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Václav Havel writes an imaginary election programme

April 23, 2011

IllustrationOn 23rd April 2010 Václav Havel published an article detailing what the election programme of an imaginary political party might look like, if written by a younger Václav Havel.

Our politicians are Imaginists (an Art movement) because in every other sentence they say what they can and what they cannot imagine (for example, a coalition of party A with party B). Therefore I also will imagine something now. I can imagine, for example, being forty years younger, having a decent education, coming from a dissident family and therefore not being distorted by childhood under communism, being interested in politics, but not obsessed with any ideology and wanting to establish a new party, or join some acceptable one, or, at least, write its election programme.

What will the party programme include? Or, where will I start?


1. Omnipresent woe of partycracy

Writing of any election programme must be preceded by a reflection on the widening gap between politics and citizens. After all, the first two positions in the chart of popularity or credibility of governments and prime ministers in the last twenty years - well above the others –are occupied by so called “clerical,” that is non-political prime ministers (Josef Tošovský and Jan Fischer).
This very sad and very dangerous mistrust of politics, threatening to escalate into distrust of democracy, is in my opinion rooted in the traditional Czech “partycracy,” that is, in the swelled weight of political parties (with a relatively small number of members). Indeed, parties are an important instrument of democracy, no one denies that (neither do I, although I am suspected of this already for thirty years), but just an (uncovered!) instrument, nothing more.

Parties in our country are kind of strange semi-legal meta-structures of state, fraternities of friends living in the shadows, whose shadow pseudo-state has its shadow government, shadow parliament, shadow memberships in various lucrative supervisory boards and - perhaps worst of all - its shadow budget based on secret ties with local oligarchs. These are of course mainly corruption ties, even though all parties very loudly proclaim their intention to tackle corruption.

Position in the state in this situation is related more to loyalty to the party leadership, to the bravura of moving in congressional corridors and career in the party than to skills of an individual. Those who want to move up must join a party, like under communism. Recently we have witnessed almost comical efforts of parties to expand to areas where they inherently do not belong: I talk about childish wooing to which party the non-party men in the clerical government belong (as “nominants”) and whether this or that party is able to overvote the other party in the clerical government.

In other words: they were not able to form a government supported by the Parliament, so they established a clerical government, that is party-neutral, just to subsequently argue about its political composition. This is probably based on the fact that voting in the government is not executed according to one’s own opinion but under the dictate of the party, even if the subject is a mere “nominant.” The world is simply a world of parties.
But that's not all, of course, it's only the beginning. It continues by collecting so-called materials (mostly against members of other parties than own) and finally it turns out that no politician can say anything without attacking his opponent.

I do not think that my programme should start with a criticism of current politics. It does not have to contain it at all. It would be enough if it is aware of its legitimacy.

(I have realized recently: Mr. Nečas said something nice, I agreed with him, and when he concluded the speech, I thought “Lord, may he end here.” He did not. He attacked immediately – without relation - Mr. Paroubek and in my eyes immediately devalued his previous talk. However, not only is he doing it, but everyone, including Mr. Paroubek. How then can they avoid being displeasing for people?)


2. Aren’t we overlooking the good legacy of former movements and parties?

Very simply, we can say that there are two poles in Czech politics since time immemorial: on one hand, realism, even pragmatism, strong respect for individual interests (whether national, professional, party, or other), in whose name we can here and there forget about our “responsibility for the world” and general moral imperatives that flow from it. The anti-pole of this tradition is its opposite: a strong, and in a broader context even unusual, emphasis on this “responsibility for the world.”

Both of these traditions have their historical roots: a relatively small country in the middle of Europe, that is, at the crossroads of European affairs, with wiped-out nobility, without proper basis in religious faith and the Church, must be inherently cautious and not take the burden of the whole world on its shoulders. However, the same factors are also behind the second traditional pole in Czech politics: precisely because we are vulnerable and have a specific experience with the policy of blind concessions, the more we should feel responsible for the world and understand the importance of broader solidarity.

