Jindřich Mitrovský

The European Strategist's Editor-in-Chief.

Hungary (again) threatened with being deprived of its EU voting rights

To paraphrase the classic: two things fill my mind with ever new and increasing awe, the starry heavens above me and the bottomless capacity of liberal establishment to undermine its own moral and political cause.

Go on then, go and threaten Hungary just before the EU elections with a ‘nuclear option’, depriving it of voting rights only because it exercises its prerogative for a different political opinion. Entirely according to the EU’s founding treaties, which provides member states with a blocking minority in a limited aspect of sovereign matters (foreign policy and exercise of control over all our taxation money including). This is, by the way, what the article below joyfully and poetically welcomes as Orbán finding himself ‘under the frog’s ass’, thus continuing in Politico’s well set line of bashing the Hungarian government at every opportunity. (While never questioning when the EU’s democratic principles are being thrashed by Macron, Scholz and the like in the name of a ‘good liberal cause’, just as they plan for now).

One can only hope that these unprincipled and authoritarian hypocrites will be punished by voters in the most severe manner.

Iraq 2003, Ukraine 2022

Almost 19 years ago to this day, George W. Bush announced that the United States started “military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger”. While it is difficult to make estimates as to its casualties, since in later years it indirectly led also to the emergence of Islamic State in the Middle East, the lowest end of population—based studies conclude that it resulted in 150,000 violent deaths by June 2006 (source: Iraq Family Health Survey). If the Western media portrayal of that invasion were to be believed, its difference from the war of aggression that Russia started against its Ukrainian neighbour on 24 February is that the “Operation Shock and Awe” was almost humanitarian, led by “precision missile strikes” and with the civilians who died being the unfortunate victims of ”collateral damage” on the path of the country’s march to liberation from Saddam Hussein (who had no links with Al Qaeda) and weapons of mass destruction (which Iraq did not possess).

That one country waged a brutal war does not justify that Russia is now making use of a similar language in waging another. What it should do, however, is to put in perspective our own reaction. Make us a little more humble, reflective, less emotional and more cool-headed. Because there were no winners of the Iraq war apart from some very happy companies in the defence industry: certainly not the Iraqi people, who defended themselves vigorously, yet died in hundreds of thousands only to fall once again victims to fanatical jihadists a dozen years later. And definitely not the United States, which also lost several thousand soldiers, but above all their credibility in the non-Western world. Yet there was no one banning US companies from European (and other) markets, no one prohibiting possible explanations of the reasoning behind the US war effort (in fact, media were loudly cheering for it), no one encouraging rampant anti-Americanism and banning their films, artists or children from schools. Importantly, neither the Russians or Chinese called Bush to be a war criminal, nor for example Hussein featured prominently in foreign parliaments, urging others to militarily intervene against US soldiers and thus threaten to drag the rest of the world into a global conflict.

Bombing of Baghdad in the initial hours of the Iraq War, 2003

Past is the past and it has little sense to engage in whataboutism. But it is impardonable not only not to take a lesson from it, but to forget it, push it into collective amnesia, and then flatter ourselves with a false sense of moral superiority. Europe is not going to resolve this conflict by the spirals of sanctions, nor by turning Ukraine into a total war zone where each side will barricade behind unbridgeable ultimatums. Forgetfulness and moral platitudes lead us astray – and far away from – the only lasting solution to a conflict, which starts with engaging in a (serious) dialogue with an enemy. If the EU does not find its own, pragmatic and cool-headed voice in the middle of this terrible crisis, it might well be the ultimate straw in our continent’s political, economic and cultural suicide, of that I am absolutely convinced.

Witch-hunt on Trump: Establishment’s anger about “America First” and reclaiming power from Washington

Last week, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. A man of a surprisingly blunt language and the one who is not shy to speak his mind on issues some regard as far too controversial, he managed to shock the “correct-thinking people” once more. His inauguration speech will not be remembered for its eloquence, nor for its relatively short length, but for the astonishingly direct and forceful way in which he denounced the political establishment as self-serving and corrupt. Yet instead of asking and discussing if Trump was right and correct in what he stands for; which is a task fitting for democratic societies, mainstream media resorted to denouncing him in a myriad of inventive ways.

As TV cameras captured the inauguration spectacle for the rest of the world to see, the Democratic and Republic grandees present on the same tribune as Trump were left gasping for air as the new President started speaking about “a small group in our nation’s Capital” that “[has] reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” The speech broke many other taboos too as Trump expressed support for patriotism, putting “America First”, and returning power back to the people from Washington D.C. His speech was also full of action and strong, muscular pronouncements of the sort that have largely disappeared from the vocabulary of Western societies. Liberal commentators in a sort of reflexive snap reaction referred to them as “paternalist” or “authoritarian” or some combination thereof.

Donald Trump’s highly contested inauguration speech

Trump could hardly save himself from a harsh judgement even when he added that “whether we are black, brown or white, we bleed the same blood of patriots.” Bleeding and patriotism are certainly not two words that our delicate Western ears are used to hearing: we live in societies that are fine with sending drones and professional military to blow up people in other parts of the world, but we shy away from references to anything too primal and violent in our own backyard.

No country for old men (questioning the status quo)

So unsurprisingly, the thunderstruck reaction of the establishment to which Trump pointed out quickly followed. Ross Douthat at New York Times called Trump’s speech “populist and combative” and “eschew[ing] the rhetoric of liberty in favor of expansive promises of protection” (Douthat 2017) and “veering towards fascism” (Douthat 2017). Gary Younge in The Guardian was more poetic in saying that “fear and malevolence” and that “[t]he hands that once grabbed pussy now have access to the nuclear launch codes” (Younge 2017). The Guardian’s editorial chimed in to label it “a sham” and “a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities” (Editorial 2017). Trump’s nods to lack of prejudice were called insincere (why?), his arguably bleak depiction that America is facing as “sketching dystopian landscapes”, and his lack of wishing good health to hospital-ridden George H.W. Bush and his wife as a proof that the man is “not capable of being magnanimous” (Abramson et al. 2017).

