Friday, October 05, 2007

My score

Increasingly tricky business these days making sense of politics, both in UK and CZ. A child of the Thatcher era, when the right was traditionally seen as a force of repression and the left more associated with human rights, liberal-intellectual counter-culture etc., obviously when I first came here I’d prepared myself to some extent that the left would be viewed with suspicion. Nevertheless it was still quite weird to hear some dope smoking hippy who listened to Hendrix and the VU extolling the virtues of Thatcher or Reagan. Of course as a leftie I had a fair bit of fun out of all this, since it was easy to provoke a lot of people, but it was also frustrating trying to get through in some cases. People who to me would seem to be natural left-wing liberals were staunch in their intentions to vote for the right, who for a number of years were fairly successful in portraying anything other than a minimalist, free-market state as a return to totalitarianism.

It’s been almost 20 years now since the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, so things have settled down somewhat here compared to the heady post-revolutionary years and began more to approximate Western European countries as disillusionment sets in. Thankfully only a few pontificating, ideology-drunk prigs continue to share the conviction that the market will solve all, and most normal people have tired of the right’s cheap attempts to malign any opposition by scaremongering with the spectre of communism. Still though, in many circles, left continues to be something of a dirty word. A good example is the large amount of people I’ve met who are vocal about their enthusiasm for green politics, but adamant that they are not left wing. The Green Party here has even entered into a coalition with the Czech version of the Tory party – and, as might have been expected, now finds itself floundering around rather uselessly in an implosive identity crisis. Patronising though it undoubtedly is of me, I would say these people are in a state of utter denial. How can you not be left wing if you support environmental causes? Promoting green policies requires tough economic regulation, does it not?

On this point I find myself in a bizarre kind of agreement with this twat. President Václav Klaus, a man who in this day and age still takes Thatcher as his role model and for whom the word pedant could have been invented, has recently published a book crusading against environmentalism – “A blue, not a green planet – what’s in danger, the climate or our freedom?” – complete with a cover depicting the globe shackled in green chains. Whilst his predecessor as president, dissident king Václav Havel, who Klaus incidentally dismissed as a “half-socialist”, was languishing in prison for his dignified opposition to the totalitarian socialist regime, Klaus was sitting in a bank doing his sums. And this is indeed a man with a dismally obsessive one-track mind, with all the erudition and breadth of vision of a pocket calculator. With numbing predictability he places himself way out beyond the recalcitrant US presidency, scorning the emergence of the issue of climate change as nothing more than a conspiracy by meddling lefties hell-bent on destroying the liberty that only the market can guarantee (and of course, in this country he likes to regard this as his own grand project), in an ecophobic echo of Thatcher’s comments about the EU social chapter, with its introduction of a minimum wage, constituting “socialism through the back door” (and again predictably, he also shares her antipathy to the EU). In a way I’m grateful to him for the potential damage he’s doing to the right in this country by at least clarifying that right wing and green are polar opposites – green issues here are quite populist, even if most people’s response to them, not only in this country, is dispiritingly tokenistic.

Whatever personal glee I might gain from watching Klaus slowly become a figure of ridicule is however tainted not only by what he’s doing to the international standing of the country I’ve chosen as my home, but also by the realisation that he’s not the only one of us these days who has found himself politically disoriented and out of touch. Whilst Greens cuddle up to the Tories here, in the UK the BNP have economic policies to the left of Labour. The USA is economically probably more right wing than it’s ever been with the unstoppable dominance of giant global corporations, yet in the same country there are pockets of society under the yoke of puritanical left-wing extremists - not long ago I heard a horrendous story about a long-serving university professor with a distinguished academic record losing his job after being accused of looking at one of his female students “in a funny way”, which she claimed had an adverse effect on her exam results - a kind of radical feminist retake on Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Some of these phenomena might not be exactly new, but can still be quite bewildering. Back home this summer, in connection with my support for the ban on smoking in pubs, I was labelled an “authoritarian socialist”. If socialist means believing in state ownership of all industry, then as a self-employed person I don’t consider myself either authoritarian or socialist, but then in that case where exactly do I stand? These people have had a decent stab at putting things into perspective, fleshing out the left-right distinction and for me at least providing some comfort. It might not save the world from the likes of Bush, Wal-Mart, Tesco, ExxonMobil etc., but at least it might stave off my own personal identity crisis for a while yet.

On the other hand it doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact I voted for Tony Blair ten years ago. Put that hair shirt back on boy!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really liked the way you described Klaus and I think your description of the ideological confusion of lots of Czechs in relation to the left/right is spo on.

2:50 PM  

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