akkemik
What Is Awaiting Turkey in 2015 and After?
It is likely that the Turkish economy will suffer
from serious structural defects in the coming
years. The government successfully carried out
reforms which started twelve years ago and put
the economy on high-growth track. However,
the present situation is different and low growth
performance seems to persist. It is time for the
government to face economic challenges on the
thorny road to 2023. The reforms are over, no one
expects massive influx of foreign funds like before,
economic growth rates will be moderate, private
sector has accumulated large short-term foreign
debt, and the current account deficit continues
to be a major threat.
The first and foremost task for the new government which took office in the end of August is
to bring in the lost dynamism to the economy.
AKP government promotes free market economy.
Private sector, against which it is leaning its back,
is looking to the government amidst stringent
political conditions not only in the country but
also in the Middle East. To make things worse,
there is a politically polarized environment in
the country.
In the medium-to-long run, Turkey needs to
revise its industrialization strategy. At the present,
there is no clearly defined and communicated
The Economic Transition
and Its Critics
Leszek Jażdżewski
The last quarter of the century in Central Europe is one
of the most spectacular examples of triumph of idea
over matter. It was made possible because the elites
recognized reforms as their historic mission.
The criticism of the economic transition, or
rather of the “betrayal of the intellectuals” who
underwrote the so-called “Balcerowicz plan,”
leading Poland from socialism to capitalism, has
for years been the most important weapon in
the ideological arsenal of the Polish new left. It
is this—formerly rather marginal—description
that set the tone of the debates on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the transition. In
the so-called “important texts” and “important
interviews” leading Polish intellectuals were
beating their breasts and castigating the reforms
programme which they had supported until
Two things are of note about the left-wing
criticism of the transition. First, it stems from
a misunderstanding. Second, the issue of the
transition is just a pretext for left-wing criticism.
The democratic changes in Poland are based
on the myth of a voluntary and peaceful transfer
of power. But the actual process was completely
different. The Communists wanted to make
the opposition co-responsible. The opposition
wanted political legitimacy without losing social
legitimacy. The Round Table agreements were
invalidated one day after the elections and most
of them were immediately forgotten. But it was
the Round Table, rather than the 4th July 1989
elections, that remained the symbol of the new
reality; the founding myth of the Third Polish
The opposition elites made two fundamental
decisions. First, they opted for building capitalism
in Poland, a system which they had neither
wanted nor understood earlier. Second, they
decided that the new Poland should be created
in cooperation, rather than in conflict, with the
former regime, marginalising the so-called “independence” communities, which wanted representatives of the former regime to be brought to
justice. It meant in practice that the “Solidarity”
government would not build political capital on
radical settling of accounts with people responsible for the crisis with which the government
had to deal. It is no accident that in the eye of
his critics the famous “thick line,” intended as
absolving Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government
from responsibility for errors and distortions of
the previous system, became a symbol of his
agreement with the people of the former regime.
The criticism of the changes in Poland after
the fall of Communism is the result of a misunder-
standing. A misunderstanding which is to a large
degree deliberate. Its critics regard the Polish
transition a well thought-out and organised
process. Should the reforms be considered as
a final result of necessity, accident and determination in rescuing the economy from bankruptcy,
both the merits and the faults of the reformers
would be much smaller. According to the dominant
narrative there were several variants to choose
from and the most radical one was selected.
understood without comprehending the global
context. The Left, recovering after the disaster
which was the end of Marxism as an idea and
Socialism as praxis, was unable to create a positive
language. But it received a present in the form
of the crisis. It turned out that even the Federal
Reserve, the global financial giants and the US
government could not break the rules governing
the market without consequences. The costs were
transferred on the citizens. Risky investments of
some led to a debt spiral for everyone. Liberalism was unable to credibly explain the crisis.
In the general awareness the crisis was regarded
as a proof of capitalism’s failure rather than of
universality of its principles.
Intellectual fashions often reach peripheral
countries with some delay. The economic crisis
led to a change of paradigm all over the world. In
Poland the trial of the transition is in fact a poorly
disguised divorce with “neo-liberalism.”
Neoliberalism is a concept, at least in our
region, which has little to say about what it
describes. This is an ideological label, an expression of intellectual disregard. A neoliberal is
a shield you hang on your enemy, making him
easier to hit. It means a person lacking social
sensitivity, defending banks and great capital at
the expense of the poor. Talking to a “neoliberal”
does not make sense, for you know he has just
one answer to everything: “The market.”
This stereotype, like any stereotype, is unjust.
But as in every stereotype there is also a lot of
truth in it. In the 1990s and later, basically up to
the crisis, the Washington Consensus and the
resulting consequences for the economy were
something which you did not dispute. People
with different views on the functioning of the
economy met—at best—with disdain. Radical
critique of the transition and settling accounts
with “neoliberalism” is revenge, a retaliation for
the period of exclusion. It is left-wing sails that
get the wind today. It is in the leftist language
that you can sense the triumphant spirit of
history. The undecided gather under the banner
The criticism
of the transition and
the triumph of the
left­‑wing discourse
in Poland cannot be
understood without
the global context.
This is a myth which has very little in common
with reality. The opposition took power against its
own will, being quite unprepared for this task. If
it did not, the policy of the declining Communist
system would probably have led to a dramatic
crisis and it is possible that the Romanian scenario
would have been realised in Poland. The fact that
“Solidarity” took the most difficult decisions upon
itself meant that instead of a revolutionary way
we chose an evolutionary path, with all its consequences. In the social perception the authors of
the reforms carried full responsibility for their
shape and course. They paid for it with their political careers. Opponents of the reforms became
their beneficiaries. It was the firefighters rather
than the arsonists which were made responsible
for the fire.
The criticism of the transition and the triumph
of the left-wing discourse in Poland cannot be
of winners. A “neoliberal” replaced a “leftist” in
the role of a bit ridiculous and certainly anachronistic freak.
The Polish left makes many charges against
the Polish elites from the transition period. These
can be largely reduced to the claim that their own
interest and intellectual provincialism made them
victims of a “neoliberal bite,” from which they
(thankfully) have begun to recover in recent years
during the economic crisis. The New Left has for
years complained about the symbolic violence
of the “neoliberal discourse” and today it is itself
the beneficiary of an intellectual fashion which
asks you to indiscriminately condemn capitalism
and reforms from the 1990s.
The left turns the belief in capitalism—in the
early stages of the transition proffered by the
Polish elites and largely shared by the masses,
which were going hungry after the years of shortages under the so-called “real socialism”—into
an accusation. The question is: on what native
social and cultural capital were we supposed to
build liberal democracy 25 years ago? The Polish
People’s Republic (PRL), the only country known
to most Poles, was going bankrupt in front of our
eyes. The interwar period was a very ambiguous
model, the Partitions period even more so. Of all
forms of statehood we were the most successful
in running the underground state.
Added to that is the post-feudal social structure, shaken insufficiently by the interwar Second
Republic to be then brutally (but effectively) torn
by the war, Stalinism and real socialism. These
processes created a kind of internal wandering
of the peoples (both geographic and on the
social ladder), but also severed the institutional
memory. They destroyed communities and structures on which a modern state can be based.
In 1989 we had a society exhausted by the
PRL, opposition elites without any experience
in governing the country, discredited-but-experienced (although not in a democratic and
capitalist system) party and official apparatus,
and a completely ineffective economy, which
functioned in a domain of fiction decreed at the
planner’s desktop. Is this the cultural capital which
we were supposed to build on? Was this to be
the foundation for the emergent Third Polish
The left turns the belief
in capitalism—in the
early stages of the
transition proffered
by the Polish elites
and largely shared
by the masses into
an accusation.
Besides this faith in liberal democracy and
the free market, the hope that it would be better
(or rather that it could not get any worse) and
a huge determination, we had nothing. If we
believed the new left and based our transition
on our own social and cultural capital, rather
than on the trends from the liberal centre, we
would have found ourselves somewhere between
Mečiar’s Slovakia and the Ukraine or Georgia
from before the coloured revolutions. It would
perhaps be a writer’s paradise for Andrzej Stasiuk
and Ziemowit Szczerek, but its inhabitants would
live in a black hole, a land of impossibility.
The Poles crossed the Red Sea of transition
because they believed the elites, which were
saying that on the other side there was some
shore. A shore of stability and prosperity. We
were building castles in the clouds on the faith
in a capitalist and democratic future. We owed
it to a favourable geopolitical situation, but to
a large extent also to the democratic elites, which
first refused to acknowledge that the Communist
system could not be beaten, or that in Poland
you could not concurrently build a functioning
liberal democracy and capitalism.
The transition in Central Europe is one of the
most spectacular examples of the triumph of an
idea (some would say that of mind) over matter.
It was possible also because the elites regarded
the reforms as their historic mission.
Contrary to what the left is imputing to
them, the reformers did not represent rich
Poland fighting against poor Poland, but a silent
Poland clashing with a Poland of loudmouths.
They articulated what Polish intelligentsia had
always regarded as its mission, namely caring for
the good of the entire nation as they understood
it rather than for particular interests of their own
class. Groups of interests in our region thrived on
the policy of the post-communists, who were in
mortal fear of any reforms. This did not improve
the situation of the most vulnerable and wasted
many years of an economic boom.
The greatest failure of the transition is that
it did not bring up a generation of citizens who
would enforce changes after the modernising
enthusiasm of the elites waned. The greatest
threat is not the middle income trap, but the
middling enthusiasm trap, that is the unwillingness of the rulers to take up the challenges of
the future. We have a stable situation, a developing society and economy, and growing
resources, but there is a shortage of people
who would be able to use this all properly and
prepare us for worse times. And such times will
certainly come, if not for geopolitical than for
demographic reasons. LESZEK JAŻDŻEWSKI
editor-in-chief of the Liberté!
Photo: Archive Leszek Jażdżewski
The Strengths
and Weaknesses
of the Polish Business Class
Krzysztof Jasiecki
Economic communities in Poland are in many aspects
highly diverse and fragmented, which reduces their
political influence and social impact
When asked about the existence of a native
equivalent of the Western business class at the end
of nineties, one of the richest Polish entrepreneurs
replies alluding to Marx: “We are a class in itself,
but not a class for itself.”1 Since then, many years
have passed. After a turbulent period of creating
a new political system the Polish social structure is
relatively stable. It is therefore tempting to try and
find an answer to the following questions: what is
today’s Polish business class, what are its strengths
and weaknesses, what are its development trends?
Attempted responses must take into account
the specific character of post-communist political
change. Its main differentiating factor in Central
and Eastern Europe was the creation of a new
social order at the initiative of the “old” and “new”
political elites in a situation where there were no
classes of private owners, who in Western countries had been the main promoters of the market
economy. Thanks to the book by Ivan Szelenyi
and his colleagues (inspired by the works of Bourdieu and Weber), the most powerful metaphor
reflecting the peculiarity of these changes has
become the term “capitalism without capitalists.”2
The process of building a new system engendered the need for social agents of systemic
changes, who would be an equivalent of the
national bourgeoisie, which in the 19th-century
West created the foundations of capitalism.
However, due to the unfinished capitalist industrialization before 1939 and the “socialist modernization” after World War II, there were no classes of
private entrepreneurs in Poland that could act as an
agent of systemic change. In such circumstances,
the creation of a market economy and liberal
democracy began in a different configuration of
social agents and in a different institutional environment than in the Western centers of capitalism.
The post-communist changes combined unprecedented simultaneous pressures of globalization, EU
accession, the crisis of Fordism, de-industrialization
and competition from international corporations
dividing the markets of smaller countries among
In view of all this, how should we characterize the new Polish business class, seen by
liberal reformers as the motive force of political
transformation? Most of it was wishful thinking.
Liberal reformers did not take into account the
long-term nature of changes in the social structure, the absence of a strong group of domestic
entrepreneurs, and the existence of several factors
limiting the expansion of domestic business. One
manifestation of the impact of these limitations is
fragmentation, a structural weakness and diversity
of the private sector, which impinge on human
resources, scale of operation, development potential and business class mentality.