Meanwhile, others were more ingenious in pointing that “many lines in Trump’s address were unobjectionable by themselves”, yet “it was hard to take Trump seriously when he said them” (Larison 2017). The Washington Post then put the final nail in Trump’s ready made coffin: the new President was “furious and resentful” the first moment he walked into the White House (Parker et al. 2017).

In other words, the new President’s inauguration speech was branded as dumb, nationalistic, xenophobic, bigoted, populist, aggressive, or even white supremacist. Trump’s credo to put “America First” seemed to have taken particularly many hits as either “egoist” or plainly “malicious” (Pehe 2017). Neither the support for patriotism or giving back power to the people were spared this journalistic version of waterboarding treatment: commentators made a stunning revelation (!) that also North Korea celebrates patriotic devotion (and, “therefore”, Trump must be same as Kim Jong-un, right?) and that people’s champions are also Hugo Chávez, Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan and Viktor Orbán.

At one point, CNN started comparing the size of crowds during Obama's (2013) and Trump's (2017) respective inaugurations. Conclusion: Trump has less supporters. Copyright by CNN (2017).
At one point, CNN started comparing the size of crowds during Obama’s (2013) and Trump’s (2017) respective inaugurations. Conclusion: Trump has less supporters. Copyright by CNN (2017).

Let me be clear: what is staggering is not that politicians, journalists, or different commentators make these judgments or go to such depths in attacking Trump. Where freedom of speech exists, that is everyone’s perfect right and, for journalists, even a duty of exposing what they see as important for the public. The truly shocking thing is that a large majority of these authors express their opinion without any further qualifications or a semblance of analysis. Since what time is protesting against the power of elites “aggressive”, since when patriotism turns one into a North Korean dictator, and since when appealing to democracy is only an attribute of dubious demagogues? Where are the standards of balanced journalism, when Barack Obama, the only American President who was permanently in war during his two terms in the office and who regularly resorted to extrajudicial killings of American citizens by drone strikes, is regarded by the same media as a perfect embodiment of Western liberal democratic values? Is that not the clearest example of “disinformation” and propaganda that we have recently started blaming squarely on Russia?

The much lauded objective journalism of the mainstream Western media, often contrasted to “fake news” of RT or Sputnik, thus seems to favour throwing around labels and accusations without evidence, publishing defamation reports written by private contract agents that did not pass intelligence vetting, and ad hominem attacks that regularly depict Trump as an unstable raging monster. If one regularly reads these reports, one has to wonder how such a man can even hold a pen for two minutes without drooling from his mouth, firing an aide for being the wrong colour of skin, or ordering to build a high wall here or there; because it is just in his despicable nature to be an aggressive xenophobe. Inevitably, the underlying assumption is that “such a brute” could have been elected only by the same kind as him.

Is the only alternative to liberalism really a dystopia?

Seemingly, there is a deeply ingrained conviction among the liberal elite that Trump‘s words about the rotten establishment are lies, vulgar, or both. It is as if some believe that direct naming and shaming is not appropriate for an inauguration speech, that if at all present, it should be wrapped in the thick plastic of polite phrases and nice words, and that only mild references should be made to “problems” “we are currently dealing with”, but in no way question the nature of the system. Because that is impolite, that is not correct to the reality, in one word, that is populist. Or is it not? Is it not the purpose of politics, and even more so of democratic politics, to speak to the people and with the people in a frank language that is understandable to all? In other words, build a link between voters and speak in a manner that directly identifies the problems that a society is dealing with? Trump’s critics should get this one absolutely clear, since by attacking him for his remarks in the inauguration speech, they are attacking many democratic and republican values (in small capitals!) as well. It only seems many have forgotten such values exist, because they got so much used to liberalism being the only set of ideals repeated on the public channels.

Very few critics stopped and asked if there is actually anything problematic per se with Trump’s key promises to return power from Washington and with putting “America First”. Do they really mean anything but a belief that the chief American politician should make the interests of his citizens the main priority, before any other private, sectoral, or foreign interests? Should this not be the role of every politician, to represent the people who elected him or her to the office? Have we not diverted from these fundamentally democratic values, have we not channeled too much power in the hands of the far too few and this caused the popular backlash? In the anger unleashed at Trump, there are far too many ideological assumptions to be tackled one by one. What seems clear to me is that we should question whether making the interests of one’s citizens the main priority automatically means jingoism and egoism on the international stage, whether patriotism cannot also strengthen society rather than just exclude people, and whether pointing the elites for greed is demagoguery or just telling what is necessary and evident.

Contrary to the great orator Obama, Trump is blunt and rejected American exceptionalism

It is clear than in any Western country, Trump’s open and unabashed strike at the elites and their interests in his first address as President would cause an uproar. In the United States, it represents nothing short of a political thunderstorm. Presidential inauguration speeches in the United States are traditionally highly ceremonial and it is presumed that the new President will “embrace” the whole nation and “heal” political divisions after the previous year’s campaign. Thus even from Trump, most commentators expected a more conciliatory tone than the one he had adopted during his tub-thumping presidential campaign. Secondly, there are certain recognisable symbols that traditionally make America “the America”, which people anticipate in an inauguration speech, and which can be roughly summarised as the values of American exceptionalism. Together, this makes for a broad consensus that the content of such address should be positive, forward-looking, and America-leading, in other words, in line with the American Dream that is about better future for all who work hard enough.

Barack Obama is an excellent orator and a perfect representative of the American liberal establishment. But is liberalism the only way? Photo copyright: Forbes (2017)
Barack Obama is an excellent orator and a perfect representative of the American liberal establishment. But is liberalism the only way? Photo copyright: Forbes (2017)

Barack Obama, ever an excellent and polished orator, fulfilled these expectations perfectly. While his 2013 inauguration speech is vague on political priorities, it is uplifting and interwoven with references to Bible, the Founding Fathers, Civil War, equality for all, eradicating poverty, or spreading democracy from “from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East”. There is hardly a single negative statement that would not be subsequently beaten by Obama’s vision for a brighter future.

