Slavo-Laff of the Day

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Vaclav Klaus, principal architect of Czechoslovak post-Communist reform, and corrupt political hack, has gotten more mileage than anybody alive in cooing Hayekian sentiment into the anxious ears of market-friendly Western journalists, while turning around and dragging his feet on any number of domestic reforms that would undercut his political power. People who were on the ground (cough cough) have known that Klaus is nobody's Thatcherite since around mid-1992, (by 1997 his allegedly socialistic rival Havel had to shame him publicly for slowing down post-Communist transformation) yet amazingly, the guy's still getting away with it, in part by throwing out red meat to the EU = Socialism crowd. Still, this exchange with UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave is a milk-through-the-nose classic:

Q–At the last Thatcherite in Europe, you cannot be in favor of the political unification of Europe you deem to be inevitable.

A–I am a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher, but my views on the need to maintain the nation state as a building bloc for European unification are not related to hers. I am convinced you cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state.

Well, Vaclav, we've somehow been muddling along across the pond all these years. (Link, and sentiment, via Scott MacMillan)

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  1. I think the US vs. EU thing is a red herring. The US was founded by a men who shared a common language and cultural heritage. The EU is an attempt to unify a large and disparate set of cultures and political establishments under one umbrella. We can disagree on whether that’s a) a good idea or b) being implemented correctly, but I don’t think “The US can do it” is evidence that the EU will work.

  2. Josh — I’m not making that comparison. I’m taking specific issue with Klaus’ assertion that democratic accountability is impossible in anything more complicated than a nation-state. It’s typical Klaus — utter certainty, mixed with cluelessness about the world around him (including such faraway lands as Switzerland).

  3. But doesn’t nation-state (as opposed to just a state) imply a common culture and language? I may be reading more into Klaus’s statement than he meant, but if he’s trying to say that supra-national organizations that transcend cultural boundaries might be too distant to be unaccountable, I’d be inclined to agree.

  4. Josh — Implies a common nationality (and, more often than not, a parochial nationalism, of which Klaus is an adept practitioner). I thank Jeebus every day I don’t hail from a nation-state …

    None of this is to imply that he’s wrong about the EU needing to be far more accountable, and that it maybe oughtta think about editing the Rulebook down by about 90%; just that his tired spew is still being lapped up (“last Thatcherite,” etc.) years and years after it was anything close to being accurate.

  5. Wouldn’t the 2000 election kinda put some question to the concept of american democratic accountability?

  6. What Josh said.

    And what Rich said.

  7. We have accountability here, democratic or otherwise? Good one.

  8. No, Rich, that was one of the few political situations in which the US Constitution was adhered to lately.

    So we’ve got:

    Following the Constitution: Electoral college votes for the President on a state-by-state basis.

    Not Following the Constitution: Creating a dept. of Educashun, Social Security, Gun Control [sic], “Hate Crime” laws, “Affirmative Action”, 90% of the Federal government, etc.

    Help me out with some more things for the 1st category, people – this is looking pretty bad …

  9. Rich –
    No. Why?

  10. Sorry if I misinterpreted Rich’s post, but I first figured it was another whine about the way election was resolved.

    If you’re talking about whether Bush is adhering to most of his votors’ wishes, then I agree with you.

    On the EU thing, even thought they don’t have a common language and culture, I think it would work better if the relationship between states was more along the lines of the United States, back when it was DONE RIGHT – before Lincoln, that is, and especially before that FDR. Fewer rules, definitely, would be a good thing.

  11. There have been so many multinational empires and kingdoms throughout history, I think it’s a point in the EU’s favor that they’re doing it democratically this time.

  12. “if the relationship between states was more along the lines of the United States, back when it was DONE RIGHT – before Lincoln”

    You mean back when the south was disproportionally represented because of the 3/5ths compromise? When states rights were used as a cover for slavery?

    I may not be a fan of the nanny state we have today, but let’s not pretend that we’re fallen from some utopia of liberty because of Lincoln and FDR. Despite some bad things 20th century progressives have foisted on us, we’re a lot more free now than we have been in the past in general terms.

  13. “…we’re a lot more free now than we have been in the past in general terms.”

    funniest thing i’ve heard all day

  14. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but what’s with all this disdain for Klaus? I thought he was one of the good guys. (Not as good as our favorite Czech, Havel.)

  15. >>funniest thing i’ve heard all day

    yeah, black people can eat a restuarant without fear of being lynched. we are definitely less free – hardy har har.

  16. Matt Welch,

    The fostering of petty nationalisms has been common in Europe for a long time; it gets especially bad in Eastern Europe, as a perusal of history textbooks from those nations make clear. And of course they also just ingore historical unpleasantness as well; Croatian, Romanian, etc. denial of their role in the holocaust official policy as far as I can tell. And before you jump on France, excoriating France for its role in the holocaust has been the rule in French textbooks since the mid-1960s; in fact, the text has proved problematic for beurs in France who would like to get rid of those sections of the text.