Business class mentality is shaped by entrepreneurs belonging to social categories with
completely different characteristics: the self-employed, owners of micro-companies, employers
in small and medium-sized companies and “big
business,” owners of the largest corporations (e.g.
listed in the rankings of 100 “richest Poles”).
In what proportions are these communities
represented? The economic structure is dominated
by micro-companies (with less than 10 employees),
which constitute almost 96 percent of the total
number of private companies operating in the Polish
economy, including about 15 percent of self-employed. The share of small companies (10–49
employees) is only slightly more than 3 percent,
and of medium-sized (50–249) it is less than 1
percent, which is half the EU average. Such a fragmented structure shapes business models, which
have an adverse impact on the international
competitiveness of Poland. It is also an indicator of
the weakness of the Polish business class and its
deep stratification. This phenomenon is illustrated,
for example, by diametrically different incomes of
the self-employed and the business elite. Although
the share of larger companies (medium and large)
in GDP is growing and the number of micro and
small companies is decreasing, this process is slow.
The dominant role is played by companies
employing 4.5 persons on average, which puts
Poland in 18th place among 27 European countries,
for which the average is 5.3 (and in the major EU
countries more than that).3 In turn, the main actors
in “big business” are still the state-owned companies
and foreign investors. Although the list of 500 largest
enterprises in Poland already features 202 domestic
private companies, their share in total revenues of
those 500 companies is only 19 percent. For comparison: 34 state-owned companies collect 28 percent
of revenues and the share of 258 companies with
foreign capital is 53 percent.4
Entrepreneurs of the
younger generation
support democracy
more staunchly and are
more oriented towards
development, expansion
and innovation of
their enterprises. They
are in favor of market
competition, they have
higher confidence in
institutions and they
declare support for
modernizing state
Economic communities in Poland are in many
aspects highly diverse and fragmented, which
reduces their political influence and social impact.
There are clear divisions related to the criteria of
ownership, company size, type of business, and
origin of capital. These divisions are manifested in
differences in the problems and interests between
the public and the private sector, large and small
companies, particular business sectors, as well as
between native capital and foreign capital. They
occur at several levels: economic, organizational
and ideological/political.
Against this background of particular interest
are the successes of small and medium-sized enter-
prises, many of which have already achieved a significant growth potential, and some have a chance to
enter the business elite. Their importance is reduced
by their still relatively small size, estimated at around
220,000 people—less than 1% of the adult population of Poland. This group of businessmen begins
to create a separate segment of the social structure,
which has its distinguishing features (origin, education, capital resources, etc.), a specific mentality
and a collective sense of separateness from other
classes or social strata.5 But currently they are rather
poorly consolidated internally, which is reflected in
a small institutional affiliation of owners of small
and medium-sized companies, and especially in
their limited trust in employers’ organizations.
SME owners rarely take into account the social
and ecological environment of companies and the
interests of other stakeholders besides customers.
The business community is aging, which does not
favor a new approach to corporate governance.
Other often named indicators of the weakness
of this business segment are a relatively small share
in the GDP, a significant lag compared with SMEs
in the core countries of the eurozone in terms of
assets size and modernity of companies, lower
share of services, lower productivity and innovation, and little activity on foreign markets. Another
negative factor is the dominance of autocratic
and hierarchical management style and limited
decision-making participation of the workers.
Nevertheless, research also leads to more positive conclusions. The economic downturn after
2008 had a stimulating effect on the quality of
Polish private business. There has been a significant
change in the approach to the economic activities
of SMEs, which consists of the transition of the
focus on costs in building, a competitive position
towards the focus on the quality of products and
services, while maintaining a price advantage
over the competition. Firms innovate (in terms
of product, process, etc.) at a rate significantly
exceeding the figures published by the Central
Statistical Office, and the modern sector attracts
businessmen with higher cultural capital.
There is also a smaller, but statistically significant portion of the SME sector entrepreneurs that
identify with a democratic and communitarian organizational culture. In this category there is a marked
trend towards empowering the employees, the
management is consulting employees on the
processes of management, and employees identify
more with their companies. The group of entrepreneurs and managers who studied in college is gradually growing, they were in professional internships
or worked abroad, and that contributes to raising
the standards of management and turning towards
cooperation with foreign countries.6 An important
advantage of SME owners is a significantly higher
level of trust in institutions and trust in other people
than what shows in studies on the general population. One manifestation of this phenomenon is the
production of “bridging” social capital in the forms
of networks of cooperation, innovation networks
and support networks.
Although due to the informal nature and the
relatively small number of companies participating
in the networks they do not resemble modern
clusters, the prevalence of such networks indicates
that the SME community has a significant potential
for the development of social capital, higher than
the national average. On the other hand, in terms
of political views, company owners in this group
mostly are strong supporters of representative
democracy, rejecting suggestions of one-man
rule or authoritarian tendencies. They believe that
the ideals of representative democracy have been
far from successfully achieved in Poland. They are
generally less critical of post-Solidarity and liberal
governments. However, the attitudes of this group
preserve a certain distance from the liberal market
economy. An example of this phenomenon is the
lack of support among richer businessmen for
the principle of selling state-owned enterprises
to foreign capital and a relatively high level of
support for social-democratic egalitarian and
pro-employee ideas.
The main factor favoring the development
orientation of companies is the size of companies.
This factor is positively correlated with their
economic and social characteristics, including
innovation, investing in human capital, the attitude of owners to the law, and greater openness
to social dialogue and employee participation
in the management of companies. Research
also confirms the need to strengthen the state’s
efforts (legal, financial, etc.) aimed at consolidating
SMEs. It is a necessary condition for increasing the
competitiveness of Polish companies, as well as
a factor in raising the standards of management,
the quality of work and building better relationships with corporate social environment. The
aging of entrepreneurs announces changes in the
management of companies in the coming years.
This process may accelerate not only economic,
but also social and political transformations.
Entrepreneurs of the younger generation—
better educated, thriving in business environment,
with higher human and social capital—support
democracy more staunchly and are more oriented
towards development, expansion and innovation
of their enterprises. They are in favor of market
competition, they have higher confidence in institutions and they declare support for modernizing
state intervention. They are critical of the low ability
of public policies to improve the business environment in Poland or to solve the problems they have
been pointing at for many years—excessive tax
burden, education system unsuited to the labor
market, low efficiency of administration, inefficient
justice system and so on.
An important aspect of the changes occurring
in the business communities is the evolution of
thinking about the model of capitalism in Poland.
Factor analysis of views and opinions of the respondents now indicates a preference for the model of
capitalism oscillating between the state modernizing the economy, the market and significant
transfers in selected social areas. Entering a different
phase of development of market economy in Poland
is related, among other things, to the need for
consolidation of domestic capital and strengthening
cooperation between economic actors. Research
on the business community, especially the SME
entrepreneurs, suggests that with the increase in
business scale, they become more receptive to
programs aimed at strengthening the elements of
coordinated market economy. In this area the native
business class is increasingly looking to institutions
of the core countries of the eurozone.
sociologist, Professor at the
Institute of Philosophy and
Sociology of the Polish Academy
of Sciences in Warsaw. He studies
capitalism in post-socialist
countries, political and economic
elites, lobbying, pressure groups,
prosperity and wealth, as well as selected aspects of Polish
integration with the European Union. His last book is
“Capitalism the Polish Way: Between Modernization and
the Periphery of the European Union” (2013).
Photo: Archive Krzysztof Jasiecki
1 K. Jasiecki, Elita biznesu w Polsce. Drugie narodziny kapitalizmu, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of
Sciences, Warszawa 2002.
2 Eyal G., Szelenyi I. and E. Townsley (eds.), Making capitalism without capitalists: class formation and elite struggles in post-communist
Central Europe, London, Verso 1998.
3 „Zmiany strukturalne grup podmiotów gospodarki narodowej w rejestrze REGON 2013,“ Warszawa 2014, 35–36; (in:) Raport o stanie
sektora małych i średnich przedsiębiorstw w Polsce w latach 2011–2012, Polska Agencja Rozwoju Przedsiębiorczości, Warszawa 2013,
4 “Europa 500 największych firm Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej,” Rzeczpospolita, 3 September 2014, 18–19; “Lista 500 największych
przedsiębiorstw działających w Polsce,” Rzeczpospolita, 23 April 2014, 24–26.
5 J. Gardawski (ed.), Rzemieślnicy i biznesmeni. Właściciele małych i średnich przedsiębiorstw, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, Warszawa 2013.
6 On Polish business going international see K. Jasiecki, “Institutional transformation and business leaders of the foreign-led capitalism
in Poland,” (in:) K. Bluhm, B. Martens and V. Trappmann (eds), Business Leaders and New Varieties of Capitalism in Post-Communist
Europe, London, Routledge 2014, 23–57.
Russian Sanctions as a Rouse
ompany Motorpal in Jihlava, Czech
Republic, manufacturing fuel pumps
for diesel engines, announced in the
early days of September that in case of expected
difficulties on the Russian market, due to the
EU imposed sanctions, it may have to lay off
up to three hundred and forty people from its
workforce. The company exports sixty percent
of its production to Germany and currently has
several promising contracts in China. Unofficially,
it has been rumored to have had problems for
quite some time. Turnover fell eleven percent
last year and sanctions against Russia can be
only partly blamed for its troubles. The company
notified the authorities about the upcoming
layoffs on 29 August already, too early to be
caused directly by the sanctions.
Situation at Motorpal is just one of many
cases that have brought the Czech Prime
Minister Bohuslav Sobotka closer to his traditionally pro-Russian oriented colleagues from
Slovakia, Hungary or Finland, who warn against
the sanctions, arguing they will cause more
damage at home, in the EU, than in Russia.
Everything seems to be considered according
to the number of jobs and the profits of domestic
companies. “Declaring sanctions is as if we shoot
ourselves into our own foot,” said Victor Orbán,
the Hugarian Prime Minister when the first round
of sanctions was being announced.
Russia is definitely a lucrative market for
many products, from food exports to automobiles. However, Russia is a strategic partner for
Central European countries mainly due to its
export of oil and gas. Some countries are even
hundred percent dependent on Russia for its
is the head foreign editor of the Czech daily
Hospodářské noviny.
Photo: Archive Hospodářské noviny
imports of aforementioned commodities. Just
ask the Prime Ministers of Slovakia or Hungary.
If we look into the recent history, this dependency was far greater twenty five years ago, and
it involved the whole post-Communist world.
Some countries have attempted to tackle this
issue, some have not. And now, when we are
facing the most severe European security crisis
since the end of the Cold War, some countries are
using, just like Motorpal, anti-Russian sanctions
as an excuse to obscure their own short-sightedness.
The reference to sanctions works like
a charm in times when individual member states
are fighting to hold on to the signs of modest
economic growth that finally came about last
year. Only the Polish react to the whole situation
differently, not only economically but also politically—they are apparently not only taking into
account their historic lessons with Russia, but
considering their close geographical proximity
to the conflict as well.
The Polish have been moaning about the
impact of sanctions as well but at the same time
they are being very active—having virtually
flooded the EU commission with compensation demands to such an extent that Brussels
has stopped accepting them. There are some
growers who claim compensations several times
higher than what they are even theoretically
entitled to. Nevertheless, the campaign calling
on the Polish people to eat apples just to irk
Putin has become one of the most successful
global marketing campaigns attempting to
promote anything Polish, even if the price of
apples has dropped dramatically. “I have never
had so many phone calls and emails. A businessman from Hong Kong even arrived in
person,” claims Sebastian Szymanowski, a CEO
of company Galster located in Wierzchucice in
the north of Poland. The company, which boasts
modern EU co-financed warehouses and packaging lines, is jointly owned by twenty farmers
who grow fruit on two hundred hectares. They
have just recently dispatched their first ever
shipments to Algeria and the Philippines. Russian
market, which has been the destination of two
thirds of Galster’s apples until this summer, is
ceasing to be so all-important.
It needs to be said that for the most of
Central Europe the sanctions and Russian
retaliation present some challenges. But the
relationship with the hegemon in the East
needs to be viewed not just on the economic
level. As an example we can take Chancellor
Angela Merkel, who was attempting to convince
German industrialists that the trade with Russia
has comparable parameters for Germany as the
trade with the much smaller Czech Republic.