Trump made very little of that and he was rather plain and simple in his promise to return power to the people from the establishment as well as put „America First“ and in belief that „nation exists for its citizens“. He also spoke in darker tones about crime, problems with financing education, worker layoffs, unfavourable trade deals, or lack of border control. And crucially, he abandoned the concept of American exceptionalism and spreading democracy abroad, which represents a revolution in American foreign policy without a precedent in the last 80 years. Instead, Trump explicitly mentioned that while standing up for his country‘s interests first, it is the “right of all nations to put their nations first”.

Trump therefore broke from the usual presidential tradition both in content and in the manner of its delivery. But note this is exactly what his electorate demands and what he was elected for. Should he break that promise and become “a nice speaking liberal politician”, as many people seem to demand? For the American citizens who chose Trump, the plain and crass speaking real property magnate is “tribune of the people” and his uncouth style is precisely what gives him the aura of authenticity – in a stark contrast to the politically correct, yet haughty, corrupt and Teflon-like Washington establishment. While Barack Obama is a great orator and a man of beautiful words, a problem with beautiful words is that they carry a big potential for their own kind of vulgarity and outrageousness. Such vulgarity arises if politicians and the establishment speak nicely and in familiar smooth terms, yet nothing results from their actions and one sees that the rich are getting richer while the brunt of the costs is taken by ordinary citizens.

Donald Trump may well turn out to be a demagogue who made too many promises that reflected more his sky-high ego than what was politically achievable. But he also may not. The fact that as a populist he responds to popular expectations and promises to “tackle” self-serving Washington, disappearing jobs, or unfavourable trade deals does not mean these causes are wrong in themselves. Or that they will necessarily end up in failure. After the decades when a US President after US President pursued the same liberal policies and they did not work, surely the best course in politics is try out an alternative. Let us start judging the new American President based on that, let us scrutinise whether what he says makes sense, and let us point out what cannot work and why it cannot work.  If he re-opens Guantanamo and reinstates atrocious torturing techniques that disappeared thanks to Obama, then that is a subject for protests and strong critique. But they require argumentation and scrutiny, and not personality attacks and flat-out rejections of Trump’s calls for patriotism or returning power from Washington.

Is such approach not more appropriate for democratic societies than a plain old witch-hunt?


Publication bibliography

Abramson, Jill; Paarlberg, Michael; Weinstein, Jamie; Thrasher, Steven W. (2017): ‘He’s already let America down’: the reaction to Trump’s first speech as president. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/20/reaction-to-donald-trump-speech?CMP=fb_gu, updated on 1/21/2017, checked on 22-01-17.

Douthat, Ross (2017): Trump’s New-Right Politics of Solidarity. In New York Times, 1/20/2017.

Editorial (2017): The Guardian view on Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war. In The Guardian, 1/20/2017. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/20/the-guardian-view-on-donald-trumps-inauguration-a-declaration-of-political-war, checked on 22-01-17.

Larison, Daniel (2017): Trump’s Inaugural Address. In The American Conservative, 1/21/2017. Available online at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/trumps-inaugural-address/, checked on 21-01-17.

Parker, Ashley; Rucker, Philip; Gold, Matea (2017): The first days inside Trump’s White House: Fury, tumult and a reboot. In The Washington Post, 1/23/2017. Available online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-first-days-inside-trumps-white-house-fury-tumult-and-a-reboot/2017/01/23/7ceef1b0-e191-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html, checked on 1/25/2017.

Pehe, Jiří (2017): Amerika na prvním místě. In Novinky, 1/24/2017. Available online at https://www.novinky.cz/komentare/427297-komentar-amerika-na-prvnim-miste-jiri-pehe.html, checked on 1/24/2017.

Younge, Gary (2017): Trump’s first speech in office was unapologetic appeal to nationalism. In The Guardian, 1/20/2017. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/20/trumps-first-speech-in-office-was-unapologetic-appeal-to-nationalism, checked on 21-01-17.

Donald’s Populist Moment: Revolt of the Masses or Revolt of the Elites?


The gloom in the eyes of the genteel EU folk in Brussels on Wednesday 9 November was a perfect reflection of the city’s rain-filled skies that morning. “The current tenant of the White House is the first Black President of the United States,” a colleague of mine quipped as I passed by his cubicle, “the guy we are getting now is a vulgar clownish buffoon, a Putin’s pal with hands on a nuclear switch.” As smart and talented as my colleague is, what escapes him as well as so many otherwise intelligent individuals of the “EU bubble” is the utter dissatisfaction of people with elites.

It is quite natural that Western political, financial, economic and media elites do not see it, since they are the exact target of the brewing popular anger. To borrow the words of Alain de Benoist, demanding they accept themselves as the root cause of resurgent populism is same as putting in doubt their raison d’être. Being in “shock”, “despair”, or “dumbfounded” about uncouth Donald Trump does not help, however. It only serves to underscore the elites became smug and live in a self-centred bubble to which day-to-day reality does not penetrate.

As non-Western media are too ready to point out, this lack of a capacity for self-reflection is a sign of political immaturity to which many Americans and Europeans have fallen. When I asked our editor Alice Máselníková for a comment, she aptly pointed out that elites pat themselves on the back and nurture each other with neoliberal convictions. They reject any different opinion immediately and without consideration as bigoted, racist, or extremist. If someone disagrees, so the logic goes, it must be only because they are not sufficiently educated or are not equipped with the right facts. If they were, “they would see through.“ Well, there you go, they did not. Now is the right moment to ask why.

Being “dumbfounded” is not a good enough response, says Jonathan Pie and does not mince his words while doing it!

