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Jul 29, 2011

Rundle: pen-pinching Klaus a prized Righter, not a freedom fighter

Poetic really, that the Czechs should present us with two examples of humanity, under the name Vaclav.

Freedom and competition are always good, which is why the two major Right organisations in Australia have brought out key European crackpots at the same time. The CIS has Thilo Sarrazin, amateur geneticist and campaigner against inter-racial s-x, at its Big Ideas gabfest, while the IPA has the wacky Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic and anti-global warming campaigner.

Klaus is prized by the Right, as a champion of freedom, promoting free-markets, etc, wherever he goes. He’s prized by the media too, for generating exciting vision. While in Chile, signing a declaration, he pocketed an expensive pen, the event captured on video, going viral on YouTube. In Australia he refused to go through parliamentary security, although that event appears to be mired in confusion.

What he’s best at though,and wheeled around for, is for labelling climate change as a fraud and Greens as the new communists. Klaus, an economist, is satisfied that any scientific arguments for climate change are “junk” and that no reputable scientist believes them, which will be news. In denouncing the Greens as the new communists, he uses the same negating rhetoric that is part of the cult of hate directed against democratic Left movements these days. Here he is quoted in a Miranda Devine story:

“Twenty years ago we still felt threatened by the remnants of communism. This is really over,” Klaus said.

“I feel threatened now, not by global warming — I don’t see any — (but) by the global warming doctrine, which I consider a new dangerous attempt to control and mastermind my life and our lives, in the name of controlling the climate or temperature …”

He said environmentalists had been arguing for decades that we should reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, using various farcical ploys from the exhaustion of natural resources to the threat of “imminent mass poverty and starvation for billions”.

Those same environmentalists shamelessly talk now about dangerous global warming.

“They don’t care about resources or poverty or pollution.

“They hate us, the humans. They consider us dangerous and sinful creatures who must be controlled by them.

“I used to live in a similar world called communism …”

Yes, indeed he did. And rather well. Klaus presents himself as a brave dissident against communism, but he made his accommodations with it and then some. He played no role in the Prague Spring — sufficient to attract the attention of authorities — and while others were going to labour camps, was permitted to go the US, to do postgraduate study at Cornell, the sure sign of a trusty.

When he returned in the early 1970s, there was a moment of apparent dissent to which Klaus will often point to — he was labelled an “anti-socialist malcontent” and barred from various academic bodies. Other dissidents similarly excluded, were consigned to factory jobs in the backblocks. Klaus wasn’t one of them — instead he went to work for the Czech state bank, eventually rising to a senior position.

Thus, for two decades, this lonely voice against the “new communism” prospered well under the old communism, serving the economic needs of a Marxist-Leninist state, and travelling abroad frequently, the privilege accorded to a loyal apparatchik. The ’70s progressed. Just as many dissidents were being allowed to return to mainstream life, charter 77 came along — the protest against the lack of democracy and free speech, sparked by the repression of a rock band. Thousands faced the agonising choice of again going up against a monolithic state. Most did it, facing a new round of prison and internal exile.

Klaus didn’t — indeed for many Czechs he’s become a positive symbol of those who didn’t dissent. As a Czech commentator explained to Radio Free Europe in 2007, on the 30th anniversary:

Frantisek Sulc, an editor for the daily Lidove noviny, says most Czechs probably don’t feel guilty for not having signed Charter 77. Instead, he says, they probably just don’t like it that a small group of dissidents — only about 2000 signed Charter 77 — seem to get all the credit for helping to bring down communism.

Also worth nothing, Sulc says, is that with Havel out of office, very few if any current political leaders signed Charter 77, including President Vaclav Klaus.

“[Klaus] really mirrors the feeling of, I would say, most Czechs,” Sulc says. “That is, ‘We didn’t do anything bad, we didn’t hurt anybody, we just tried to survive and tried to live’. And now, there’s a group of the few people, a small group, who is now taking all the benefits and the heroism for putting down the communist regime.

Could Klaus have chosen not to work so directly with a communist state? Others did. Here’s Jefim Fistein, the only non-Czech signatory of the charter:

While in Prague, Jefim worked as an independent translator, despite his training in journalism. Says Jefim, “Although I was trained in journalism, I didn’t want to work in Czechoslovakia because I didn’t want to serve the regime in any way.”

Klaus, by contrast, devoted his talents to ensuring its continued viability. Having faced a genuinely totalitarian enemy, with the capacity to harm, he largely ducked the fight; facing green parties and activists using democratic and peaceful means he won’t debate them — he simply denounces them. Purporting to be a foe of communism, he instead brings all the techniques required for getting ahead in a torpid Brezhnevite state to an open society. Simple criticism doesn’t work — your opponent must be labelled an enemy of the people, a wrecker, an anti-human, in order to be defeated.