Words of the Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter
Szijart (in an interview given to Hospodářské
noviny at the Economic Forum in Polish Krynice
in September) that instead of sanctions the EU
and Russia should enter into a strategic partnership, sound in that light downright dangerous. It
seems as if he had not taken into any consideration the lessons of history, the mutually shared
values in the EU and NATO, or the idea of human
freedom and open markets.
It needs to be said
that for the most
of Central Europe the
sanctions and Russian
retaliation present
some challenges. But
the relationship with
the hegemon in the East
needs to be viewed not
just on the economic
Yes, we can lead endless debates about
the effectiveness of anti-Russian sanctions in
their current form. Those who oppose them
argue using the fifty-year old embargo against
communist Cuba as an example. Supporters of
the sanctions claim that if well targeted, they
can influence the Russians’ decision making. But
what about the costs?
It is up to the politicians not only to explain
them but also to come up with solutions of
helping those affected, while respecting given
rules. Not only were the Polish complaining and
filing for compensations from Brussels, their diplomats have started intensive negotiations about
bringing down the barriers that stop their apples
entering the North American markets as well.
For some companies (or whole sectors)
the sanctions can be an opportunity not to
be wasted. Central European economies are
dependent mostly on their exports to Germany.
Russian market usually occupies second, third or
fourth place. But the world is not just Germany
or Russia. There are other markets to export to,
even if it is more demanding and there are no
connections in place since the olden days of
Communist era.
Of course, it is not all that simple. Hungary
started a trade policy of so-called Eastern
Approaches two years ago, with the goal of finding
new markets in China and elsewhere in Asia. One
unfortunate byproduct has been an increased
dependency on Russia, thanks to a government
loan provided by the Kremlin for the construction
of two new blocks of a nuclear power station Paks.
In the Czech Republic, on the other hand, it
has been somewhat fashionable to highlight the
potential of the South Korea, into which there is
an excellent connection now, thanks to Korean
Air buying a stake in the Czech Airlines. The only
problem is that so far the Korean investors have
been more interested in finding opportunities
here, than the other way around.
People are eyeing the Arab world with its
unique sets of risks and opportunities, or China,
which is showing an increased interest in Central
Europe thanks to its government investment
Twenty five years after the regime change the
extent of interdependence of Central European
economies and Russia can be surprising, not
to mention energy imports. The EU sanctions
against Russia have, finally, provided us with an
opportunity for emancipation, and a chance to
view Russian markets differently.
The fundamental question is: After the
annexation of Crimea, the support of separatists
in the Eastern Ukraine and the demonstrations
of power on the borders of member states, the
EU and NATO have lost confidence in Russia
as a political partner; is it still possible to view
Russia as a reliable business partner as well?
What we hear now is something different:
a whole lot of moaning and complaining. After
twenty five years the Central Europeans (and to
a certain extent Western Europeans as well) have
forgotten that freedom, liberal democracy and
open market are not to be taken for granted; all
liberties have their costs.
An Overlooked War
Aleksander Kaczorowski
“In the years 1914–1918 millions of Poles were
conscripted to all three armies of the partitioning
powers. Approximately 450,000 Polish soldiers in
the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies were
killed and 900,000 were wounded.” These two
brief sentences, these few laconic numbers, are
literally everything that Adam Zamoyski, the
author of the monumental work Poland: A History
published five years ago in the West, has to say
on the participation of Polish soldiers in World
War I, called the Great War in the victorious Entente
were not only the local Russians, tsarist officials,
but mostly Poles. “Polish citizens of Warsaw essentially did not share the joy of the winners [i.e. the
Germans],” writes Chwalba. “In contrast, the Jews
were satisfied, because the cultivated Germans
were an attractive offer for them, much better
than the Russians, who were known for their
hostile behavior towards the followers of the
Mosaic religion. For the Jews, the German capture
of Warsaw was tantamount to liberation from the
power of an occupier known for discriminating
and humiliating them.”
The “hostile behavior” often took the form
of spontaneous pogroms. Such an event is
described in the memoirs of the parish priest
of St. Anne Church in Grodzisk near Warsaw, Fr.
Mikołaj Bojanek. Bojanek, who later became a
chaplain of President Moscicki, and who stood up
in defense of the local Jews, harassed by a group
of marauders. Cossacks beat him and ransacked
the rectory, then fled the German forces from
8th, 9th and 12th Armies advancing from Skierniewice. On August 5, 1915, the Germans occupied Warsaw practically without firing a shot, and
two weeks later they seized the fortress of Modlin,
not very zealously defended by 90,000 soldiers.
They preferred to go into captivity rather than
to die in the forts crushed by the heaviest guns
brought in from the western front by General
Hans Beseler, who commanded the siege. Over
the next three years he served as a governor of
German-occupied Warsaw.
It is amazing how little we know about it.
American historian Robert Blobaum labelled
From the Polish point
of view—that is, from
the perspective of the
current interpretation
of national history—
the World War I simply
did not happen.
We can learn slightly more from the book The
Suicide of Europe: The Great War 1914–1918 by
Andrzej Chwalba, published on the centenary of
the first global armed conflict in the history of
mankind. The most extensively discussed event
here is the capture of Warsaw, “the third largest
city of the Romanov Empire, with almost one
million people.” By July 1915, as many as 350,000
inhabitants of Warsaw fled east, among them
this first twentieth-century German occupation
of a capital “Warsaw’s Forgotten War” (Remembrance and Solidarity, 2/2014). The same can be
said about World War I. From the Polish point
of view—that is, from the perspective of the
current interpretation of national history—this
war simply did not happen. Compared to the
later Apocalypse of World War II, the previous
global war faded into the background, and
today it may seem “small.” And yet, “contrary
to what we think, the damage was greater than
during World War II,” said professor Andrzej
Chwalba in an interview with Bogdan Zalewski
for radio RMF FM, “during World War II Warsaw
was destroyed, but other cities beyond western
Poland were not. In World War I the Polish extensive parts of the Kingdom of Poland or Galicia
were one big trail of destruction. No village or
small town was spared from fire. It was quite
This makes it all the more difficult to understand why the memory of these events was so
fleeting. Why nobody but a handful of specialists remembers about hunger riots that repeatedly erupted in 1917 occupied Warsaw? About
thousands of people dying of hunger, cold and
disease? The only commemoration of the ordeal
of the Warsaw civilian population under German
occupation is the Herbert Hoover Square, where
the Monument of Gratitude to America, sculptured by Ksawery Dunikowski, was unveiled in
1922. The memory proved as impermanent as the
monument itself (which soon began to crumble
and was dismantled in 1930).
Hoover, who later became president of the
USA, founded in the early days of the Great War
the American Civic Assistance Committee, which
saved thousands of Polish children from starvation. However, as Professor Chwalba writes, “in
the propaganda texts issued by this American
organization, the Serbs and the Poles were decidedly losing out to the Belgians and the French.
The Poles did not become the conscience of the
world, because they were unknown and unrecog-
nizable. (…) When President Wilson, persuaded
by the brilliant pianist and composer Ignacy
Paderewski, proclaimed the January 1, 1916 as
the National Day of Support for Poland, less than
$5,000 were collected in the United States.”
Now we are closer to understanding why the
Poles, “unknown and unrecognizable” in the days
of the World War I, drove it away from memory so
comprehensively. There were three fundamental
reasons for that.
First, the Great War was a time of great humiliation and shame for the Polish elites. There was
no reason to dwell on the death and suffering of
hundreds of thousands of men, mostly of plebeian
and petty-bourgeois origin, who died in foreign
service. The victims themselves, uneducated and
often even illiterate, were unable to “rescue from
oblivion” their experiences and memories. In the
reborn Republic, where one third of citizens were
members of ethnic minorities and three-quarters
were peasants, it was quite easy to remove the
uncomfortable facts from the so-called collective
memory. Such as these: in the summer of 1914,
thousands of young Warsaw citizens volunteered
to serve in the Tsar’s army, and the largest party
(the National Democrats) and almost entire
local press were strongly pro-Russian up to the
February 1917 revolution.
Second, this monstrously bloody war, during
which in just one operation, namely the battle
for the fortress Krakow at the end of 1914, more
than half a million Russian soldiers were killed;
this war, which turned out to be the suicide of
Old Europe, ended very happily for the “unknown
and unrecognizable” nations of New Europe. “It
is like in a Hollywood movie. After three hours
of sitting in the theater, after a tragedy, there
is a happy ending,” said professor Chwalba. “It
was possible due to three factors. First, because
it lasted so long; second, because the main
players did not want peace; and third, because
they therefore destroyed each other. Those who
gained were the nations which had dreamed of
independence. Not only the Poles, but also the
Czechs, Finns, Estonians, Lithuanians and others
were able to achieve what for centuries they
could only dream of.”
In other words, the nations in our part of the
continent owe their independent states to a
happy confluence of events: the main actors of
the war, including the winners, came out of it too
debilitated (and indebted) to oppose their independence aspirations. “This new Europe is the
happy ending,” said Chwalba, adding, “it is good
that this war lasted for so long, because independent Poland could come into being.” And the
fact that 13 million people died? “Let the whole
world be at war… as long as the Polish countryside is quiet and peaceful,” as Stanisław Wyspiański
mockingly said.
fully mechanized—process of consumption
played the role of the market.”
“Marx compared nineteenth-century industrial workers to soldiers, but the Great War overturned this model,” writes Italian-French scholar
Enzo Traverso in his excellent book The European
roots of Nazi violence. This army has adopted
the principles of a rationalized factory. Soldiers
manning machine guns were automatons, which,
just as workers at the production line, were to
feed guns with ammunition. The machine gun
turned inflicting death into a mechanical or even
industrialized act, according to military historian
John Keegan. “The officer caste bureaucratized
itself,” senior officers were absent at the front
line and “rarely even carried weapons.” “Officers
do not kill, because killing is not an occupation
for a gentleman: in the era of total war this was
one of the most deeply engrained principles of
the military system of values,” writes E. Traverso.
Separation of planning from production of
war significantly contributed to its transformation
into a “specialized industry of human slaughter”
and opened “a new perspective of viewing human
life, providing an important prerequisite for
the subsequent genocide” (Traverso calls it an
“anthropological quake”). According to John
Keegan, during the massacres of the Somme
something “appeared that looked like Treblinka.”
On July 1, 1916, in just a few hours, the British lost
60 thousand people. By the end of the offensive,
on November 18, 1916, English and German losses
totaled about 1.2 million men.
The war transformed armies into “factories
producing death.” And soldiers were turned into
workers (Arbeiter) of war. This was noticed by
Ernst Jünger, Erich Maria Remarque, and even
Jaroslav Hašek (although the eponymous character of his Adventures of the Good Soldier
Schweik is not involved in any clashes besides
drunken punch-ups behind the lines). Polish
writers, taking up the subject of war in the same
period, either did not create significant works, or
focused on a completely different armed conflict.
The war transformed
armies into “factories
producing death.”
And soldiers were
turned into workers
(Arbeiter) of war.
Third (and most important), the Great War,
the first “total war” in the history of mankind,
the quintessential twentieth-century war, was
too modern to be graspable for contemporary
Poles—with their anachronistic, post-feudal
social structure, uneducated masses and meagre
elites, mentally still living in the nineteenth (if
not in the sixteenth) century. For example,
they could not understand the fact that the
term “total war” did not refer to the monstrous
number of victims. The Great War was the first
total war, because—as Ernst Junger wrote in
Total mobilization—the warring “states were
transformed into giant weapons factories,
attempting to send arms to the frontline for 24
hours a day, where a bloody—and yet already
A good example of this is an outstanding
military novel by Stanislaw Rembek “In the
Field” (1937). One of its protagonists was a
humble clerk in a district court in Piotrków. In
the summer of 1914 he was drafted into the
army, but thanks to the connections of a tsarist
general, father of his friend, he spent the Great
War in a military office in Odessa. His “great war”
is the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920. And the
novel is about this conflict.
The issue was similarly presented by the
authorities, often in opposition to genuine
social initiatives and sentiments. In 1923 an
anonymous group of Warsaw citizens sponsored
a stone plaque dedicated to unknown Polish
soldiers who died in the years from 1914 to 1920.