Those who see hope in Trump and populism do not give a damn about all that mocking, eye rolling, crying emojis and emergency plans for emigration to far away lands. If there is something most human beings can agree on, it is that no one likes being treated as an idiot. Note well: Trump did not win regardless of his insensitive and direct utterances, but rather because of them. Pollsters who were putting Hillary Clinton in front of the race until the very last minute (as seen on the forecasts graph from New York Times) did not realise that people were quite likely hiding their political preferences because of fear of being blamed and shamed. Political correctness pushed the dialogue over ideology out of social discourse, to the extent a candidate who expressed himself vulgarly yet frankly, gave people the sense of choice and empowerment.

Chance of Winning Presidency - until Trump started winning, pollsters engaged in wishful thinking. © New York Times
Chance of Winning Presidency – until Trump started winning, pollsters engaged in wishful thinking. © New York Times

Democracy is based on the idea that in civic matters, everyone is equal. If certain criteria such as the age of maturity are met, every citizen has something to contribute to the debate and decision-making. Our life experience is different, each of us fights own battles and is given personal opportunities. Each of us, therefore, is also a bearer of certain wisdom, which does not correlate with profession or the formal level of education. Only if we share our individual wisdom and put it to the scrutiny of others, we can hope to correct for errors and mistakes that are also individual. Czech thinker Petr Robejšek is correct in saying there is a powerful wisdom in the wisdom of the crowds, since a collective offsets excesses made by a single human being.

For that reason, I have little doubt that Trump’s victory will be once written in history books as a fundamental moment of political change. Trump is the first President-elect in the 200-year old American history that did not hold any public or military function. Tremendous opposition from all traditional outlets of the mainstream notwithstanding, American people said no to the establishment and that after decades of electing sanitised and well-spoken presidential candidates who ended up offering zero palpable change. Obama was the last establishment candidate in whom people put their trust, only to see him put Citigroup and Goldman Sachs grandees on top posts in his Cabinet. Unsurprisingly, this betrayal had its political consequences: former Obama strongholds firmly sealed the election’s result when they turned to Trump.

Triumph of populism

It is not so much Donald Trump who is the winner of this election, as the anti-establishment movement as such. In fact, history was already made when Trump became the Republican candidate and when Bernie Sanders made such an excellent performance during Democratic primaries. Someone for once addressed head on problems connected to immigration and globalised economy. The Trump phenomenon is about breaking the rule that some things should not be spoken about. As disgraceful as Trump’s comments about women or Muslims were, these kinds of words are heard by people everyday, be it among “their buddies”, in a supermarket, or at their work on a construction site. While the form may and should be certainly questioned, it remains clear that Trump spoke in an understandable language about topics that concern people on the street.

Hillary Clinton and the establishment were certain they will have the White House. This witty video leaves them astonished as “mad dog” Donald snatches the coveted prize instead.

It is a triumph of populism, albeit with Trump of a xenophobic kind. Populism, however, is not an ideology but a political style. It is also not synonymous with demagogy, as populists and elitists alike are perfectly capable of deceiving the people. Ernesto Laclau defines populism as a political disposition through which people constitute or reconstitute themselves as a historical actor, starting from the moment characterised by antagonistic plurality of views. Populism is thus fundamentally linked to democracy. In the US, such a moment is becoming increasingly visible as the clash between the establishment and its neoliberal ideology of globalisation, and forces that to various extent question such fundamentals. As the traditional dichotomy between political left and right increasingly loses importance, it is being replaced by the division between “up” (elites) and “down” (people).

Trump represents the vulgar sort of populism and his political style managed to capture the anger of white working and middle-classes of the American Midwest. Formerly an industrial heartland of the United States, it was the area hardest hit by the outsourcing of jobs to cheaper locations in Asia. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania had not voted for a Republican candidate since the 1980s, and most polls showed Clinton ahead by comfortable margins in those states. Ohio went for Obama in the last two presidential elections, as did Iowa. Trump won them all.

Changing social landscape due to influx of migrants, bursting of the housing bubble, and unaffordable education and healthcare that were not solved by any of the neoliberal “reformists” further added voters to the Trump camp. Vote for Trump meant a vote against Washington and against hollow moralising of corrupt elites that rely on their hold at institutions to push forward their own agenda. In one word against everything that the Clinton family symbolically represents. If Trump did not present himself as a xenophobe (as well as a misogynist) and appealed directly to African and Latin Americans of both sexes, his support would have been undoubtedly much higher still. Even then, as can be seen in the chart below, compared to Mitt Romney in 2012, his support among Hispanic voters increased by 2% to 29%. His highly antagonising rhetoric notwithstanding, he even gained some support among black voters, Jewish Americans or American Muslims.

Which voters won it for Trump: Comparing exit polls from 2012 to 2016. © The Telegraph
Which voters won it for Trump: Comparing exit polls from 2012 to 2016. © The Telegraph

Entirely another question is if the controversial figure of Donald Trump can fulfil his voters expectations. For once, he never expressed his policy with any great clarity and there are some indications that his attitude might change when he enters the White House. While he reaffirmed his commitment to “build the wall with Mexico”, his tone during the victory speech was calm and conciliatory. His Cabinet is also likely to include some well-known establishment figures. He is also a “capitalist par excellence” and one cannot expect that the United States will turn on Wall Street, but this largely reflects the economically liberal nature of American populism. It remains to be seen to what extent Trump’s rejection of environmental policies, widespread deregulation, reducing corporate tax from 35% to 15%, or return to more private healthcare is capable of answering popular calls for a more just society.

On the other hand, Trump offers some sympathetic policy proposals such as large-scale investments into infrastructure to secure jobs, an amnesty for the repatriation of big companies’ money from overseas, or protectionism against dumping prices of Chinese imports. All the above taken together, Trump and his team believe, should deliver a big fiscal stimulus to the American economy. The promise of higher investments were positively taken up by financial markets, which quickly jumped up from the initial “shock” of Trump’s victory, notwithstanding predictions to the contrary from such economists like Paul Krugman.

European tragicomedy?

And what about Europe? The European Union does what it knows best: on Sunday it organised another summit. This time it was a “panic dinner” where these political pygmies, so-called European leaders, struggled to find a response to a turnaround in American foreign policy. Rather than having a normal political reaction, the EU behaves like a company board that suddenly lost its CEO.The outcome of this meeting was predictable – the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini issued a bland comment that “values, principles, interests” will continue to form the basis of the transatlantic partnership. European citizens, please translate: waste of your tax money.

