Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The communist regime was tyrannical"

This is Part III in a series that started with one Czech writing why he was going to vote for the communists. Part II was the first response, and this is another.

This page provides some background on the political history behind this question. Italicized text in square brackets is my explanatory comments.

The communist regime was tyrannical
by Jan Čulík

Although I fully understand the frustration of Mr. Tůma (in decent countries, effective laws eliminate discrimination against old people or women, and by the way, 43 isn’t old) and respect the opinion of a clearly significant part of today’s public that the coming of “democracy” and “freedom” to the Czech Republic over the last 22 years was a disappointment, I think that recollected optimism and anger at today’s political and economic situation gives people a false conviction that “it was better under communism.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Libertarian-Gold smackdown

(gold coins from
The addition of Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket has occasioned some renewed attention to the monetary theory of Ayn Rand, anchored on Ryan’s statement in 2005 that he was inspired by her work, especially by the wedding monologue of a character called Francisco d’Anconia. The enthusiasm of Ron Paul’s supporters also kept the idea of a gold standard in the public eye.

There’s been yeoman work dealing with this topic, particularly by Barry Eichengreen. But in the marriage of libertarian thought and goldbug inclinations there are two particular aspects that I haven’t seen addressed and that I think are worth considering.

First, some of what libertarian goldbugs want is perfectly legal to do right now, today—it’s just that nobody’s doing it. If I were a libertarian, that would suggest to me that nobody actually wants to do it.

And then there are other parts of the libertarian goldbug program that would actually involve very intrusive state action into private transactions. If I were a libertarian, I would think that was a bad thing. For that matter, I’m not a libertarian and I still think it’s a bad thing.

This post will deal with what’s legal but not being done, and I’ll leave the stuff that (fortunately) the government isn’t making us do for a follow-up.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What should the communists do?

This is the first in a series of replies to an article by an unemployed Czech worker explaining why he was done voting for the country's democratic parties and was going to vote for the communists. I've provided historical background here.

What should the communists do?
by Jiří Drašnar

Although I can identify with Mr. Tůma in his criticism of the current regime in Bohemia (by the way, “frikulín” is a really great neologism), his appraisal of the forty-year government of the communists strikes me as more the result of cognitive dissonance relating to the way in which our memory works, rather than as the result of an effort at even remotely objective analysis. In short, just a modicum of self-examination shows that memory is not a reliable tool and definitively is not a perfect copy of the past, engraved in our brains.

the post gives another example of what Drašnar is talking about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Why I'll vote communist"

For background on this article, see here.

I thought this piece was of interest because it struck me as representative--not in the sense that this is necessarily the "average" voter of the communist party in the Czech Republic, but because, along the way, he touches on many of the reasons that different people might make that choice.

As usual, my explanatory comments are in italics, surrounded by square brackets.

Why I’m going to vote for the communists, or, Why this is no country for old people
by Radek Tůma

I’m now unemployed for the second time, and only because it’s possible here to tunnel without being punished. [“Tunneling” is Czech slang for extracting the value from a company for yourself, and leaving behind a worthless shell.] I’ve had five different jobs: the first two were in the state sector, the others in the private sector. Two of the three private firms fell victim to tunneling out—so symptomatic for our times. I and many others lost our jobs so that some bastards could buy more cars, villas, and yachts. They buy up the shares of a firm, eat the meat, spit out the bones, and move on to the next house on the street. Once again I’m going through this degrading merry-go-round of looking for work—when you get an answer at all, it’s something along the lines of, “We’ll call you” (meaning: stop bothering us) or, “We truly value your experience quite highly, but we regret to inform you that we gave preference to other applicants (meaning: You’re old).

The logo of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The basis of power

Yet another post from my frequent source, Britské listy, this time about the nature of political power and revolution. The author is a lawyer who teaches at Masaryk University in Brno, the principal city of Moravia (the eastern part of the Czech Republic).

The general problems of unaccountability that Valach points to seem real enough to me, based on my observations during my recent year there. The specific issue that's really roiling the waters here is church restitution. Communist governments throughout the region took property from churches. They all have the task of figuring out what's a fair compensation: what properties can or should be returned, whether there should be financial compensation and how much.

In the Czech Republic, the government's proposal is to return some property, give financial compensation for the rest, and turn back to churches the job of paying clerics. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the proposal or the critiques of it to have a view of it. But it does seem like the government seems hell-bent, as it were, on getting this law through parliament, rather than having a referendum. And in the "alternative" press like Britské listy I've seen references to strong public opposition, but it's hard to find that discussed in more "mainstream" sources, such as Finančni noviny or Lidové noviny. You can find articles about how the Communist Party leader's speech against restitution is reminiscent of the 1950s (scroll down a bit). Or an article about how the Catholic church is comparing the opposition's campaign to the Third Reich (at the end they quote the opposition leader's claim that 80% of the public opposes the law). Or how a number of artists and public figures have signed a petition in favor (at the end they mention a couple of other public figures who are opposed). Overall, it does seem like coverage is being colored in favor of the proposed law.

At the same time, Vlach describes the legal system itself as a tool for controlling the thoughts of the public. When you get to that point, I'm not sure how you separate it from a view that, "The public doesn't think what I think they should be thinking--somebody must be controlling their thoughts."

The government and the representatives of the governing coalition dominate this country. If they decide to accomplish something, it happens, even if the majority of the citizens don't agree with it. For example, a massive majority of citizens doesn't agree with so-called church restitution in the law's current form, and the government itself has the confidence of only 16% of citizens, while the representative assembly has even less support. Representative democracy is functioning in a paradoxical way. Although it's supposed to be a democracy, to a great extent citizens don't perceive it as a democracy, and even though it's termed "representative," a majority of citizens don't trust their representatives and don't feel like they are represented by them.