In the West such monuments were built several
years earlier and were an eloquent testimony to
the “trivialization of death”: it lost the epic nature
of “death on the field of glory for the sake of
the typically modern, anonymous mass death”
(Traverso). The hero of the war was no longer a
unique Warrior, but the Unknown Soldier (i.e.
Hašek’s Good Soldier—good because he got
himself killed); “This poor man, whose body
was the most mutilated and shredded; the one
whose face had been massacred, so he no longer
resembled a human figure. (...) It was his only
virtue,” wrote Roger Caillois quoted by Traverso.
Such a hero, butchered in the service of the
occupiers, was of no use to the reborn Poland.
Although the said plaque was placed in front of
the Saski Palace (then the seat of the Ministry of
Defence), soon afterwards the Defense Minister
General Władysław Sikorski came up with a new
initiative, this time completely compatible with
the interests of the state. He proposed erecting
a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And among the
thirteen battles fought in the years 1914–1918
named on the monument, built in 1925 under
the colonnade of the Saski Palace, there was
no single battle in which the Poles had not
fought under their own banner. Armed action,
or simply death, of almost half a million of our
fellow citizens who were not members of the
Piłsudski Legions, was treated in such a way as
if they had fought in the Foreign Legion; they
were simply not mentioned.
In the above-quoted article in the quarterly
Remembrance and Solidarity Professor Robert
Blobaum points out that many more Poles died
in the service of the Kaiser, the Emperor and the
Tsar, than in the war against the Bolsheviks, the
Ukrainians or Lithuanians. Yet armed conflicts
of the years 1918–1920 are commemorated by
twenty-four battles listed on the monument.
The Battle of Verdun turns out to be less of an
important event than the defense of Gródek Jagielloński (perhaps because it was commanded
by Sikorski). Blobaum also lists seventy three
memorials of World War II and fifty-two places
of memory from before 1914. And he concludes
that out of 162 commemoration sites about 45
percent refer to the last war, 32 percent to the
period from 972 to 1914, 15 percent to the years
1918–1920, and only 8 percent to the Great War.
And among them there is not a single battle
with the participation of Poles fighting in the
occupying armies.
Interestingly, this concealment of the fate of
the majority of Polish soldiers during the Great
War is accompanied by forgetfulness of the sufferings of the civilian population. This oversight is
still going on, and not because this ordeal was
“eclipsed” by the subsequent suffering of civilians during the Nazi occupation. The American
historian cites the results of research by Katrin
Van Cant from the University of Leuven, who
in 2009 analyzed nearly eighty Warsaw monuments erected after 1989. 30 percent of them
refer to the period of World War II; they mostly
commemorate the Home Army and the Warsaw
Uprising. Only 6.5 percent of the new monuments
concern the period of World War I, but none of
them commemorates the fate of civilians. What
is even more interesting, just a few of the monuments in Warsaw commemorate... the Warsaw
a prelude to the second one, which was impossible to overlook.
We did not heed the warnings; we could
not see the signs of the future fate: genocide,
mechanized killing, Nazi colonial practices in the
heart of Europe. However, it was already during
the Great War that the “concepts of Mittelafrika
and Mitteleuropa began to be used in parallel,
to designate two inextricably linked aspects of
German foreign policy” (E. Traverso). The phrase
Lebensraum was coined in 1901 by the German
geographer Friedrich Ratzel. According to him,
the living space “was a necessity from the point
of view of restoring in Germany the balance
between the already irreversible development
of industry and agriculture threatened by it. In
the colonies, Germany could recreate harmonious
relationships with nature and cultivate their liking
for the soil” (E. Traverso).
It was then that the myth of the “German
garden” was born. The Slovenian literary scholar
Simona Škrabec writes in her book Geography
imagined: The concept of Central Europe in the
twentieth century that the garden “had to have
the character of living space, the maintenance
of which justified the use of any possible means.
The spiral of thought explaining the superiority
of the Germans evolved into a spiral of violence
of World War II.”
Austrian army killings in Serbia 1917
Photo: Wikipedia
“Warsaw is the showcase of the country,”
writes Katrin Van Cant. It is a kind of shop window,
in which we present to the world our spécialité
de la maison—heroism and heroic martyrdom. In
this story, in the official PR strategy of the Polish
state, there was and is no place for those who
fought for the Tsar (the Kaiser, the Emperor).
The protagonist of the novel by Stanisław
Rembek, a modest official and petty bourgeois,
became human in the eyes of his superiors only
when he put on a uniform. Previously he was
part of the masses, the commons. This is just one
of many examples of anachronistic thinking of
contemporary Polish elites—for the participants
of the Great War donning a uniform was, after all,
the first stage of being deprived of their humanity.
However, in the tradition of Polish nobility the war
was an aesthetic category. The war was beautiful,
and fighting in it was glorious. Seen from this
perspective, World War I was simply incomprehensible. You could survive it (even fighting on
the front), but you could not understand it.
Therefore, while the so-called civilized world
drew conclusions from the experience of the years
1914–1918 (they varied in Nazi Berlin and Stalinist
Moscow, in the defeatist Paris and the calculating
Albion), we were still singing the praises of cavalry
charges in the east. So the first war was for us just
Editor in Chief of Aspen Review
Robert Schuster
The Great War
as a Conflict
Full of Paradoxes
Herfried Münkler: Der Große Krieg.
Die Welt 1914 bis 1918. Rowohlt
Berlin, ISBN 978-3-87134-720-7
There have been a great many books, magazines, and articles commemorating a centenary of
the Great War with many already arriving at the
market last summer. There is one book, however,
written by a German political scientist Herfried
Münkler, which stands out and not only due to
its sheer volume—920 pages, references and
index included. Its publication in Germany has
attracted a great deal of attention, if only due
to the fact that since the sixties it has been the
first work of such scope to focus exclusively on
the First World War. We can only speculate why
it has taken so long, with the most likely reason
being the fixation of German historiography on
the Second World War, holocaust and guilt.
But it was the Great War, its events and
course that helped to set the stage for eventual Franco-German reconciliation. Chancellor
Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle
declared the end of historical enmity (“Erbfeindschaft”) between their two countries with the
Reims cathedral providing a dramatic backdrop; their successors Helmut Kohl and François
Mitterand would symbolically shake their hands
over the war graves in Verdun.
It is to be expected from a German author to
view the Great War from the German perspective.
What he sees is, above all, a conflict ripe with paradoxes, one of them being that victorious powers
did not come out of the war strengthened by their
victory. Germany is, on the one hand, one of the
most developed countries in Europe thanks to
its enormous economic boom; on the other the
simmering conflict between the working class
struggling for empowerment (politically represented by social democrats) and the government
weakens the country from the inside.
Münkler sets about to debunk several often
propagated myths about the Great War.
The first one is that the war that was later to
engulf many parts of the world was somehow
inevitable, “about to happen anyway.” There is
evidence that during the first six months of 1914
the relationship between the warring powers,
Germany on one hand and Great Britain with
France on the other, did not show any signs
of growing tensions. Colonial rivalry between
France and Britain created a source of much
greater friction then any enmity that was to be
found between the Brits and the Germans or the
Germans and the French.
Another debunked myth concerns the one
alleged culprit of it all—Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany,
a militarily organized entity led by Junkers aristocracy. To support his alternative view the author
provides a detailed analysis of German society
in the first two decades of the twentieth century
that was, for the first time, to assume a decisive
role in shaping of German history. There were the
chanting masses in front of the Kaiser’s Palace
and elsewhere on the squares that pushed hesitant Wilhelm II into the war. And there was the
middle class first passionately singing war songs
and then buying the war bonds, thus helping to
finance the war effort. They were to suffer the
most casualties and to find out, after the lost war,
that their government bonds were a worthless
piece of paper and their social status gone. The
middle class was not alone. An unprecedented
leveling of social classes occurred. German aristocracy found itself in a similar situation despite
their deeply held convictions that a prospective
war could stem the rise of the bourgeoisie along
with its values.
The Great War was a conflict that for the first
time not only in Germany but in France and Britain
as well was being waged also on the propaganda
front. As a result, often simplistic views became
firmly rooted in the collective sub-consciousness
of concerned nations for many years and proved
very difficult to overcome. Münkler argues that
the Germans suffered a decisive loss in the propaganda war as early as in the autumn of 1914
when German soldiers violated the neutrality
of Belgium. British papers were full of stories
describing in vivid detail atrocities committed
on Belgian civilian population. German High
Command severely underestimated the power
of British public opinion. It had hoped to keep
Britain out of the war with only one opponent on
the western front—the French. Several decades
later German generals repeated the same mistake
when a “total submarine war” targeting civilian
ships as well drew the United States into the
The power of media became evident also
in Germany. It is documented by the rise of
field marshal Paul von Hindenburg. He became
a symbol of victory presented by the media as
Germany’s last hope. Almost seventy years of age,
he became an ideal candidate in the public eye for
the vacant position long before assumed by chancellor Otto von Bismarck—who, by the way, never
ceased to be a loyal counselor to his ruler. On this
pedestal Hindenburg was now to be erected. In
reality he was neither a very good tactician nor
a genius strategist. He was of a rather phlegmatic
nature and if it were up to him, Germany would
settle for peace without achieving its territorial
claims. All decision making was in fact done by
a young hawk Erich Ludendorff. And there was
only one goal he had set his eyes upon: “SiegFrieden”—peace only after victory.
We should not be then surprised that after
an unsuccessful spring offensive in the year of
1918, which proved beyond any reasonable
doubt the war could not be won by Germany,
Ludendorff was still unwilling to acknowledge
defeat and even managed to depose Foreign
Minister Richard von Kühlmann, who in summer
1918 initiated secret negotiations with the British.
Münkler also draws attention to one of the
key issues which could shed some light on the
conduct of Germany and its leadership before
and during the Great War. That issue in question
is the so-called “Mittellage”—simply the fact that
Germany lies in the middle of the continent. It was
a focal point of historiography in times between
the wars, which was also in line with the prevailing
spirit of the era—the culprits were being found
all over the place but, of course, not in the
Germany itself. On the contrary, Germany was
being described as a victim—first of competing
European powers and then of the Versailles Treaty
and the world community as such. No wonder it
was a fertile breeding ground for Nazi ideology
and, after 1945, a reason not to bring the issue
of “Mittellage” back into the limelight.
Münkler, on the other hand, has a comfortable distance of several generations and does
not risk much opening the topic again. He seems
to come to a conclusion that given his country’s
specific location German policy makers would
have been wise to tread especially lightly when
dealing with other European powers. Failure to
do so tended to strengthen an irrational streak
and inclinations to believe in “exceptionality”
of German nation and its “specific mission” in
Generations of historians were of an opinion
that the main role of Germany in starting the First
World War lies in issuing the infamous “blank
cheque” to Vienna and a departure from the policy
of restraint, which was in place during the first
Balkan war. Münkler sees things differently; if
Berlin had not unconditionally supported Vienna,
the Hapsburg Empire would not have proceeded
against Serbia so aggressively; moreover, it would
not have risked a military confrontation with
Russia. As a result, the Austro-German alliance
would have grown weaker and Berlin would have
risked losing an important ally. Vienna, struggling to keep its multinational empire from falling
apart, might have looked for another ally.
It is no great secret that the relationship
between German and Austrian High Command
was far from perfect, and Münkler takes note
of that. The Germans saw the Austrian effort as
lacklustre at its best; the Austrians, in return,
were irked by Germany’s focus on the defense
of Eastern Prussia and their ignoring of Austrian
struggle on the Galician front. An offensive to the
south would have greatly helped the Austrians
to keep the Russians at bay. Even the military
strategies on the highest level were different.
Germany would rigidly follow Schlieffen’s plan
with its strictly set timetable for westward
advance resulting in the French capitulation;
the violation of Belgian neutrality was a given.
The Austrian strategy was of a different kind. Its
armies were organized into several entities, which
could eventually support each other if need arose.
This intended flexibility resulted in chaos when
units would often receive conflicting orders and
a quick succession of defeats followed. By the end
of 1914 Austria was nearly finished and without
German aid it would have collapsed.