More interestingly, the meeting seemed to have been snubbed by the UK, France and Hungary. Financial Times reported that “British foreign secretary Boris Johnson dropped out of the Brussels meeting, with officials arguing that it created an air of panic, while French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault instead opted to stay in Paris to meet the new UN secretary-general. Hungary’s foreign minister boycotted the meeting, [labelling] the response from some EU leaders as ‘hysterical’.” One is entitled to ask if the EU is showing first cracks in its façade.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission infamous for his drinking antics and former career stint in facilitating tax evasion as Luxembourg Prime Minister, wants to teach Trump “what Europe is and how Europe works”. Perhaps Mr Juncker should be reminded by his advisors that at least as far as Central Europe is concerned, Trump knows it better than him. His Czech ex-wife Ivana Trump is poised to become Ambassador to the Czech Republic and their children speak at least some level of Czech.

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn during a press conference. EU's foreign policy statements became infamous for their lack of any clear political message. JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn during a press conference. EU’s foreign policy statements became infamous for their lack of any clear political message. JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

What European politicians cannot process is that Donald Trump openly admitted that he would put “America First”, make reasonable deals with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and fight alongside Bashar al Assad in Syria. In other words, he is completely reversing the decades of American liberal interventionism in global affairs. Since so many politicians in Europe made their career out of thoughtless pursuit of American political interests, it will be extremely interesting to see how they will react when they find themselves facing a President beating to a different tune.

Merkel, Hollande, Juncker and others spent last several months insulting and lecturing Trump at every opportunity, yet now they will have to back down and sit with him at international summits. Also various sorts of media commentators and “think tanks” openly wished that Clinton took up the reins and continued the bellicose stance towards Russia that would have made the world at the very best an extremely unstable place. In this context it should not be forgotten that “the non-flying zone” in Syria proposed by Clinton would lead to a war with Russia. It is unlikely these organisations will change the tone as George Soros and others will continue in their hefty funding. Will they now advocate that Trump is overthrown, so that the promotion of the American liberal hegemony at gun barrel point may continue unrestrained?

One should remain cautious about expecting (or fearing) too much from Trump, as he will be inevitably constrained by the Supreme Court as well as by Congress and powerful military-industrial complex. It also has to be noted that most of the Republican party does not support at all Trump’s realistic approach to international affairs. Especially through the figure of Mike Pence, future Vice-President, they will try to continue in the course of global interventionism.

The great hope is that the change in American foreign policy may ultimately be good for Europe. Since European politicians completely showed the utter lack of capacity to promote Europe’s sovereignty and independence, Trump’s withdrawal of support for NATO might do it for them. The EU may be very well forced to rely on its own means for defence, which would be an ironic achievement after the decades that the Americans spent on undermining Europe’s efforts to do so.

Last but not least, it becomes clear that liberal democracy with its focus on more of the same (political correctness, consumerism, corporate globalisation, disrespect for collective identities, preferential treatment of minorities to the problems of majority), does not offer solutions to social problems that we have also in Europe. The essential question is if the elites realise that and work together with people in solving their problems in a manner that is fully democratic, without demagogy and false promises, and just to all citizens without distinction. If they do not, and it would be due to their stupidity, greed and short-sightedness foremost, more and more extreme and extremist individuals will get elected into power also in Europe. Already in the 1990s American thinker Christopher Lasch spoke of the revolt of the elites, and that, I think, not the revolt of the people, is a fair assessment of the current situation.

Brexit is a revolt against globalisation: Interpreting the UK vote

European political scene is in quite a disarray. “Right now, we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it,” quipped historian Apple Applebaum back in March (Applebaum 2016). Applebaum, wife of the Polish neoconservative politician Radosław Sikorski, thus perfectly anticipated the panic felt nowadays by our elites. Inadvertently, she also revealed how Western elites see European integration: as a project tightly intertwined with the neoliberal worldview and globalisation. In their vote for Brexit, British working classes revolted against what the EU seems to increasingly stand for: self-proclaimed global elites and their policies that benefit only the increasingly few.

Let us be perfectly clear: for Europe and for the West, Brexit is a moment of fundamental historical importance. British “red Tory” thinker Phillip Blond is not exaggerating when he states that “Western ballot boxes never before seen a greater rejection of globalisation” (Devecchio 2016). The EU came to be squarely identified with globalisation and all social and economic insecurities that it entails. For British voters, these materialised mostly as fears of immigration, which have both cultural and employment-related aspects.

Explaining voting patterns

A look at the voting patterns across Britain gives evidence to deeper divides that separate the winners and losers of globalisation, and which are also visible in other European countries.  (Note that for political reasons, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain exceptional cases.) Charts are telling in showing deep class divisions. In a country where one year of undergraduate university education costs £9000 (more than €10,600), one of the best predictors of how people voted was their education level. “Remainers” tended to have university degrees, while those without higher education were much more likely to be in the Leave camp. Similar results are seen when we look at the median income – the richer the voter is, the more likely they were to vote Remain. In the UK, income and education are closely linked to geography, which explains why “bobo London” is the only part of England where people voted for staying in the EU.

Another significant factor is the trans-partisan character of the vote against the EU. As several observers already noted, Brexit would not be possible if a large proportion of Labour supporters did not vote against the Remain campaign of the party leadership. The party leader Jeremy Corbyn is himself a eurosceptic, who likely very much dislikes the authoritarianism of the EU’s neoliberal policies, lately openly revealed in last year’s economic diktat imposed on Greece, against the wishes of its people expressed also in a referendum. Why officially being in charge of Labour’s Remain campaign, his support was lukewarm, which is also the reason why his Members of Parliament (MPs) are at the moment working hard to get rid of him. What it ultimately shows, however, is that Corbyn is much more connected to the wishes and fears of the party rank and file than the MPs, who are mostly “champagne socialists” still day dreaming about the heydays of New Labour under Tony Blair.