If the first (pragmatic) pole of our politics is tragically embodied by the second Czechoslovak president, then the second (idealistic or humanistic) pole clearly embodies the first president. Both these traditions are firmly established in social awareness: we are cautious, judicious, and able to adapt, but at the same we know that there is a moral order, which sometimes makes us sacrifice part of our comfort. It seems to me that these two poles kind of return now. As if “reason” competed with “idealism” these decades.

Let’s notice how the society is hungry for a political alternative to political pragmatism: I feel a continuous line from the Charter 77, Several Sentences and HOS through the original ethos of the Civic Forum, the Democratic Initiative, ODA, Civic Movement, party of Hope, the Freedom Union, Coalition of Four, the European Democrats , Impulse 97, manifesto of Thank You, Leave!, Dřevíč Appeal, movement Television - a Public Affair, an Inventory of Democracy, etc. etc. up to the recently founded and immediately popular new parties.

Perhaps this long line reflects the perpetual desire of society or its elites for a meaningful alternative to the proven, mainstream, established, and necessarily more pragmatic political parties and the whole style of political life that is associated with them.
Most of these movements ended up on the sand, suppressed by their surroundings without scruples, failing due to their own awkwardness, or ceasing to exist simply because they were not intended as a permanent part of public life. I have yet to see any such initiative, including presently operating new parties, acknowledge this tradition. Each of them probably assumes that if their predecessors failed, ceased to exist, or enjoy oblivion, they should not admit it, because this would automatically mean the same outcome for them.

Thanks to such consideration, however, the various initiatives and new parties are rather unanchored, lacking a broader and deeper historical context, falling into the sphere of tactical plays; and exactly by doing this, they are condemning themselves.

What then? A simple thing: In my programme I would write at least one sentence to very generally mention this political tradition and my acknowledgement of it. Maybe it would be enough just to say that the new party wants to occupy itself with documents of these long defunct parties, movements, or initiatives. (There are thousands of pages from which, here and there, sticks out something surprisingly topical.)


3. I am not a Marxist

Election programmes of parties that I have ever seen, including those of new parties, are in rare agreement governed by the Marxist doctrine that the material base precedes the intellectual superstructure. Therefore, they start with the economy. They get very detailed here. These are technocratic and sometimes even bureaucratic texts that probably will not find many readers.

They deal mainly with the current situation, the question of how to simultaneously cut taxes and increase pensions and various benefits, while decreasing the state debt. They start from the ideal of permanent growth of everything, without much troubling by question whether such growth is justified. They all deal with the issue to reduce unemployment, and all of them want to achieve it - quite logically - by increasing the employment.

However, few persons ask whether the desired increase of jobs makes sense, or whether it leads only to future disasters.
Work is meaningful only if it has any meaning. Work for work is an absurd principle that I learned in prison.

Unlike existing programmes of other parties, my programme would not start with the economy, but themes such as the already mentioned “responsibility for the world,” idea of state, vision of its good future, thoughts on how it can be inspiring on a wider scale, emphasis on the importance of human rights and the moral order, without which even the best and most thorough legal order does not guarantee anything, because evildoers are always faster than lawmakers and more inventive than lawyers.

What can I do for a general improvement of morals? This is a question which troubles me and which in my programme must precede everything else. My main experience from my stay in politics was that somewhere at the bottom of almost every political issue I encountered slept a quite common confrontation of decency with rudeness, emphathy with selfishness, far-sightedness with short-sightedness.

Yes, being precedes consciousness, but at the same level consciousness precedes being. And my programme by definition would be an expression of consciousness which wants to precede being, and this should predetermine also its structure.


4. To protect the fields and meadows, correct the constitution, and elect the head of the state directly

What else would my programme contain? Probably no obtrusive promises. Neither a thousand and one detail, such as, how much should we pay extra for a prescription of aspirin. Only a general list of key objectives that the new party wants to pursue on the political stage.