Münkler’s work is interesting not only for its
deep analysis of what has already happened,
but also because it attempts to draw lessons
for the present. He sees an analogy between
pre-war Wilhelm’s Germany and today’s People’s
Republic of China—with all the corresponding
implications. Chinese economic growth and
increasing political self-confidence together with
ultra-modern military technology deeply trouble
its neighboring countries. These might in turn
be tempted to form some sort of anti-Chinese
alliances. It is up to the West to tread especially
lightly and not to give China any reason to fear
some sort of encirclement and to launch preemptive strikes as a result.
Study of the history of the Great War then
provides an excellent opportunity to become
aware of how international relationships can be
mismanaged and to what ends it can lead. 108
Managing Editor
Aspen Review Central Europe
Radek Schovánek
En Route to Totality
Igor Lukeš, Československo
nad propastí. Selhání amerických
diplomatů a tajných služeb v Praze
1945–1948. Prostor 2014. [Igor
Lukeš. On the Edge of the Cold War:
American Diplomats and Spies in
Postwar Prague. Oxford University
Press 2012]
and steal his country away when the war was
finally over. The Czechoslovakian exile government is recognized with its interim status in July
1941. It takes another five long months after the
assassination of Reinhard Heydrich to change its
status into a definite one. Beneš is acutely aware
that Central Europe will be liberated by both the
Western Allies and the Soviet Union. The author
accounts in detail the process of negotiations
with the Soviets leading to the signing of the
ill-fated 1943 pact between Czechoslovakia
and the Soviet Union. Beneš travels to the U.S.
before the pact is signed to gain support for
the postwar expulsion of ethnic Germans from
Czechoslovakia; Roosevelt agrees. During his
visit he complains of being given a cold shoulder
and of being overlooked; his stay coincides with
that of Churchill’s and the pecking order is made
abundantly clear. Stalin’s reception is in stark
contrast; he even solemnly swears the future
Soviet policy of no interference into internal
affairs of Czechoslovakia. In January 1944 Beneš
presents his exile government with the account
of his visit to the Soviet Union. In it he declares
the treaty as a guarantee for his country’s safety
and democracy. It is not clear whether it is just
a tactical move or he has already convinced
himself that Stalin can be trusted. We can read
in great detail about Beneš’s humiliating return
to Czechoslovakia and his almost hermetic enclosure by NKVD officers.
The publishing house Prostor has published
a remarkable book by Professor Igor Lukeš this
year. The author in it describes failures of American intelligence agencies in the postwar Czechoslovakia and considers them of such magnitude
that he deems them greatly responsible for the
course of Czechoslovak history in the following
forty years. There are several reasons why this
work deserves special attention; meticulously
researched index, hundreds of references and
a vast number of quoted sources among them.
In the autumn of 1938 President Edvard
Beneš finds himself in a tight spot. In the early
days of October he flies to London, only to suffer
a nervous breakdown. When, six months later,
German armies march into Prague, he is still very
much a private person wielding no real political
influence. In the summer of 1939, shortly after
his return from the United States, he is invited by
Ivan Majsky, the USSR ambassador in London, to
be informed that in the event of German invasion
of Poland the USSR will not stand idly by.
The author describes in detail how flattered
Beneš feels at these private talks. It was just the
beginning of a long odyssey of Soviets’ attempts
to lure him into their traps, only to humiliate him
The following chapter maps the journey
of OSS officers Kurt Taub and Charles Katek to
Prague, still under German occupation. They
are to negotiate about the formal request by
the interim Czech National Council directed at
the American army, located some 150 km from
Prague, to liberate the last European capital still
suffering under the yoke of German military
might. The communists, led by Josef Smrkovský,
bluntly refuse. Taub considers the possibility of
Patton’s advance to Prague if the Nazis violate
the agreed ceasefire and do not put down their
weapons by midnight, May 8th, 1945. This plan
turns out not to be viable in the end and the
Soviets take Prague, suffering 10 casualties in
the process. Beneš does not return to Prague
until May 16. The author describes in detail the
arrivals of the American diplomats to Prague and
the conduct of victorious Soviet forces. There are
widespread reports of looting and rape.
Lawrence Adolph Steinhardt, the U.S. ambassador in postwar Prague, is a pivotal character
in the story of intelligence agencies’ ultimately
unsuccessful mission. He was assigned as an
ambassador to Moscow in 1939 and has no
illusions whatsoever about the Soviet system.
Lukeš provides a detailed account of Steinhart’s
experiences in Moscow, his fitting descriptions of
Soviet leaders and the hatred he encounters when
dealing with Stalin or NKVD. His next posting was
in the great city of Istanbul, a diplomatic mission
from where his later lacklustre performance most
likely originates. Steinhardt was not chosen by
Roosevelt to be part of his delegation to the
Yalta conference. He is convinced that he has
a better understanding of Stalin than anybody
from Roosevelt’s entourage and he feels a great
sense of injustice; a feeling he never really gets
over. Having been officially appointed as an
ambassador to Prague, he takes several weeks
to organize his departure. When finally he does
leave, he takes off in a four engine plane on 26
June, 1945. With a neck-breaking speed he arrives
on 16 July, having stopped in London, Paris,
Caserta, Ankara, Napoli and Frankfurt am Mein.
So, almost two months after the liberation, the
U.S. Administration has its ambassador in Prague.
First things first, of course, so the hunt for the
residence begins; in the end Steinhardt settles
for Petsch’s villa, the largest U.S. ambassador’s
residence to date.
The author maps in great detail the flow of
events that led to the victory of communists in
February 1948 and the fatal mistakes committed
by Czechoslovakian democrats led by president
Beneš. The U.S. ambassador would regularly
inform Washington about the solid footing of
democrats before major events, be it expulsion of
ethnic Germans, nationalization of key industries
or the first democratic elections, only to be forced
to attempt again and again to explain away his
incorrect analysis after yet another communist
Another important person of our story is
Charles Katek, an American intelligence officer
and the chief of the U.S. military liaison mission in
Prague. A son of Czech immigrants, he forms his
headquarters in a building at Loretánské Square.
Just across the street from Petsch’s villa (the U.S.
ambassador’s residence), the State Police establishes its infamous secret prison, code-named
“The Farm” by the end of the forties. It is here,
in Zikmund Winter’s street, where they take the
secretly arrested agents “walkers” and attempt
to force them into defection. Another infamous
secret prison is, somewhat ironically, located in
the very same building complex as Katek’s military
liaison mission. Called “A Little House,” it is used to
deal mainly with the former members of armed
forces. It is a mere coincidence that these facilities
are in close proximity to American diplomats.
The headquarters of American military liaison
mission have soon become one of the centres
of Prague’s social life. Employees of the Ministry
of Interior mingle with diplomats, members of
parliament and nobility, not to mention young
elegant women. Parties often continue well into
the wee hours and it is quite simple for the State
Police to monitor the mission’s comings and
goings. A surprising degree of carelessness is
noted when the house keeper, no doubt hired by
the State Police, is found in possession of the keys
from the mission. The police archives duly confirm
that the premises would be indeed searched.
One document records Katek’s complaints
about the fact that the HQ in Germany forces
him into building a secret intelligence network
and that there is no getting around it. It is seen
as common practice for a military liaison mission
to openly invite diplomats and journalists. Yet it
is against all common sense for an intelligence
gathering mission to invite openly employees
of the Ministry of the Interior or army officers.
Some of the regular visitors were General Josef
Bártík, Major Alois Šeda and Staff Captain Jaromír
Nechanský. The latter was a member of Czechoslovakian expeditionary force in the UK and
towards the end of the war he is parachuted
into the Protectorate with the task to organize an
armed resistance. It is also Nechanský, who is in
May 1945 emphatically calling for the U.S. military
aid to Prague uprising. After the communist coup
d’état he is recruited by the U.S. and receives radio
stations for maintaining communications with
the agency headquarters. Elementary rules for
working in conspiracy are practically nonexistent
and the informants’ network has been hastily
patched together; this sheer amateurism costs
Nechanský and his aides their life.
Archive documents bear witness to the fact
that long before the communist coup d’état
successfully took place, the facilities of American
diplomats and their aides were subject of intense
interests of the communist-run State Police. As
early as 1947 they succeeded in installing monitoring devices; moreover, it took several long
years to discover them. The building of the US
Embassy and the residence of the ambassador
were of prime importance to Czechoslovakian
intelligence agencies. Several more rooms are
wired by the end of the forties. State Police even
uses very laborious—and until then unknown—
method of ceiling installation of microphones, it
is discovered in 1953. Ten years later agent Ludvík
Rozkuz, code-named “Batler”, manages to install
a spatial eavesdropping device into the ambassador’s office in his residence during a mission
code-named Atom. Every three months he would
take out a library shelf hiding the recording device
and exchange the batteries. This successful run of
breaching the security of the U.S. facilities is cut
short by the emigration of police officer Janota
in 1969, who then provides a comprehensive
record of infiltration methods. In 1989 the State
Police employs many agents in the building of the
embassy, including five deeply undercover cadres.
Kurt Taub, a Brno native, who at the beginning of the war emigrated with his parents from
Czechoslovakia to Sweden using the aid of his
friend Alois Sušanka, is Charles Katek’s deputy.
While Kurt’s brother Walter decided to stay in
Sweden, he wanted to move on to the U.S. Having
needed a Soviet transit visa, he was forced into
cooperation with NKVD. In November 1941 he
received a code name “Dabl” and Walter is codenamed “Terentij”. Family friend Sušanka, run by
the Czechs and NKVD after the war to control
Kurt Taub was code-named “Tvist”.
When it comes to Lukeš’ assessment of Taub’s
activities I cannot bring myself to agree. I have
pored over the same sources that were available
to the author, and I have come to an opposing
view. Both Taub and his Soviet contact in Germany
at the time agreed that only 10 percent of Taub’s
reports are of any value. Furthermore, the arrival
of another CIA agent Spencer Laird Taggart to
the U.S. embassy seems to indicate that Taub’s
mission was being used as bait with the intention
of flooding the Czechoslovakian agencies with
information that needed to be vetted. What needs
to be taken into consideration at this point is
the fundamentally different modus operandi of
intelligence agencies of a democratic state and
those of a totalitarian state. In democratic countries such agencies tend not to have executive
powers—they cannot apprehend and interrogate
suspects—their main task being gathering,
vetting and evaluating information. Only by
these limited means they are to find traitors and
double agents. In contrast, the Czech State Police
arrested and imprisoned hundreds of suspects.
Almost anyone could receive their attention even
through unconfirmed information, and would
be almost immediately arrested and subjected
to harsh interrogation. There were cases where
one officer would start a case on a suspect,
arrest and interrogate him or her, prepare and
file charges, and even propose sentence. It seems
as a plausible scenario that American agencies
would ply its Czechoslovakian counterparts with
useless information. Kurt Taub, later renamed
Taylor, would go on working for the Americans
for years. It is very unlikely that his double agent
activities would go unnoticed. Furthermore, he
would risk a severe prison sentence if his contacts
with the communists were revealed as unauthorized. There are several mistakes in this chapter’s
references, including confusion in research index
apparatus. This all suggests the author’s lack of
deeper insight into the structures of the State
The book’s last chapter describes in vivid
detail the shock of American diplomats from the
communist coup in February 1948; the possibility of which the ambassador himself had only
recently declared highly implausible. The author
mentions several instances when American diplomats smuggled out people whose arrest seemed
imminent; however, Taub’s personal contribution
is omitted.
After the coup the American diplomats find
themselves in utter isolation. Their contacts are
afraid, scattered and several of them arrested.
In just a few weeks the staff at the embassy is
reduced to five diplomats, seven office aides and
a doorman.
On the Edge of the Cold War is a brilliantly
written book; it draws the reader in by the
precision of its facts and a gripping quality of
its storytelling. On the other hand, it is open to
debate whether the American diplomacy and its
intelligence agencies would have been able to
save democracy in the postwar Czechoslovakia
even if they had had an adequate representation
in Prague. Not even British intelligence efforts
run from Frankfurt am Mein and its diplomatic
service, free of any illusions about the postwar
course in Czechoslovakia, have found a way into
this—otherwise very informative—book.