As John Cassidy put it in The New Yorker, the implication is that “the British working classes and lower middle classes, particularly those living in the provinces, have delivered a stinging rebuke to the London-based political establishment, which was largely in [favour] of staying in the [EU]” (Cassidy 2016). The explanation is that for the working classes, salaries are at rock bottom and zero-hour contracts along with other “market reforms” put in place by the Conservative government made sure their jobs are more precarious than ever before. Property prices are astronomical, class sizes at state schools are too high, waiting times in NHS are too long. Meanwhile, good education, better jobs, and fenced-off private properties are concentrated in the hands of the growingly smaller number that are profiting from these neoliberal policies.

These are real concerns that are often disparaged or completely ignored by those with good jobs, good education, those who freely travel across Europe and come from better off families. In other words, by the European elite. Labelling Brexit as a triumph of xenophobia, ignorance or even senility (pointing to the preference of elder electorate for Leave), does not allow one to get any better understanding why an increasing number of people are standing up against the EU. Arrogant and patronising comments, of the like of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, who spoke about treating British people as deserters in the run-up to the referendum (Macdonald 2016), only paint the EU’s portrait in even darker colours. They also prevent from helping us to understand that Brexit is a part of wider revolt against globalisation, which includes both left-wing and right-wing populist movements in Europe (Greek Syriza, Spanish Podemos, Irish Sinn Féin, French Front National, Austrian FPÖ, even Slovak SMER or Hungarian Fidesz), as well as the appearance of Trump and Sanders in the US.

Concerns about immigration do not equate racism

Most of concerns with globalisation and the EU in the UK crystallised as the immigration issue. On the one hand ignored by the left (“because it is racist”), on the other, embraced by the right under the argument of positive economic contribution. While there are genuine xenophobes with hate towards black people, Eastern Europeans or Muslims, most voters cannot be simply dismissed as bigoted. The best example of this is a large proportion of second- or third-generation Commonwealth immigrants, who also supported Brexit on immigration grounds. If gross immigration to the UK was 630,000 in 2015 (or about 1 % of the UK’s population!), this represents a huge downward pressure on UK salaries and raises yet new identity concerns (Hawkins 2016). John Harris gives a plethora of practical examples of these real life concerns (Harris 2016):

  • town of Peterborough where people claim only non-UK nationals were hired because they worked for insane shifts for risible rates;
  • agricultural communities in Lincolnshire, divided between new arrivals with jobs and miserable locals who lost theirs;
  • largely pro-EU Manchester, where British-Asians talk about leaving the EU, likely because they feel their traditional jobs are at threat;
  • builders in South Shields, who had their hourly rate come down by £3 because of immigrants from eastern Europe; or
  • a mother in Stourbridge wanting a new school for “our kids”.

And so on. What is clear is that identity, immigration and economic concerns are closely interlinked. Identity is fundamentally nothing abstract – it is about shared and established patterns of living together in one space that generate understanding and prevent conflicts. It is about trust and predictability, which are built only over time, creating common history in the process. When contrasted to individual and gradual migration patterns, mass immigration poses a huge challenge for identity precisely for these reasons. This is of course in addition to the race to the bottom created by downward pressures on salaries and social security. Losing a job can in turn generate a loss of identity among those who previously took pride for providing income to their family – or simple buying a builder or fisherman in their community. With its recent push for “refugees”, a majority of whom seem to behave more like economic migrants, the EU only added the final piece into its image of the most visible European promoter of unrestricted flows of people.

Divisions in the liberal camp – a fake people’s revolt?

However, the referendum did not only divide working classes with those with a higher income – it also fragmented the British liberal elites. Leaders of Brexit campaign were all liberals who opposed the EU in the name of deregulation. This number includes the outgoing leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, who may be a social conservative, but remains an ultra-liberal on economic issues. It also makes for a big difference, between the liberals in the UK and in many other European countries, perhaps apart from central Europe. Speaking of France, Alain de Benoist noted that “while in our country, the majority of liberals are convinced that the fundamental goal of European treaties is imposing liberal tenets, starting with free circulation of goods and services, people and capital, in England many think that the market needs neither institutions nor treaties” (de Benoist 2016).

The support of a proportion of British liberals for Brexit obviously does not mean that they suddenly took up the flag of the people, realised their ideology is misguided, and decided to address fears of globalisation. Phillip Blond again correctly points out that this represents the greatest paradox – and tragedy – of the vote for Brexit: “the working classes seeking protection against globalisation followed libertarians who believe that the UK should unilaterally abolish its tariffs” (Devecchio 2016). For his part, Paul Mason from The Guardian does not shy away from calling the referendum “hijacked” and “a fake revolt” with people “falling for a scam” (Mason 2016). Mason is quite correct not only because British liberal elites have no interest to rescue people from globalisation and perverse effects of capitalism. Other reason is that nation-states are no longer capable of protecting its citizens against the power of transnational corporations, “globbish” cultural forces, or hyper-fluctuations of financial markets. British “independence day” is an illusion because the UK regained sovereignty in name only.

Tragedy of the EU and its great unfulfilled promise

The greatest tragedy of the European Union is that it did not fulfil its potential and failed on its biggest promise. That promise was to make citizens and peoples stronger rather than weaker in the face of globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. But that would have required starting European integration from bottom-up, from culture and politics, and not from economic integration. Inevitably, that would have also meant a slower expansion of the EU – building qualitative, democratic, strong structures at the expansive of quantity and extension. The UK, traditionally a maritime and transatlanticist power, always felt oddly in the continental club and attached itself closer to the US than to its European counterparts. As Belgian economist Paul de Grauwe notes, the EU has neoliberal policies at its core: its single market and trade agreements opened up the gates to globalisation, while its fiscal rules and ‘structural reforms’ put countries into an austerity straightjacket. So instead “of helping those who suffer from [globalisation], [the EU] has set up policies that hurt these people even more. It is no surprise that the losers revolt” (Grauwe 2016). Ultimately, all of us are those losers, because instead of living in communities that allow us to strive for excellence and make us stronger personalities, we are living in market societies that encourage selfishness, individualism, consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.