  17. Sebastian-

    Aw, why’d you have to go and burst the bubble of our mythology?

    Once upon a time a paradise was created. And behold! All was perfect in this paradise. And all enjoyed liberty and abundance and every fruit of liberty. And the Founders did grin, and the people did feast. But, alas, paradise collapsed and tyrants rose, making this nation as unfree as any that has ever existed. We look forward to the eventual coming of a Libertarian government that shall come to judge the laws and find them unconstitutional. And on that day the Republic shall be restored to its former glory, and all shall sing Halleluia to Liberty!

    But no, you have to go and point out that not everybody was free and that some people are actually better off today, just like those pesky scientists have to point out that the earth is in fact billions of years old. Way to ruin a good myth!

  18. “funniest thing i’ve heard all day”

    Care to elaborate? The entire modern conception of free speech, and the idea that civil rights should be incorporated against the states is a fairly modern one.

    Sure, our taxes are too high, and we have a lot more bloated and useless entitlement programs than we used to, but we’re not quite so much at the whim of local power players, and we’ve extended freedom to a lot more people than it used to be extended to in the past.

    Try being a black man, a woman, or someone who was just a little odd; go back to the time before FDR and Lincon, and tell me how free you feel.

  19. Jimmy is correct. Bush is not even keeping his own promises. True, he is not the first person elected to the office of President to find himself in a compromising position, but to my mind the very fact that there’s a legacy of such things suggests that we haven’t had political accountability for some time.

    But more specifically, when I spoke of the election I was referring to the way the voter roles were purged in Florida.

    I’d assume similar activities went on in other areas as well, and that they are not coming to light because no one has investigated them, and no one has investigated them because they took place in states that weren’t as hotly contested.

    Whether or not you agree with the electoral college, you can only honestly say we are adhering to the constitution if you can say beyond any reasonable doubt that all local election procedures went according to the letter of the law. We now have evidence that in at least one municipality that didn’t happen.

  20. I think the US and Europe have unprecedented freedom today; if people knew much about regulation in Europe in the 14th or 18th centuries, you would know what I mean. The downfall of sumptuary laws are a perfect example; the press has never been more free or diverse in Europe as today.

  21. should be: “our system is NOT undergoing this transformation.” Sorry.

  22. R.C. — “Nation-state” implies nationality; i.e., the Czech Republic is made up of something like 90-95% ethnic Czechs. (Actually, Czechs have been some of the 20th century’s most effective ethnic cleansers, but I’ll leave that argument for another time.) “American” is not a nationality (there is no “American” language), it’s a citizenship, and every nationality and ethnicity is welcome to apply. In contrast to, say, Germany, where (at least until recently) second-generation Turks still had a helluva time becoming German citizens, because of creepy old bloodline laws.

    Not that nation-states are inherently Wrong, mind you — though I initially opposed it, I firmly believe now that Slovakia’s independence has been a crucial thing, because the Slovak “nation” had never before had a chance to assert itself as the dominant ethnicity/nationality in its own governance. And Woodrow Wilson’s insistence of the rights of nation-states to exist was crucial in the development and self-governance of the various subjugated nations of pre-WWI Europe.

    But countries that are founded on the principles of common ethnicity & nationality will ultimately, I believe, face precisely those demographic disasters you refer to. Countries that are based on attractive & successful *ideas*, in contrast, will be much more successful in assimilating immigrants and keeping things young. Also, we won’t waste nearly as much time persecuting minorities … hopefully.

  23. Thanks, Matt, that helps. Given my legal background, I tend to view nations as sovereign entities rather than ethnic entities.

    I guess I would question whether ethnicity is an essential component of “nationality,” as you seem to imply. I am very uncomfortable with the notion that the US is not a nation because it lacks a common ethnicity, which seems to be what you are saying. I agree that “American” is not an ethnicity, but I think it is a nationality.

    There seem to be any number of multi-ethnic nations out there, too, which seems to cut against conflating nationality with ethnicity. Nearly every nation has its native populations of ethnic minorities (Kurds and Basques leap to mind). Still, it seems a side issue.

  24. Another way to look at it… Ethnicity and nationality (and religion) are parts of a personal identity. A nation is a bunch of people with sufficiently similar personal identities who define a border around themselves. As groups begin to recognize their separateness and strengthen attachments to geography, they begin to acknowledge other groups in other places. This leads to the political concept of state. Over time that political distinction becomes part of personal identity and may reinforce or overtake an initial ethnic component.

    It seems many definitions and progressions are valid and useful.