It is a telling fact about the state of current
historiography in the Czech Republic that the best
work mapping Czechoslovakian course toward
the communist coup so far has been written by
a historian working at a university in the United
States. 112
is a specialist in the digitalization of documents at
the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in
Prague. He has been studying StB materials since 1993,
when he joined the Institute for the Documentation and
Investigation of StB Activities.
Aviezer Tucker
Tea with Tony and Tim
Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder,
Thinking the Twentieth Century,
(New York: Penguin, 2013)
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime-minister,
once invited an editor to his office to discuss
literature. After the meeting, Ben-Gurion’s private
secretary inquired whether it was a good conversation. “Yes,” replied the editor, “but Ben-Gurion
is not the best partner for small talk.” Ben-Gurion
overheard it and called the editor back to his
office. “Sit down!” he ordered. “Now we make
small talk!” The art of conversation does not come
naturally to some people and it cannot be forced
or learned.
The mass media’s sound bites contributed to
the decline of the conversation as an art form.
Most people can name their favorite authors,
journalists and bloggers. But who are the contemporary equals of Voltaire, Oskar Wilde, or Isaiah
Berlin? American Public Broadcast Television gives
Charlie Rose an hour each day to do an interview.
On Israeli Radio, I have been listening to Yitzhak
Livni’s weekly interview hour on Fridays at 11 PM
since 1978. Over time, one gets to know interviewers like Rose or Livni even when most of the
airtime is devoted to the people they interview.
But these are almost anachronistic exceptions in
today’s twitting media.
Tony Judt was a great conversationalist, articulate, quick, opinionated, engaging and entertaining. His book records conversations he held
in the last couple of years of his life with a fellow
historian, Timothy Snyder. It is a rare treat to
read an intelligent conversation between two
historically erudite intellectuals. The genre was
forced on Judt when he became afflicted with ALS
(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) that robbed him
of the use of his limbs. He was able to talk and
dictate, but not to write. Judt made the best of
this constraint. It gave him an excuse to engage
publicly in the art of conversation.
Impending death, the confrontation with
personal finitude, individuates and can lead to
authenticity. In what Jaspers called a limit situation, Judt reacted like an authentic historian. He
proceeded to generate lasting record of himself,
to historicize himself and his thought. Historical
immortality is the preservation of evidence that
explains. The book reads like a series of intelligent small talks. Tony and Tim could have been
meeting for tea, crumpets and cucumber sandwiches, to talk about life and history, rather than
meeting to record Judt’s last thoughts as he lay
paralyzed from the neck down.
The book follows the associative rules of
conversation. Each chapter starts with Judt
talking about a period in his life that is then
associated with historical themes, for example,
his childhood and British history, visiting Paris
in 1968 and the intellectual history of the Left.
Sometimes the associations are less obvious and
perhaps more revealing in a Freudian sort of way,
for example, the collapse of his second marriage
and the history of European Fascism. Snyder did
not attempt to keep his interlocutor on topic, let
alone stir the conversation. Since Snyder often
shared Judt’s views, there is sometimes a choirlike quality to his interventions.
As a book of conversations, it is thematic
but not systematic. There are broad generalizations, for example that friendships and alliances
in France are founded on politics more than on
sexual liaisons, while in England it is the other
way round; and overstatements, for example,
speaking of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson,
Judt commented, “By the end of this career he
was widely regarded as louche, devious, dissembling, dishonest, cynical, detached and—worst
of all—incompetent. To be sure, most of these
attributes are compatible with membership in
the intelligentsia, especially in a country where
intellectuals are characteristically dismissed as
too clever by half.” (70)
Judt lived the tensions between conflicting
identities, inconsistent convictions, and between
his ideology and professional practices. The
unbounded, unconstrained and loose structures
of a conversation allowed these complexities to
be more apparent here than in his scholarly books.
The son of Jewish immigrants, owners of a hair
salon in South London, Judt climbed up socially
through studying at Cambridge University and
then spent the rest of his life in elite universities.
Still, despite, and perhaps because of, the social
climbing, he felt an outsider in England and the
United States and among his fellow Jews. He was
fascinated by historical figures he considered
kindred spirits, including Churchill, Disraeli, and
Thatcher. Judt’s fascination with outsiders led him
to forge friendships with East European, Polish
and Czech émigrés during the Cold War, and shift
his interest from French social and intellectual life
to Central and Eastern Europe. Judt took pride in
launching Jan Gross’ academic career. Through
him he met other Polish intellectual émigrés in
Paris. Still, despite Gross’ protests, Judt decided
to study the Czech language rather than Polish,
as he preferred self-irony to heroism.
Through political philosopher Steven
Lukes, Judt, who was working then at Oxford,
was introduced to Jan Kavan, just after he was
caught on the Czechoslovakian border carrying
forbidden books and pre-prepared mail labels of
their addressees. The labels were swiftly used by
the Czechoslovakian Secret Police to target the
dissidents who then lost their jobs and became
subject to other forms of repression. Kavan’s
choice of bringing the list with him was odd,
and many Czech dissidents concluded that he
either worked for the other side, or was an idiot.
Judt described meeting a depressed Kavan on
pills, who attempted in desperation to use Judt
to preempt the broadcasting of a program about
the incident produced by London Weekend Television.
From one Czech affair to another, Snyder
introduced the topic of the Kundera affair. Snyder
was surprised at the shocked reactions to the
revelations that Kundera may have informed
on an American spy to the Czechoslovakian
police, since Kundera’s youthful Stalinism was
well-known. In a European context, indeed, there
was nothing special about Kundera’s politics in
comparison with the kind of fellow traveling
contemporary French intellectuals Judt wrote
about. In my opinion (if I may join the conversation) the shocking difference about the Kundera
affair was that there was a concrete victim, albeit
a real American spy, who spent many years in
prison because of Kundera’s alleged denunciation.
The French intellectuals were just as Stalinist, but
they were lucky in not producing victims, at least
not individual victims with names.
Anti-Bolshevik Marxists, Tony Judt’s parents
saved him from infatuation and disappointment with communism. Instead the youthful
Tony turned to Zionism as a social utopia and
spent altogether two years in Israeli Kibbutzim in
pursuit of both this utopia and a married Israeli
diaspora youth organizer named Maja, until the
inevitable disillusionment. Real Zionism appealed
to people who had to leave their native lands,
originally in Europe, and could not immigrate to
a better place than Israel, like North America. As
such, Zionism had nothing to offer to somebody
who did not have to leave England and would
later go to America. The Zionist vision for most
of its mature adherents was not the creation
of a utopia, but the achievement of the kind of
European nation state that discriminated against
them at the turn of the 20th century, following
the ideals of 19th century nationalism. That is
exactly what they achieved, anachronistic though
it may seem. Kibbutzim served many immigrants
who had no family, money, or connections to
help them settle elsewhere. Zionist Kibbutzim
would therefore have had very little to offer to
an English boy who was admitted to study at
Cambridge University. Arendt’s dialectics of the
Jew as parvenu and pariah comes into mind here,
the parvenu rejected the pariahs. After the 1967
war, Judt discovered that Israel was nationalist
and by 2003 he came to reject his previous “fanaticism and myopic, exclusivist tunnel vision.” Having
taken publicly an anti-Zionist position, the former
outsider was invited to address “church groups,
ladies’ organization, and schools.”
Snyder suggested that in Europe, the Holocaust became a metaphor for the crucifixion. The
disappeared Jews became a symbol of the guilt
of Europe and the meaning of European history.
Israel disrupted this narrative of Jewish sacrifice
and European guilt. Snyder did not further follow
the implication of his Dostoyevsky-like interpretation of Israel as a Christ resurrected against
the will of his followers, and what Europe (as
the great inquisitor) may try to do to Israel to
maintain the myth…. Judt in response denied
that Europeans see in Israel anything but its
imperfections and its increasingly unsuccessful
manipulation of their guilt over the Holocaust.
Judt and Snyder may both be right, when Europeans look at Israel, they see reflected back at
them their own ancient nationalism and intolerance both as causes and effects; and they may
not like this reminder.
Judt pledged allegiance to a kind of historicism, understanding the past for its own sake,
in its own terms, by contextualizing. But he
acknowledged that he has been practicing the
opposite, using history for present debates from
an ethically Universalist stance. Yet, Judt also
criticized Rawls’ Universalist Kantian theory of
justice for assuming historically disembodied
moral agents who cannot make the sort of
ethical decisions Rawls’ thought experiments
demanded of them. Judt’s ideal historian was
a cosmopolitan intellectual, grounded in space
and time, yet not parochial. Perhaps self-ironically he stated that “people who talk about
everything are in danger of losing the ability
to talk about anything.” (298)
Politically, Judt was more of a 19th century
liberal than a 20th century democrat. He emphasized that constitutionalism and rule of law,
liberal institutions and separation of power,
preceded democracy historically and logically.
He bemoaned that mass democracies generate
mediocre politicians. Yet, liberal aristocratic Judt
considered himself a social democrat, a supporter
of Keynesian economics and of limited non-Soviet
style state planning. Judt was on a sure footing
when he criticized Hayek for leaving no space
for social democracy between totalitarianism
and liberalism. Judt also attempted to deny or at
least to minimize the perception of crisis in social
democracy since the stagflation of the mid-seventies. He claimed that not all planned economies were the same and that planned economies
in France, the Netherlands and Denmark were
ahead of the US and UK economically, though
state planning was discredited in the US, UK, Italy
and former Soviet Bloc countries. Judt believed
that the state could do some things better and
cheaper than the private sector, emphasizing
that the state should create some “natural public
monopolies.” A train buff, Judt connected railway
fortunes to those of the welfare state, ignoring the
history of the grand train-lines and train-stations
that were built by many of the robber barons of
the 19th century, on both sides of the Atlantic.
The greatest dissonance was between Judt’s
professional practice and his personal convictions. He railed against commodity fetishization
and hailed state economic planning and intervention. Yet, he spent most of his career in the private
higher education sector and was a direct beneficiary of its commodification of degrees. A native
of England, Judt could have chosen to work at
a British state university. But because of central
planning and monopolization of higher education
in the UK, he would have had to work more for
less money; much worse, he would have been
bullied by state-appointed managers to meet
centrally planned targets, dumb down the quality
of education to graduate all students and even
falsify grades if necessary, conduct less research
and only on topics prioritized by the planners, and
of course forgo any notion of academic freedom.
It is no coincidence that British academics that
have the option opt to work for private American
universities. Centrally planned higher education
is a nightmare. As Judt acknowledged, his own
path for upper mobility was blocked by the British
central planners when they eliminated selective
merit based public education and introduced
instead non-selective comprehensive schools.
Somebody of Judt’s lower middle class background today would have graduated from such
a comprehensive school and would have won
a place at a public university, but not at Oxford
or Cambridge, and consequently would have
been denied an academic career.
The business model that gave Judt freedom
and made him wealthy required the commodification of degrees. For example, New York University operates many study-abroad programs such
as the one in Prague. It outsources education
by offering locals salaries—considerably lower
than those paid in New York—while charging
its students high American tuition. Why don’t
the students pay a much lower tuition directly
to the local instructors and get the same quality
of education? The reason is commodification.
They would not purchase the brand name
commodity, the NYU degree. NYU uses the profits
it makes abroad to compete with older and more
established brand names in the private higher
education industry like Columbia and Princeton
universities that sell competing commodities
(degrees), by paying star academics like Judt
higher salaries and provide them with housing
in Greenwich Village. Judt’s dreams of state planning are reminiscent of the Israeli definition of
American Zionists: “Jews who swim in cream and
fantasize about sewage.” Yet, as another great
New Yorker, Walt Whitman put it, “Do I contradict
myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am
large, I contain multitudes.”
is an independent scholar, the author of The Philosophy
and Politics of Czech Dissidence: From Patocka to
Havel (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2000),
“A Companion to the Philosophy of History and
Historiography”(Boston: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) and “Plato
for Everyone” (Amherst NY: Prometheus Press, 2013).
Roman Joch
Notes from Underground
Roger Scruton, Notes from
Underground, Beaufort Books,
New York, 2014, 244 pgs.