Martin Heidegger, a German thinker who also lived in turbulent times, used to quote poet Friedrich Hölderlin in saying that “where danger is, grows the saving power also.” For the EU, history did not end yet. However much its elites may seem incapable of reflection on what are the reasons for people’s despair over European integration, at its roots there is still the promise that the EU can be a katechon, a regulator of globalisation, rather than its chief harbinger. It is time for people and those who are on their side to grasp this thought and realise that all freedom movements against globalisation and neoliberalism need to be by necessity pan-European.


Publication bibliography

Applebaum, Anne (2016): Is this the end of the West as we know it? Anneapplebaum.com. Available online at http://www.anneapplebaum.com/2016/03/04/is-this-the-end-of-the-west-as-we-know-it/, updated on 3/4/2016, checked on 6/27/2016.

Benoist, Alain de (2016): Brexit : vers un effet domino en Europe ? Boulevard Voltaire. Available online at http://www.bvoltaire.fr/alaindebenoist/brexit-vers-un-effet-domino-en-europe,265172, updated on 6/29/2016, checked on 6/30/2016.

Cassidy, John (2016): Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote – The New Yorker. In The New Yorker, 6/24/2016. Available online at http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/why-the-remain-campaign-lost-the-brexit-vote, checked on 7/5/2016.

Devecchio, Alexandre (2016): Phillip Blond : «Jamais la mondialisation n’avait connu un tel rejet dans les urnes». In Le Figaro, 7/1/2016. Available online at http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2016/07/01/31002-20160701ARTFIG00368-phillip-blond-jamais-la-mondialisation-n-avait-connu-un-tel-rejet-dans-les-urnes.php, checked on 04-07-16.

Grauwe, Paul de (2016): The EU Should Take The Side Of The Losers Of Globalization. Social Europe. Available online at https://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/07/eu-take-side-losers-globalization/, updated on 7/4/2016, checked on 7/5/2016.

Harris, John (2016): ‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’. In The Guardian, 6/24/2016. Available online at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/divided-britain-brexit-money-class-inequality-westminster, checked on 6/27/2016.

Hawkins, Oliver (2016): Migration Statistics. House of Commons (Briefing Paper, SN06077).

Macdonald, Alastair (2016): Juncker says on Brexit: British ‘deserters’ to get no EU favor. In Reuters, 5/20/2016. Available online at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-juncker-idUSKCN0YB1O3, checked on 29-06-16.

Mason, Paul (2016): Brexit is a fake revolt – working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite | Paul Mason, 6/20/2016. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/20/brexit-fake-revolt-eu-working-class-culture-hijacked-help-elite, checked on 7/5/2016.

Merkel’s blunders are piling up


Mein lieber Gott! So, according to recent polls, German Chancellor’s popularity is on rise again. Does Merkel have to do anything but change the colour of her costume to make a “political comeback”?

Perhaps our German friends are drinking too much beer and eat to many Bratwürste by the evenings to have enough time to follow politics, because I cannot understand it otherwise. Whatever it may be, this overrated and lacklustre politician sat through her office withholding any decisions until it was absolutely inevitable. And when she took them, she made everything much worse: think of Ukraine, Greece or now, Turkey.

While Turkey descends into an autocratic sultanate and guns down the Kurds, Merkel negotiates a draft deal that gives Turkey: a) payments for returning migrants from Greek islands back to Turkey, b) visa-free travel for Turkish citizens from June 2016, c) speeding up EU membership negotiations across all chapters, d) 6 bn EUR that are (supposed) to be allocated for refugee facilities for Syrians in Turkey. Plus, the preliminary agreement includes a nice clause reminiscent of trading with human beings – for every Syrian moved from the Greek islands to Turkey, Turkey will move another Syrian to one of the 28 EU Member States. Besides being fairly twisted, does it even make any sense?

Now, what the EU gets out of it? More secure borders? More money for the Greeks and other countries to improve their refugee facilities? Recognition of Cyprus’ territorial integrity? Ceasing violence against our anti-ISIS allies, the Kurds?

Well, there is your answer how useful politician Merkel is.

Finnish police advises to wave your hand to prevent rape


This “advice” of Finnish police to women is so stupid and pathetic that I don’t know whether to first laugh or cry. Apparently, if a woman feels threatened, the best means of defence according to Finnish law enforcement is “forcefully waving” with her hand towards the attacker. The sad fact is that this is perhaps the only thing left to do, with everything else, including pepper sprays, being banned in a number of European countries (Scandinavia but also Belgium, for instance). God forbid that you hurt the attacker – or kill him! It’d be hard to find a better example of softening of the brains in Europe – or in one word, decadence.

Rivers of Meaningless Words: European Commission’s communication strategy

German thinker Martin Heidegger said that language is “the house of being”. What he meant is that language is not a tool. It is no mere collection of words and phrases that our mind has at its free disposal. Language is woven into the very fibre of human existence and it is that existence which speaks to us with a language. So when sun shines, it speaks with sort of a primordial language – the language of being. For example, it may be a dawning sun at a meadow above a town, on the day of a happy return home after months’ absence. This all could well be retold in a spoken word back in the house to a family, or captured in a poem, or snapped as a photo with an accompanying description. But what comes first, Heidegger says, is that everything speaks to us. And we respond.

To summarise this for the impatient reader who is eager to learn what I want to say by this hefty introduction: language matters, language is important, language makes the world that we live in. That is why there is a distinction between public and private conversations, between what we say to strangers, business partners, friends and those who we love. Each occasion “deserves” different expressions, because it already speaks with a different primordial language to us. It is different.