  25. R.C. — We’re quibbling over definitions; I am influenced by & reacting to the Central European definition of “nation,” which (as Klaus certainly means it) basically means a group of people who share the same language and (more or less) history. The concepts obviously get fuzzy (is a Ruthinian — like Andy Warhol — an ethnic Slovak?) and such questions can quickly end up becoming silly. Still, I would wager that Klaus does not consider Czech-speaking Gypsies to be part of the Czech “nation,” and that fact influences his attitudes and policies. Also, Jews are frequently excluded from definitions of “nations,” which contributes mightily to anti-Semitism.

    Many Slavs were not governed or even taught in their native languages until relatively recently; most countries there fetishize whatever great poet of the 1848 revolutions, who doubtlessly stood up and demanded that the glorious national tongue be spoken during church & official business. Without that nationalistic assertiveness, and the recognition that identifiable categories of people were being subjugated by Europe’s larger empires, many of these people may still be ruled from Vienna, or Berlin, or Moscow. So the “nations” were fundamental in the Wilsonian formation of the “nation-states”; but problems with national minorities have been an occasionally murderous by-product.

    Calling something a nation-state is not really a value judgment, then, but rather a description. Slovakia is probably 85% “Slovak” (with 10% ethnic Hungarian and maybe 5% Gypsy). France, which is more heterogenuous than most Western European countries (being also founded on an ideal), is still dominated by a strong majority of what you might call ethnic French. French people are always marveling about “protestants,” and practitioners of other exotic religions…. and are much more therefore inclined to identify splinter religions as “cults.”

    But I’ve digressed far enough — the point is, the vast majority of countries (especially in Europe) are fairly homogenous nation-states, and many of those that you might call “multi-national” are riven with ethnic conflict. I believe we are “one nation” in the way that *you* mean it (i.e., there is some identifiable *thing* that makes us all American), but that “thing” is not blood type, skin color, religion, or centuries’ worth of common historical experience. In that (and the fact that we are not on the verge of factional warfare) we are one of the few and proud.

  26. Matt Welch,

    “…the vast majority of countries (especially in Europe) are fairly homogenous nation-states…”

    That’s a myth, especially outside of Scandanavia.

  27. Merov — Is it? Let’s tally up the European countries which have a single majoritarian ethnicity:

    Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Ireland

    Which ones don’t? I don’t know, but I’d guess these *may* be up for play:

    UK, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Macedonia

    And certainly not all of those are non-majoritarian, ethnic-wise. So, are quibbling over the word “vast,” or do you have some knowledge I don’t share?

  28. Merov — I have no doubt that you have much knowledge I do not; it wouldn’t be hard. But you haven’t chiseled much at the “myth.”

    That 40% of France is “less than third generation” doesn’t contradict a word I said. You say “the supposedly ethnically homogenous eastern European countries are not” — well, which ones are you referring to specifically, besides Romania? (Which itself, at least according to the evil CIA, is 89.5% ethnically Romanian, 6.6% Hungarian; 87% Eastern Orthodox, 5.6% Catholic.)

    And for the sake of this discussion, at least, let’s not refer to Jew-slaughter and post-war German expulsion as a demographic “anomaly,” since (at the least) questions of nationalism and ethnic purity played some direct role in comparative willingness to assist in the Final Solution, and abuse at the hand of conquering Nazis made some Central Europeans a bit irritable after WWII. That a place like Prague was intoxicatingly multi-national & multi-cultural in 1915 or 1925 or 1935 is certainly fascinating, but of the multitude of reasons the city no longer has a significant population of Jews, Germans and Slovaks, ethnic nationalism is certainly among the leaders, even though Czechs are arguably less nationalistic than just about any other Central European tribe.

    So, let’s hear more about those multi-national countries. I’m always up for cheerful news.

  29. This comment will land far away from the comment that catalyzed it, but I feel obliged to point out that while it’s true the Czech Republic is, as Matt says, “something like 90-95% ethnic Czechs” (http://www.pcusa.org/pcusa/wmd/ep/country/czedemo.htm), I’ve yet to meet a Czech who didn’t have some German or Slovak or Bulgarian or Roma or Hungarian or Jewish stirred into the mix. There’s no such thing as a pure-blooded Czech. And there probably never was.

  30. “Czechs are arguably less nationalistic than just about any other Central European tribe”

    says Matt Welch the incurable austrophobe. But of course! Benes and Masaryk would be proud of you.

  31. Matt Welch,

    Well, to be frank, the countries of Europe are not being truthful; of course lies about the ethnic make-up of a nation in Europe are common historically. And the fact that 40% of Frenchmen are less than third generation Frenchmen, meaning their parents came from other places, is illustrative of ethnic diversity in France; just as much as the same fact about the US, that it has so many less than third-generation people in it, illustrates its ethnic diversity.