Let me give a few examples:
Completely different approach to the country and human settlement. Our homeland should not become one giant agglomeration with disappearing frontiers between towns and villages, changing into a Sao Paulo without Brazil. Meadow must be a meadow, forest a forest, field a field, city a city. Boldly situated warehouses – separated by prairie from each other, from various palaces of consumption and endless parking lots - must be limited radically.

No defacing of our homeland by new mines, but doing everything we can to replace boasting by the growing energy consumption by its decrease thanks to new technologies.

Passing of a new constitution within ten years, with a slightly amended structure of constitutional institutions (I’ll describe my idea in another post), with direct election of the president and with other - minor - changes.

The new constitution should include the basic principles of all permanently valid constitutional laws (their details belong to normal laws and already “consumed” constitutional laws belong to the dustbin) and of course the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, with which it should begin. (At the moment there is a strange statement saying that the nonexistent Presidium of nonexistent Czech National Council adopted something passed by nonexistent Federal Assembly of long nonexistent Czechoslovakia.)

The constitution should simply be logical, simple, nicely written, clear, and understandable, so that children in schools can study it. The new constitution would also define a new election legislation, much fairer than that of today, as well as a new legislation on political parties and their management.

With this of course is related another task for the next ten years: to finally make order in the overall legal system. Thousands of laws and thousands of randomly scattered amendments only lead to the general unawareness of applicable law.

Following the idea of state, emphasis on human rights and civil society, and the theme of moral order, the programme should continue with legal order and then with individual areas of life, from culture as a space where a man encounters himself, self-realising and self-liberating himself there, via the improvement of conditions for life of the whole non-profit sector, this principal guarantee of stability, democracy and pluralism in the allocation, up to the economy. It is sufficient to simply formulate the broad objectives: date, when we want to have a balanced budget, when we want to adopt Euro, and when the state will get out of debt.

I would start an expert debate about the combination of different ways to meet the set deadlines, without constant division into the left and right wing, and without quarrels of party amateurs about the very complicated issues. And finally, there could be a few sentences about our conception of modern globalizing world and our position in it, our international orientation, foreign policy priorities, alliances.

My programme would of course include also the name of my candidate for the office of President. As I have repeatedly emphasized, it should be someone younger, but with undisputed merits, someone who is not a product of party career but comes from the civil world.

However, anyone can write such a nice election programme. But who will address public with it? Who will make people recognize the need for very unpopular steps and believe in the legitimacy of also minority opinions of their politicians?

It must be someone forty years younger than me and with appropriate education. And personal trustworthiness. If we do not see such person on the lists of candidates today, then let’s search for him/her during the four years that divide us from next elections. This may be one of many tasks of the desired inter-election civic engagement. I will not advise anyone how to vote. But I know it for myself for a long time already.


5. In conclusion

For decades I submitted my texts for assessment prior their publication to my lifelong friend, writer Zdeněk Urbánek. Zdeněk died recently. If you find what I wrote here naive, if not downright stupid, know that to blame is the One who called Zdeněk to Eden and left me Zdeněkless in the world.

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Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter

„Once you’re here, however, whether you want to or not, you have to ask the question: does all of this have a meaning, and if so, what?… Ultimately, I can only find an answer – a positive answer – within myself, in my general faith in the meaning of things, in my hope. What, in fact, is man responsible to? What does he relate to? What is the final horizon of his actions, the absolute vanishing point of everything he does, the undeceivable “memory of Being”, the conscience of the world and the final “court of appeal”? What is the decisive standard of measurement, the background or the field of each of his existential experiences? And likewise, what is the most important witness or the secret sharer in his daily conversations with himself, the thing that – regardless of what situation he has been thrown into – he incessantly inquires after, depends upon, and toward which his actions are directed, the thing that, in its omniscience and incorruptibility, both haunts and saves him, the only thing he can trust in and strive for? “

Václav Havel:
Letters to Olga – essays written in prison, letter, August 7, 1980