One of the signs of 21st century postmodernity is that such distinctions and boundaries are eroding and disappearing. People speak the same way to their colleagues as to their friends, and a sign of a successful politician is that he or she speaks a simple youthful language, as if to the best buddy in a bar. Written conversations are increasingly taking the abbreviated form of text messages or Twitter and are rid of onerous phrases of politeness. Meanwhile, political correctness dictates pretence and obscurantism in our daily behaviour. What gets on our tongue cannot be said because it may go against the ideological current. Since “it may hurt someone,” the established wisdom says, it is better to keep quiet. That communication and conversation, in apt and right words corresponding to reality (“primordial language”) even if it can be discomforting (and it will always be, for one or another) is necessary to improve ourselves is a thought long left forgotten.

In consequence, words that we speak too often become disconnected from context, people, and situation. Making distinctions between what is private and public, spoken and written, what is a thought and feeling that deserves expressing and that is not worth the same privilege – all that seems to disappear. In many areas of life, the words acquire a sort of virtual existence and stop being attached to the language that “the world” conveys to us.

With such bleak analysis, my following point may seem a minor one. It is about the way that the European Commission, the EU’s “executive arm” itself communicates. Because to a great extent, it embodies much of the above trends. Any political body, especially the one that claims a mandate to represent 500 million people, should speak a language that may be formal, yet understandable to all citizens. The reader can judge for himself or herself if the European Commission fulfils this role from this tweet from Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for “International Cooperation and Development”:

Commissioner Mimica's tweet, content unknown
Commissioner Mimica’s tweet, content unknown

Can someone tell me if Mr Nimica is talking about gardening, finding a solution to the migrant crisis or perhaps securing development aid for countries in Africa? No one will ever know, at least not from this tweet. To put it in a greater context, it was kindly sent to me by a friend of mine last week, with a reference that I should compare it to the stuff produced by a “eurospeak generator”. For anyone who tries: the resemblance is striking, although both would inevitably fail on the famous Turing test.

The problem with this technocratic babble is that it obscures from the European public the real content of decisions that are made in Brussels. The content of many of these decisions is political and not technical, as the Commission pretends and also demonstrates in its choice of language. National politicians very well know this and the European Commission, which always tries to come out of debates ‘neutrally’, is often blamed for decisions done by Member States. Vice versa, credit is always national and sold to the voters back home.

On the one hand, national politicians are happy if such a controversial political issue as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with United States) is negotiated by the European Commission. On the other, the European Commission gullibly perpetuates its technicalist myth, thinking that this is the right path to building a “politics-free” consensus and thus deepen European integration. It goes back to the neo-functionalist approach to building a European Union, which foresees that political integration will inevitably follow economics. Rather than being a “bottom-up” process with the support of the European people, this is obviously a “top-down” approach, where people are expected to eat what politicians serve them on the plate.

But I can kindly ask my reader to imagine what would happen if the European Commission started speaking about TTIP, for example, in a human language. That means as of a political issue rather than as of an inevitable turn of fate that brings happiness to all (and more progress and growth to corporations and grannies in backwater villages alike, so to say). The politics within TTIP ultimately entails answering the question whether one is for or against neoliberal capitalism. If someone at the top of the Commission was able to formulate such a stance, put their fat salary in risk by speaking out, then we would have an administration that could be properly loved or hated – because of political choices it makes, rather than painstakingly avoids.

The European Union is not a community of destiny, those are nations into which we are born. Instead it is a community of heart and mind, so that it has to appeal to both. Heart is primarily culture, mind is real defence of European interests. Both require that such mission is expressed in a corresponding language, language of politics that formulates clearly what lies at stake behind each choice.


-Jindřich Mitrovský

‘Market economy status’ to China? A bad, bad idea


According to a leaked paper published by the daily Politico this morning, granting China the status of a ‘market economy’ by the end of 2016 would not have the best consequences for EU economy. Directorate-General TRADE, the European Commission’s “ministry” responsible for these matters, in its own working document states that this move would not only entail significant job losses in Europe (up to 188,300 jobs), but also increase in imports (between 17 and 27 percent) currently affected by anti-dumping measures. The manufacturing sector would take the hardest hit and particularly Italy. It is little surprise then that Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi is expected to ‘lean strongly’ against DG TRADE’s push for granting China the market economy status.

One has to wonder what exactly pushes the European Commission – and European political elites in general – in the craze for constantly more ‘free’ trade without minding too much the consequences. The problem with free trade policies is that they only make sense if the competition is on the same ground. How can EU manufacturers compete if our environmental, health, work and social standards are on a higher level than in China? They are more protective, but also make the cost of the comparative EU product more expensive and less competitive as a consequence with the economies that have their system set differently. Yet this obvious truth, told already two hundred years ago by German economist Friedrich List, seems to be repeatedly ignored by the European Commission. The beneficiary of opening economic borders without minding whether there are really comparable standards is fairly clear: transnational corporations who can produce cheaply in China and sell with a big margin back in Europe. Is it the case that the Commission works only for the benefit of these corporate stakeholders?


Západní propagandisté jsou experti v rámcování debaty


Přečtěte si článek “Ruská letadla v Černém moři těsně míjela americký torpédoborec” na Novinkách.cz a řekněte, co si o obsahu myslíte. Jak to podává autor, vyznívá to zcela jasně: zkrátka, ti bodří američtí námořníci tam zřejmě připluli na piknik. A aby si to u ruských teritoriálních vod pořádně užili, tak si na to vzali torpédoborec a vyrazili deset tisíc kiláků od nejbližšího pobřeží USA.

S propagandou to zkrátka není tak jednoduché. Ta opravdu dobrá nikdy neřekne jasnou lež, která by se dala ověřit. Vše orámcuje, něco vysekne, něco přidá, vše vám naservíruje v termínech současně nejpopulárnějšího politického žargónu a je to. Až zase někdo bude prskat, že tady máme jen ruskou propagandu (která mimochodem používá ty samé techniky), tak si tento článek hezky porovnejte s jiným, který byl tímto způsobem stvořen na EuroZprávách (21. května): “Ruská provokace pokračuje. Švédské stíhačky zaháněly dva ruské bombardéry”.