    Its humorous that the German communities in Romania (many settled there by the Arpad and Angevin dynasties of Hungary as a means to check aggression from the asian steppe as well as from the Byzantines) are not mentioned in the CIA factbook, BTW.

    Slovakia’s southern border has a large ethnic Hungarian population (which is itself somewhat of a lie, since most Hungarians have never been Magyars, but people of other ethnic groups speaking Magyar – which most nationalistic Hungarians will deny). Large chunks of what was Yugoslavia have no majority ethnic population at all, and almost all the states of the former Yugoslavia (except Slovenia) had very large ethnic minorities – or no clear majority as in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Southern Bulgaria has a majority Turkish population. There are singificant minority populations of Ukrainians in Slovakia and Romania, and some few in Poland. Then of course there are ethnic Germans scattered throughout Eastern Europe; the after-effect of drives to colonize the region dating from Teutonic Knights.

    And my general point would be that much of the supposed uniformity is simply a lie; a lie in the making since at least the 19th century when nationalist movements really began to stir in Europe. I think the fact that they are lies is illustrated nicely by all the mythical “foundation” stories one sees even today in the historical texts found in what you call primary and second schools.

    Whether this is cheerful news is another matter.

  32. KJ,

    I think you are basically right.

  33. joe,

    Well, ask any Frenchmen where they come from, and they will tell you “Pays de …” We refer to our regions as “nations” in other words; and this fact is born out by level of linguistic diversity in France even today, especially amongst people born prior to the 1950s. Occitan, Breton, etc. And even though the language has been unified, the differences can be seen in areas where the government could never force conformity – such as regional cuisines.

  34. But back to the topic…

    If you were a recently-free-from-the-Iron-Curtain country, would *you* join the EU?

    I wouldn’t!

    The EU’s system of “laws for everything we can possibly think of” is a sure stranglehold for economic, political, and cultural growth.

  35. Matt Welch,

    About 40% of France’s population is less than third generation French; and the majority of these are not beurs – our current interior minister is second generation Hungarian for example. You’ll find that there are similar ratios in most other European countries. Even the supposedly ethnically homogenous eastern European countries are not; just look at Romania’s population for example. Poland is somewhat of an anomaly; of course it is an anomaly due to WWII. Before that only 60% of the population were “Polish” and Catholic. The slaughter of the Jews and the movement of the borders changed all that. I have some knowledge you don’t it appears.

  36. Matt:
    Thanks for the answer on Klaus. That’s almost exactly the kind of answer I was looking for.

  37. Anonymous,

    Well, given that each referendum in the new accession countries has passed (with large majorities generally), I would guess that the “new” Europeans disagree with you.

    And whatever you think of EU regulations, the fact is that Eastern Europe will benefit a great deal from membership. Poland’s agricultural exports will surge, companies like Renault are building new plants there to take advantage of lower wage costs, etc. This will be a repeat of the Irish and Spanish experiences.

    This is always the problem with the anti-EU crowd; they based their thoughts on feelings, instead of reality. They have this “feeling” that its bad; when in fact, they are largely ignorant of the entire affair.

  38. I’m late to this fascinating conversation. In particular I found the exchange between Matt and the Merovingian quite good … but it seems you guys were talking past each other.

    Yes, the “nation-state” is a mythical construct. I thought this was the point the Merovingian was trying make. Italy, Germany and Spain — all classified as nation-states by Matt, who’s certainly not alone in this — are NOT nation-states in the real European definition of the word. The first two were artificially cobbled together in the 19th century by peoples speaking different dialects who had lived under different rulers (sometimes fighting one another) for years and years; Spain came together with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and has been intermittantly dealing with folks who would dispute that unity — Basque separatists, Catelan separatists, and other assorted irredentist types — ever since. (I’m not a historian or even history buff, so if anybody wants to dispute this on a factual basis, go right ahead.)

    So this begs the question: Would Klaus and the nation-stater Euroskeptic crowd have opposed the unification of Prussia, Swabia, Bavaria and other disparate lands into an artificial German federation in the 19th century? What about Italy, where the tribes probably had even less in common?

    This is precisely why Klaus is so full of poop.

    Earlier this year, I interviewed one of the leading euro-skeptics in European Parliament, Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde. (www.bonde.com) (What? You mean totalitarian Europe actually has an Opposition? How’d they let that happen?) He said categorically that a European democracy cannot exist because a European nation does not exist. This sort of begs a chicken-and-egg question, so I asked him at what point would he know that a European nation existed. I expected an answer approaching the judge’s definition of pornography, and that’s exactly what I got: He said when he walks around the streets of Paris and Rome and people recognize him and stop him and talk to him about his work, like they do in Copenhagen, then he’ll know there’s a European nation.

    Hm. OK, so when the U.S. Representative from the Xth district of Wisconsin walks around the streets of Miami, presumably people must be stopping him all the time. I really don’t think that’s the case.

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