Roger Scruton, who has celebrated his 70th
birthday this year, is a philosopher, a farmer, and
a gentleman. He resides on his farm near the town
of Malmesbury in the southeast of England. This
fact has earned him the right to use the title “the
philosopher from Malmesbury,” a reminder that
there was another fellow philosopher of the same
domicile but of very opposing views—Thomas
Hobbes. Roger Scruton, originally a professor of
aesthetics, has authored forty books dealing with
vastly different themes: ranging from aesthetics
of architecture, music, conservatism, modern
philosophy and the New Left to sexual desire, fox
hunting, beauty, wine, environmentalism and God.
He has also composed two operas, conceived
a TV series for the BBC (concerning beauty) and
written several novels. The most recent one, Notes
from Underground, has been published this year.
The book deals with love, nostalgia, life in Prague
under the totalitarian rule during the 1980s, the
lives of dissidents, the sacred human dignity,
the strife for meaningful existence, it deals with
faith, betrayal, disappointment and the unfulfilled
promises of November 1989. The book is not only
about love between the two main characters, but
also about love of Roger Scruton for Prague and
the Czech language.
The book itself is incredibly lyrical, with
purposefully ambivalent language and formulations, leaving much—including the climax—open
to reader’s interpretation.
Scruton is a fitting person for the job of
writing a book about the life in Prague thirty
years ago; between 1979 and 1989 he actively
assisted Czech dissent, helped to smuggle in
censored books, recruited Western lecturers for
illegal seminars of “underground university” (typically held in private apartments). Between 1979
and 1989 he visited the country frequently, until
his arrest by the so-called State Police and, at the
time irrevocable, expulsion from the country.
He returned after the fall of communism in 1990
and held his first public lecture in the town
of Brno, in which he called for the ban of the
Communist Party. For his contribution to the
return of freedom to the Czech Republic he was
awarded A Medal of Merit (I. Class) by the late
President Václav Havel.
Notes from Underground is written in the
form of a retrospective of the main character, Jan
Reichl, who, at his university office in Washington,
D.C., ponders about the life he led as a member
of political dissent.
He was not allowed to attend university,
because his father had been put in prisons in
the seventies, where he also died: his only crime
being organization of an informal reading club,
discussing with friends authors like Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Camus.
Jan stays with his mother in Prague, works
as a cleaner and spends most of his time “under
ground”—in metro. He likes to read books
belonging to his father, Czech classics, and also
authors from the period of late Austro-Hungarian
Empire: Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth and his Radetzky March, or Stephan Zweig and his World of
Yesterday. Yet most important is F. M. Dostoevsky,
whose Notes from Underground he carries on
himself at all times. He decides to pen several
short stories under the title The Legends and sign
them as “Comrade Androš,” the name coming
from the term “underground”—a comrade from
His mother, who transcribes dissident literature on a typewriter, then makes several copies
of his Legends, until, one day, she is arrested too.
Young Jan leads a solipsistic life, submerged
in books, thoughts, in metro, observing the
passengers. During his metro commuting, Jan
seeks an eye contact with young women and
imagines short lived amorous relationships with
them. Short lived, as they never leave the realm
of imagination.
This way he meets Betka. He follows her from
the metro, onto a bus and then to the park of
Divoká Šárka, where he loses track of her. After
the arrest of his mother, Betka appears at his door
to return books by several dissidents copied by
his mother. The Legends is among them. She likes
them and in no time guesses their author. She
voices an opinion that a campaign for his mother’s
release from prison ought to be organized in the
West, with the help of media.
Needless to say, he falls in love with her. Betka
then introduces him to the lives of dissidents. At
illegal seminars at Rudolf’s, discussing Patočka’s
essays about T.G. Masaryk, they experience “the
solidarity of the shaken.” Jan believes, just as it
is written in Rilke’s Elegies, that it is possible to
change one’s life and to live “in truth.” She takes
him to her apartment at Újezd and they become
lovers. He finds out she loves and plays music,
and works as a nurse at Children’s Hospital at
Hradčany; he also learns that she has come to
view their relationship as her mistake.
Accompanied by Betka, Jan discovers and
learns to appreciate the beauty of his hometown
Prague, as well as philosophy, literature and music.
Betka’s passion is renaissance and baroque music,
with the composer Leoš Janáček above all. Jan
meets other people from the dissent; Pater Pavel,
a Catholic priest, who has been banned from his
profession. Pavel is a mystic, an existentialist,
who believes that God has withdrawn himself
from the world; God is silent and to us, people,
it befalls to love the silence he has created, his
absence from the world.
But how is it possible to love absence?
At home Jan reads Bible Kralická belonging to
his mother and finds handwritten notes in it. “And
there is no truth in us,” says epistle of St. John.
“But it is in Him,” she wrote in. Jan realizes
he does not really know his mother and has no
understanding of her faith.
Betka introduces him to an employee of the
American embassy (“How come she knows such
people?”), who makes and honors a promise to
inform the West about the situation that his
mother faces.
Another interesting dissident whom Jan
meets writes about communist language, phraseology, and jargon under the pseudonym of Petr
Pious. His real name is said to be Ivan Pospíchal
and he goes by the name Karel. (That happens
to be a real person; his name is Karel Palek and
under the pseudonym of Petr Fidelius he wrote
a legendary opus Language and Power.)
However, all is not rosy between Jan and
Betka; she is a mystery to him, he cannot bring
himself to trust her fully and suspects she is
hiding something from him. Their dealings often
end with her in tears. Eventually she decides to
reveal to him where she really belongs, where
her true home lies. They travel far from Prague, to
the region of Šumperk, which used to be populated by Sudeten Germans. Near a small village
lies an uninhabited farm, now owned by her
family. The farm was stolen from the Germans,
her family belongs to the communist nomenclature and she has rebelled against them. This
desolate place, full of memories of long gone
people has become her true home. “That night
we were lying close to each other. Betka’s tears
on the pillow were mixing with mine... We were
a man and a woman in our sweet sorrow... Sad
joy of those days remains with me. It is my most
treasured memory and to me the only known
reason of my life.”
Next day she takes him for a stroll to an old,
abandoned church building, her church. There
she tells him they both must pray and be grateful
to God. The church visit constitutes a wedding
ceremony in their minds. On the way back they
cannot keep their eyes off each other and silently
make love. Then follows a return to Prague and
they bid each other farewell.
There has been an American guest at Rudolf’s
seminar, professor Gunther, from New York. He
claims his country is not such a bastion of individual freedom as they, oppressed by communist
dictatorship, tend to think. A consensus is growing
in America that rights should protect societies,
as it is written by liberals such as John Rawls and
Ronald Dworkin. He speaks about the women’s
rights, gays’ rights and the rights of minorities.
He warns against corrupt and conservative ideas
of freedom. He mentions Richard Rorty and his
theory of truth. The truth is only what is useful
to a group, a society. The truth means power,
according to Nietzsche and Foucault.
Jan finds it in line with the communist
doctrine. “On whose side is he, actually?”
Gunther continues that when it comes to
the abortion rights, communist Czechoslovakia
is more progressive than the U.S.A.
Women constitute an oppressed class of
citizens, a woman is the victim of pregnancy,
weighed down by the patriarchal structures. Jan
hears Newspeak in it.
Gunther then finishes his lecture with the
notion that whatever the actual lack of freedom
for the Czechs is, the women in U.S. find themselves in the same situation.
Pater Pavel is seething with anger but it is
Betka who furiously accosts Gunther.
“When you tell this to your students in
America, do they report on you to the police? Is
your life in danger?” There is something personal
in the way she says it.
Next time he sees Betka, she is crying. She
complains what a horrible person Gunther is. She
makes love to Pavel, but it is a joyless, tired affair.
He then cries as well, and although she kisses him
tenderly, she then sees him off unceremoniously.
Jan follows her and finds out she heads to the
Children’s Hospital at Hradčany. The following day
the rift between them grows. After lovemaking
she requests a special favor from him; to go and
see Dvořák’s opera Rusalka on Friday. He, in his
wounded pride, refuses; he would rather go to
a seminar at Rudolf’s. She cries.
Pater Pavel awaits him in front of the apartment and asks him to go and have a drink.
Gunther is a decent man but his philosophy
comes from the Devil himself. They go to Obecní
Dům for some wine, where they are arrested by
the State Police. Pater Pavel is being driven away
in one car, Jan in another.
A policeman who is having a conversation
with him in the car is very clever and cynical. He
says that one of the things he likes about his job
is being able to read the books popular among
dissidents. Books have created the Czech reality,
but one tends to forget that for the Czechs there
is no other reality than the books. Only people
who have been formed by books can determine
the right of their nation to exist by asking the
question “Kde domov můj?” (“Where my home
lies?”) The answer is: in books.
“The dissidents have resisted us by their
books, and our reaction has been to ban these
books—this is as stupid as it gets.” They take Jan
out of Prague and in the night they release him
into surrounding woods. He is told to “consider
himself lucky.”
He gets home in the morning and finds out
the State Police have arrested all people attending
Rudolf’s seminar, including Gunther. Betka’s apartment is empty, all her things are gone. She has
left. First he thinks she has left for her farm in
the north of Moravia; but then he realizes she
has taken off because she had known about the
upcoming raid.
He goes to the Children’s Hospital at
Hradčany. A nun tells him that Betka—Alžběta
Palková—has asked her to reveal everything to
him—everything about her severely handicapped
daughter Olga, whom she, among other children,
looked after at the hospital. Olga’s prospective
treatment can only take place in Boston, U.S.A.
Betka has received the permission to emigrate
only recently.
Pater Pavel had been, before he was banned
from his profession, a vicar in that small abandoned church in Šumperk region. Betka was
young, he was her priest and mentor, most
likely her lover and the father of her child, Olga.
Olga was born handicapped, he was imprisoned.
Betka’s only life’s goal was to help her daughter.
She had an agreement with the State Police
and she was hoping to capitalize on it. She was
supposed to report on Jan and when she found
out that he was not a danger to the communist
regime she fell in love with him. She wanted to
protect him, and Olga. That was the reason of her
pleading with him to go and see the performance
of Rusalka; she had known about the upcoming
raid. She then sent pater Pavel to lure him away.
She may have even had a premonition about
officer Macháček’s curing Jan from his love.
It is the time of Gorbatchev’s Perestroika.
Jan’s mother is soon released from prison. Jan
dates several girls, but none can fill Betka’s shoes.
Berlin Wall goes down, offices of Communist Party
make place for branches of Občanské Forum
(Civic Forum). Communist symbols are replaced
with posters of John Lennon, Michael Jackson
and Anežka Česká (St. Agnes of Bohemia). And as
Karel would say, it was progress from a kitsch with
teeth to a kitsch without any. Jan sees someone
who is making speeches and looks and sounds
like pater Pavel. He speaks about the need for
a new type of politics, of anti-politics, which will
set us all free. Clichés and phrases just like those
from Gunther, far removed from the mysticism of
pater Pavel. Jan can hardly recognize him.
“Officer Macháček must have been pleased
that our new president has enjoyed his position
owing to books, some of which had been written
in prison... That was the reality now and the books
were powerless... Prague has become a modern
city. Fast food, porn shops, travel agencies and
multinational chains have stimulated our new
experiences and we have found out that no experience will ever be entirely new... Slaves were
liberated and have become idiots. Pop music is
thumping in every bar, where not so long ago we
used to whisper about Kafka and Rilke, Mahler
and Schoenberg, Musil and Roth and ‘The World
of Yesterday’ whose passing was so touchingly
lamented by Zweig.”
Some former dissidents are in business, some
have become somewhat bitter, and some are in
politics. Prague has become a replica of Disneyland.
Prof. Alžběta Palková, who emigrated during
the last years of Communism, has published
a book at a university in New York. It deals with
unofficial culture of the dissent and is being
widely praised in the world of academia. It is dedicated to Pavel in the memory of our beloved Olga.
The chapter about samizdat (illegal publishing)
heaps praise on The Legends by comrade Androš
as an example of “fenomenological realism.” Their
author, young Jan Reichl is compared to Samuel
Beckett. That leads to an invitation to university
in Washington, D.C. Only it does not bear fruit—
no publication, nothing... Jan, a sardonic Czech
intellectual in the midst of American university.
