The Visible Defects of the Ideology of Universalism

The Visible Defects of the Ideology of Universalism

VÁCLAV KLAUS - 2nd President of Czech Republic
Many thanks for the invitation to this important gathering and for including me in the presidential panel of – as you put it – “sagacious men”. This adjective is – at least as regards myself – an evident overstatement. Moreover, in the “brave new world” of European political correctness it would be considered wrong to speak about men only. Political correctness asks for gender equality. As well as for many other things. I am glad that here, in Turkey, we find ourselves in a more rational, and more liberal society in this respect.

It seems to me also too ambitious to accept the title of this afternoon session and to talk about “Where does humanity go?”. To answer this question is beyond my humble and limited capabilities. I know for sure that “humanity”, this abstract notion empty of any meaning, does not go anywhere. Only human beings can go somewhere and it is very reassuring to know that we “humans” go into many different directions and that there is still no central planetary authority dictating us where to go. It would be sufficient to know that we should behave rationally, prudently, and responsibly, and that we shouldn´t go into conflict-provoking directions.

Regretfully, we – very often – do not do it this way. Let me touch upon three issues I see as the most problematic in this respect now.

1. We became witnesses of a new variant of conflict between the East and the West. This is something else than the old conflict between the capitalist West and the communist East (or Soviet empire) we experienced in the second half of the 20th century. Some of us very directly. What we see now is a new conflict between the West and the Rest, as some commentators call it. It is more the Orient, than the East (in its previous meaning).

I do come from the West but have a special experience of spending most of my life in a communist, Soviet Union dominated country in Central Europe. This experience of mine sharpened my eyes when looking at contemporary world issues. Our sensitivity has been due to it greatly increased. I don´t, therefore, accept the – in the West so fashionable – doctrine of good guys promoting undisputed and undisputable Western values and of bad guys in the rest of the world who don´t want to friendly and peacefully accept them.

This caricature of the world picture is too naive, unnecessarily arrogant and too one-sided to have any meaning. This doctrine – as well as its logical counterpart, coming from the East – is based on the propaganda and the promotion of the ideology of universalism without paying sufficient respect to the evolutionary developed differences which characterize mankind and its history. We are not identical and shouldn´t be forced by any ideology or religion to become uniform. 

The universalists on both sides take the view – without formulating it as explicitly as I am doing it now – that neither the East nor the West in reality exist. There is – according to them – just one world community, one universal parenthood, one unstructured bundle of individuals belonging to the Homo sapiens family. This may be valid at the biological level, but not at any other, especially not at civilizational, cultural or religious levels. In this interpretation, East and West are degraded and narrowed to mere geographic notions. 

I try not to be biased by my cultural and civilizational heritage. I am convinced that we shouldn´t promote any one-way export of ideas, of values, of culture, of behavioural patterns, of life-styles. I do not only respect, but enjoy and appreciate the fact that Istanbul is different from Prague. But these two cities should stay where they are and where they have always been. The one-sided export of ideas, no matter which way, and not only the friendly export, but especially the violent dissemination of ideas into different territories is wrong, counter-productive, and dangerous.

My dispute with the universalist doctrine and my respect for diversity and differences mustn’t be understood as a justification for the atrocities of extremist groups which are violating elementary, authentic and naturally given norms of human behaviour. I do believe that such generally valid norms do exist. They do not belong to any specific ideology or religion. They should be promoted in any civilized society and shouldn´t be dismissed, neglected or rejected by anyone. The destruction of lives and cultural values pursued in the name of any ideology mustn’t be tolerated. Those who think differently must be considered partners, not enemies. 

2. The second issue I want to touch upon at least very briefly is closer to this region, to the Balkans, Turkey, and the whole South-East Europe. This region – with its long lasting historical animosities which were made even deeper in the last century by the heritage of communism and its fall – has been unfavourably influenced by the current form and concept of European integration and by the ambition to establish a European superstate (a new superpower) instead of aiming at building an open space for cooperation and elimination of barriers which block it. 

The current model of European integration is exclusive. It creates new barriers, it discriminates those who remain behind, it creates new tensions, and it is – in its continent-wide ambition – unrealizable (which has been so convincingly demonstrated by the unsuccessful monetary unification of Europe). It is also visible in the absurd length of time of the Turkish candidacy for EU membership. European integration should be a less ambitious, more inclusive project, making relations among countries easier, no more complicated. 

3. My third issue is connected with the Ukraine. The organizers of this forum suggested as one of the topics for this afternoon´s discussion “Russia Challenge in Eastern Europe”. This so much needed debate should be, however, named differently. What we in Central and Eastern Europe are facing these days is the destabilization of Ukraine and its consequences for relations in our part of the world. What we feel is the negative impact of the Ukraine crisis on us. We – or at least the rational people among us – don´t feel we are being challenged by Russia. 

We are endangered by the Ukraine crisis which was originally home-made. It was caused by the failure of Ukraine to successfully realize the necessary post-communist political, economic and social transformation, by the evident and long-lasting incoherence of Ukraine (due to two dominant ethnicities there) and by the misuse of Ukraine’s domestic problems for starting a new wave of confrontations between the West and Russia. We should accept the fact that this confrontation didn´t originally come from the East. But to discuss this issue seriously would ask for a longer discussion.