Poetic really, that the Czechs should present us with two examples of humanity, under the name Vaclav — one, Havel, who would serve several prison terms, and suffer two decades of harassment, only to emerge into post-communist Europe as a social democrat and an early proponent of Green politics, a man renowned for his generosity, politeness, breadth of thought, and humour; and Klaus, the notoriously rude state bank loyalist who wouldn’t stick his neck out, who denounces democrats as Stalinists, but made his peace with the latter; who vowed to oppose the EU, but signed the anti-democratic Lisbon treaty without a squeak; who purported to stand for the freedom of small nations, yet supported the Russian invasion of Georgia to the hilt.

And how inevitable that the IPA would choose the latter over the former. For who can doubt that the think tank’s bright boys and girls are, above all, conformists, who, in other circumstances would slide easily into the same sort of accommodations as Klaus, the grey roosts of apparatchik culture, and do Marxian calculations of the falling rate of profit to eight decimal places as eagerly as they read Hayek and Von Mises. After all, it’s easy to pretend you believe in freedom if you arrange it so that you never meet anyone who really stood up for it.

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86 comments

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86 thoughts on “Rundle: pen-pinching Klaus a prized Righter, not a freedom fighter

  1. granorlewis

    It seems clear that Rundle has neither read nor listened to Klaus, but simply chooses a couple of quotes from certain newspapers that he would normally dismiss as tripe.

    Such disparaging diatribe is not normally written by this scribe, but he has let himself down badly with his spin on this occasion.

    The opinions expressed in economic terms by Klaus – an eminent economist – are at least as credible as are those of Flannery, Stern, Garnaut etc. And it is beyond doubt that those three are as wrapped up in political, and politically-motivated spin as they could possibly be.

  2. linda

    Surely the most bizarre and amusing plaint of the denialists & “I know better than all the scientists” types is this strange fear of socialism/communism. Its 2011, not 1911! To accuse the modern ALP of being socialists is good for a belly laugh, but NASA?!! Klaus & his ilk are either lying charlatans protecting their vested interests or complete Loony Tunes

  3. mattsui

    @GRANORLEWIS.
    If there are errors in fact, or obvious counterpoints to, Rundle’s article. Could you please elaborate as to what they are?
    In this case I’m sure there is more than one side to the Vaclav Klaus story. But you can’t just call bullshit and walk away. Give us your version.

  4. Guy Rundle

    Klaus isnt making an economic argument Granor – he’s making a scientific and then a political one. He’s suggesting that he has sufficient expertise to judge the science of climate change – which he doesn’t — and then to assess the Greens, democratic and peaceful political groupings, as conspiratorial Communists. You know, the ones he worked for for two decades.

  5. Tim Macknay

    I have often wondered whether Vaclav Klaus’s appeal as a speaker outside Czech actually stems from people confusing him with Vaclav Havel.

  6. Mark M

    I doubt Klaus is even judging the science, which implies that he has looked carefully at the fact that C02 is climate forcing and found the proof wanting.

    I think dismiss is a better word.

  7. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    Granorlewis: let’s look at comments like “[Environmentalists] hate us, the humans. They consider us dangerous and sinful creatures who must be controlled by them.” That’s not even a strawman argument, which generally takes a negative aspect and blows it up beyond all proportion. It’s more like complete bullshit. Ergo: Vaclav Klaus is a bullshit artist.

    In my experience, a lot of the Greenies are good fun to be with, especially the younger ones. They’re more into the tribal drumming than the mass denunciations – something which Vaclav seems to be very familiar with. I’ve know folks who’ve done forest sit-ins. I’ve gone to the odd Confest, and more regularly at Woodford. I live in West End. As Hunter S. Thompson would say, I know these people in my goddamn blood. Confusing environmentalists with Calvinists is just bloody stupid.

    Tim: you’re probably on the money. Havel was the man who invited Frank Zappa to be Cultural Attache of Czechoslovakia.

  8. LisaCrago

    But does working to discredit this person’s past living under the USSR actually discredit the Klaus argument?

    He is talking about governments telling people just how they should live their life. Now someone who lived in the USSR DOES know exactly what central control is all about. If we are not careful in this country we will soon be afraid to live as we wish too and are already being told what is good for us and what is not, what we should drive, eat, smoke, drink, the list is bloody endless and about to get worse.

    to pick up on one point
    Calling The Greens the new Communists is an insult; to those who are still members of the Communist Party, and it is alive and well.

  9. davidk

    Thanks Guy, I didn’t know any of that. I did wonder at the time how he came to be gainfully employed doing computer modelling under a totalitarian regime. Has the IPA taken over the national press club or has it always been in control?

  10. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    “If we are not careful in this country we will soon be afraid to live as we wish too…”

    At this point, I can imagine a First Dog On The Moon cartoon with a Slippery-Slope-A-Meter going “Woop! Woop! Arooga! Arooga!” and other various sound effects.

    Lisacrago: Czechoslovakia went Communist not because of some stealthy, sneaky political correctness crawling into everywhere like Lantanas in a national park. They went Communist because the democrats were killed, expelled or imprisoned in a fairly short time scale.

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