“How am I to explain (to my young American students) that there were days when books
were as important as life itself...it was a crime to
own them and even bigger crime to disseminate
them. To us, they were sacred. How to explain
that a sentence taken from a mortal world and
definitely formed on a page has the power to
go straight through one’s heart and can be of
the same importance as a flash of love or the
matrimonial promise. Looking back at the solidarity of the shaken I do realize now that it was,
just as the officer Macháček had said, a literary
invention. In there was an intoxicating love that
had changed my life, forever bound me with
a person who loved me in a mutually shared
world of imagination and who was trapped in
the real world of mistrust. I am looking back at
that moment and I know now that it was the time
when my life was perfect, spiritual and lived to
its fullest potential, having been written in the
magically purest Czech.”
The head of university department (“...a leftist
liberal, of course, because only leftist liberals can
reach the top echelons of the academic pyramid
in the U.S.”), very polite, flashing smiles, inevitably lets Jan go, and doing so he passes him
a parcel from prof. Palková. Unwrapping it, he
finds another one, with a hand written message
from Betka: “To my mistake.” There lies the only
remaining illegal copy of The Legends by comrade
Androš. The copy he had forgotten on the bus
when he saw Betka for the first time and followed
her to Divoká Šárka Park.
Well, so much of the book. I am sure that
my synopsis cannot do justice to its fascinating
depiction of love and searching for the sacred,
to its richness of language and tender lyricism
of the story. Among the works dealing with the
Czech dissent it is a novel of pivotal importance.
Who would have thought that the romantic lyrical
rendering of the lives of dissidents would be
written by Roger Scruton, of all people… On the
other hand—why not? He certainly possesses
talent, memories and—distance.
And last but not least, let me elaborate on the
two central characters. John O’Sullivan (former
editor in-chief of National Review), in his review
of the book in the March issue of The New Criterion, sees the character of Betka in a much more
positive light than that of Jan. According to him
she is a strong, independent woman maneuvering in a minefield and protecting those that
are dependent on her. Jan comes off as a weak,
self-centered nihilist. (At a conference in Warsaw
this summer with Scruton and Sullivan present,
John’s wife shared with us that she had thought it
impossible to fall in love with a literary character
only to be proven wrong in case of her husband
and Betka.)
Now, to be sure, Betka is charming, strong
and fragile at the same time, and more mature
than Jan. (She was 26 at the time, Jan was 22).
He, in contrast to her, did not understand much
and was only beginning to learn. On the other
hand she was hiding things from him. I find that
important and not altogether innocent. He was
immature but she did not play an open hand.
With all this said; would I fall in love with her?
Absolutely. ROMAN JOCH
is Director of the Civic Institute in Prague.
Farewell to Agneša Kalinová:
No Tears, Only Laughter!
Marta Frišová
Agneša Kalinová, a Slovak intellectual of world stature,
is suddenly no longer with us and the time around her
has vanished. All that is left is her concentrated timeless
It is often said that when people die, they
see a film of their whole life flash before them
in a single moment. Maybe it is true; we have no
way of verifying it empirically. But when someone
who has been part of our life dies, this is exactly
what is triggered in our heads and time comes
to a standstill. Since Agneša Kalinová has gone,
time around her has vanished and I see her the
way she was a long time ago, I hear laughter,
fragments of conversations, I see her handbag,
her shoes. I see her some forty years ago as she
gets into her white Škoda in Kúpeľná Street, starts
the engine, steps on the gas and speeds off to
go to a swimming pool, leaving her Peking duck
roasting in the oven. Why waste your life hanging
around the kitchen to make sure nothing goes
wrong with a duck in the oven! In the middle of
summer! I can even picture Ági as a young girl, the
way I have never actually seen her. And simultaneously, I also see her engrossed in a newspaper, in
a photo taken a few days ago, austerely graceful,
like Jeanne Moreau.
All of a sudden Ági Kalinová is no longer with
us and time around her has vanished. All that’s
left is her concentrated, timeless essence. A star
that is unattainable and, unlike us, eternal.
Yesterday [the feminist publisher] Aspekt bid
her farewell by quoting her own words from Jana
Juráňová’s book My Seven Lives: in Conversation with Agneša Kalinová: “I was brought up
never to cry in public; this is what my father and
my governess, Adrienne, drilled into me. That
was how you were meant to show self-control.
But nobody told me I should also suppress my
I think she might be the only one of her
generation of Slovak journalists capable of such
a punchline. It sums up Ági and her triumph:
the triumphant story of her battle for dignity
in demeaning times and in a demeaning backwater that passed from one humiliating regime
to another. When she was sixteen, the Slovak
Republic gradually forbade her, among other
things, to go skiing, go to cafés, go swimming
and finally, to live. Then it murdered both her
parents. She never talked much about it; after
all, she had been brought up not to cry in public,
and speaking about these things really amounts
to crying.
However, nobody told her to suppress her
laughter! In our neck of the woods laughter is
quite a special source of defiance and in the early
into jail just for good measure. As their 18-year-old
daughter Julka was about to graduate from high
school, both her parents were imprisoned: for
incitement, right-wing extremism and for organizing a Zionist group. And although Julka graduated with top grades, she was never accepted by
any university. Why were the Kalinas singled out
as a special target of the regime’s hatred? Was it
because they viewed life with humor and detachment, something that stupid people instinctively
fear? Or was it because all power, however dim,
is guided by an unfailing instinct that assured
them they could always rely on an undercurrent
of Slovak anti-Semitism and that persecuting the
Kalinas would serve as a warning to others. And
sure enough, some of their ex-colleagues and
friends were so intimidated that they preferred
to cross over to the other side of the street when
they saw Ági coming. When Julka’s application
for university was turned down the fifth or sixth
time and it became obvious that she would never
be accepted, they decided to do something that
the secret police didn’t object to: they applied
for permission to emigrate and went into exile in
Germany, leaving Bratislava all the more provincial and desolate.
Those who listened to Radio Free Europe in
the 1980s knew her from her political commentaries. Originally, in the 1960s, while working
for the Kultúrny život [Cultural Weekly], Agneša
Kalinová wrote mostly on film, offering a window
into the unfettered art and the world of European
cinema. It’s worth checking out her articles about
the demolition of Podhradie (the old quarter
below Bratislava Castle) written at the time
Kultúrny život waged a battle for the future
shape of Bratislava—arguing whether Bratislava
would become a “small metropolis” or a “large
backwater.” The position she took is thoroughly
modern and intellectually incisive; it hasn’t dated,
though half a century has passed since.
Right after the revolution, as soon as it
became possible, she got into her car in Munich
and set out for Bratislava. I remember that she
Agneša Kalinová (15 July 1924—18 September 2014).
Photo: Ľuboš Pilc, Pravda
days of the 1970s normalization a high culture of
laughter was cultivated in the Kalina home. It was
their family brand. The walls of their apartment
in Kúpeľná Street were lined with books from
floor to ceiling, and any remaining surfaces were
covered with famous cabaret posters. And above
the sofa in the study two white masks laughed
at each other—I think I may have found them
slightly scary, the two household gods, the Czech
comedians Voskovec and Werich.
Their apartment was famous because those
who visited it could feel they were still in Europe,
part of a civilization of humor and irony, where it
was normal to behave as if we were free, because
the hosts were free. Even the food they served
was different, more exotic. People loved this
apartment; it was like a bomb shelter that was
safe from boredom, greyness, even fear. Even
the toilet was brightened up by a psychedelic
picture: circles of orange, green and red, which
constantly changed color as you moved.
Of all Bratislava intellectuals—proponents of
Socialism with a Human Face—no other family
had been the target of such uncompromising
punishment by the 1970s normalization regime
as the Kalinas. Not only were they banned from
pursuing their profession, they were also thrown
got slightly lost around Schwechat airport,
having taken a wrong turn. She was confused
by a sign that declared, in large letters, FISCHAMEND (a small village in Austria near the border),
failing to spot the tiny letters underneath that
read “Bratislava”—perhaps in those days Fischamend was more of a magnet than Bratislava.
She fumed about the sign only briefly, in an
understanding way—exploding but fizzling out
very quickly, as was her custom. It may have
been the first thing she told us when we met,
explaining why she was late coming home: the
big Fischamend and the tiny Bratislava. We can
still hear the fast, urgent cadences of her voice
that was unlike any other voice in the world,
with a husky giggle at the end. It might be this
sentence about the traffic sign that still rings
most vividly, most authentically in my mind.
It was an improbable, unbelievable, dreamy
moment—she was back after eleven years, yet
it felt as if she’d only been gone for a few days.
Her return was the ultimate proof that we had
regained our freedom, not partly but completely,
the kind of freedom we had no longer dared
to hope for.
Agneša Kalinová turned 90 in July this
year. Instead of a big celebration in Bratislava
she clinked glasses with her daughter Julka in
a Munich hospital. The champagne was a birthday
gift from the Mayor of Munich.
Over the past 25 years she visited Bratislava
several times a year, always rushed off her feet,
dashing from one meeting to the next, from
morning till night, to fit in coffees and lunches
with all the friends who absolutely had to meet
her, at least for a little while: she would have
hated to offend anyone. Then, in the evening,
off to the theatre or a concert, to make sure she
didn’t miss out on anything important. When
you met Ági for a coffee you would learn about
all the interesting things that were happening
in Bratislava at that moment, what play had just
opened, what book had been published. When
I told her I had seen a fantastic film set, say, in
Ethiopia, she would tell me right away who had
directed it. She was interested in everything.
I don’t know anyone else who was so passionately
interested in the whole world, in anything and
everything. It might have been a waterfall in the
Jamnická Valley or a street in Saint-Germain,
a café, a little souvenir shop, a Romanesque
church with an exhibition of Fra Angelico miniatures. It was always a joy to be with her because
she showed us that the world must be interesting
enough for the rest of us, too, and that we too
have the chance to keep enjoying it, even though
we could never possess her grace, elegance and
When you met Ági for
a coffee you would learn
about all the interesting
things that were
happening in Bratislava
at that moment, what
play had just opened,
what book had been
All her life she really seemed to have been
a character from a French movie. Over the years
her friends were relieved to discover that she
never changed. She was always herself: and the
more she was interested in the world, the more
she knew about it. And that’s what the trick was:
the more she knew about the world, the more she
was able to enjoy it, worry about it, be upset or
happy, because once you reach a certain degree
of erudition, every new tidbit of information that
someone else might not find at all interesting,
will fit in with all the other bits, giving it meaning,
confirming it or mystifying us, turning itself into
a revelation.
In her last photograph Ági is holding
a German broadsheet: perhaps she is reading
an analysis of the forthcoming Scottish referendum, maybe she has just skimmed the news
from eastern Ukraine or Iraq. Or a review. I’m sure
it was exactly the way it looks in the photo, that
this is what she is fully focused on in this natural,
normal moment. Illness, exhaustion, dying, all
that is just a trivial, boring obstacle, a distraction.
An annoying, a dreadfully annoying detail.
It may sound a bit absurd but I’m sure that
all of Ági’s friends now feel sort of cheated that
the miracle only lasted ninety years, even though
everything seemed to indicate that it would last
forever. She will never again tell us anything funny
or angry in her urgent, hoarse voice, grabbing
us by the elbow, and all we can do is weep with
self-pity or kick the furniture (depending on how
we were brought up). What consolation is it that
a first-class star now shines in our imagined firmament? A cliché comes to mind—clichés can be
quite apposite—that with Agneša Kalinová
a whole generation has now left Czechoslovakia
for good. And a disagreeable, worrying question
suggests itself: what will we radiate, we who are
still here and haven’t yet retired? How many
battles, how much humor, grace and defiance,
how much inquisitiveness and dignity do we
have to our credit? How much will remain of us
when the physical substance of our own lives
finally dissipates? M A R TA F R I Š O VÁ
writer and translator
No 3 | 2014
3 | 2014
Index: 287210
Aspen Institute Prague is supported by:
Jan-Werner Müller, Ivan Krastev, José Ignacio Torreblanca, Peter Kreko, Martin Šimečka
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