114 – Apostasy

Or, how I came to renounce everything I once believed. Best get it off my chest straightaway: in the EU and local elections two weeks ago (which are the only elections I can vote in, as a foreign expat resident in Madrid) the unthinkable happened: I voted to the left. I voted PSOE,  labour (or, socialist), and I didn’t even vote them because Pedro Sánchez is fit as fuck. I voted to the left, because there is no conservative party left in Europe, whose programme doesn’t make me want to cry in desperation.

I grew up in a post communist country. I don’t remember much of how things used to be before the revolution. I can recall queuing for bananas and oranges before Christmas (the only period when they were available) with my Mum and I remember being told by our kindergarten teachers that we were not to address them as “comrades” anymore at some point after November ’89. Had someone told me that 30 years from then, if I had a sudden urge to spread some avocado on my toasted sourdough, all I’d need to do would be crossing the road to the nearest shop, I would have asked: “What is an avocado?” The worst that happened to me during my brief experience with the regime, from the perspective of a 5 years old child,  was being forbidden to join the Pioneers (communist response to Scouts), because my parents would not have me subjected to any more political brainwashing than everyone already had to face at school. In the 80’s, the regime wasn’t staging court processes with “enemies of the People” anymore, people were not being hanged or sent to uranium mines for political crimes (where political crime may have been openly professed religion or “bourgeois” relatives), but only because something ultimately much worse was underway. Forget the general unavailability of pretty much everything from yogurt to female hygiene pads, the ever-present, oppressive state was succeeding in creating a grey mass of obedient, easy-to-handle citizens, whose entire life was decided centrally, from choice of school to work career. Individual talent wasn’t allowed to shine, and if you were merely disliked by the wrong person, your high school teacher for example, you could as well forget about enrolling to university (or at least not a university of your choice).

When my generation became of age, most of us would not dream of casting a vote to the left.  Voting to the left was for the lazy. For people who expected to be taken care of by the state, people who didn’t have any interest to take control of their own lives. People who didn’t mind trading in freedom for more care-free (if dull) existence. It meant voting for the past. The fact that everyone had had a job, provided they kept their opinion about the regime to themselves (if they even had an opinion), seemed too high a price to pay. (It is too high a price to pay, for the record, I still believe that bit.) The centrally planned economy was replaced by the wild, wild East, we were subjected to all sorts of economic experiments orchestrated by people who more often than not had no idea what they were doing, but who readily threw away their communist party membership and embraced the “free market is always right” mantra instead. It wasn’t all bad. Obviously. When a country is transitioning from centrally planned to market-driven economy, anything can happen. There could have been a civil war, for what we knew. There wasn’t. Whatever happened in the nineties, it didn’t make us poorer as a nation. Most people have taken up the opportunities the new system provided us with. Some made money in a dodgy, or downright fraudulent way, but most people profited from freedom. We could study, travel, go abroad. I experienced first-hand how young capitalism rewarded people who worked hard. I also experienced how people who lacked ambition or were less lucky hated the successful ones. For me personally, being a socialist automatically meant hatred and envy for the rich (or anyone better-off), because that was what I experienced as a child of a successful entrepreneur all the way through the elementary school, from classmates and teachers alike.

When I first went to live abroad (to Italy), I was shocked to discover that most of my new friends were left-leaning. To me, hearing a kid born and bred in the free West musing about socialist paradise, seemed, well, ungrateful and disrespectful. Ungrateful, because they grew up with all the freedom we did not have, with access to everything from tropical fruit to blue jeans and rock’n’roll music, holidays on the beach and summers spent learning English in the UK, and disrespectful by claiming that the “communist ideals are noble” while dismissing millions of victims around the world. I could not understand (and to this day it makes my blood curdle) why flying a flag with sickle and hammer is acceptable, when swastika (rightly) isn’t. To me, it wasn’t (and isn’t) a competition. One evil does not make another evil more acceptable. Batista was a dick, but that does not make Castro a nice guy. The genocide of one third of Cambodia’s population is not justified by the word “red” in the name of the organization that killed them. Millions of victims of soviet regime are not preferable to 6 million murders in Nazi concentration camps. Every time I pointed out that if a system only left poverty, death and desolation everywhere and every time it had been implemented, it clearly does not work, I was told, smugly, that it wasn’t real communism. It certainly felt real to us, to the Russians, Cambodians, and I suppose it still feels very real to the Northern Koreans.

To exaggerate, on the days when I was feeling fierce, being left-wing meant being apologetic towards crimes of communism. When I was feeling – not very often – clement, it simply meant being weak and unwilling to work hard, and by extension, a loser. To them, by admitting to be right-leaning, I was a fascist. A misunderstanding caused by differences in our nations’ political development (not that I was willing to take that view back then, agreeing to disagree has never been my strength). I could not comprehend the hatred for capitalism. To my friends, capitalism was evil. In my view, it is the necessary condition for democracy and freedom, while democracy and freedom are not indispensable for a capitalist establishment (see China), therefore, some degree of regulation is necessary, the question is how and how much. My idea of a center-right party is liberal in views, not conservative in values. I want that party to present reasoned and moderate policies aimed on closing the gap between the poor and the well-off by creating conditions in which small and medium businesses can thrive and entrepreneurship does not look like a deathwish. Tax cuts and incentives should create employment and favour social mobility, not aid the rich to avoid tax altogether. In my view, center-right policies were uniting people by creating opportunities for everybody, while left-wing parties were fuelling resentment between classes, their tax proposals designed to punish the successful, while not helping those who really needed it.

More importantly, my idea of right-wing politics (and that idea was to a great degree reflected by the reality of Czech centrist parties for a while) was free of any bigotry. Race, gender, religious or sexual orientation equality or abortion should not be topics worthy of any political party, left or right. They are a given. Or should be, in the 21st century in first world countries. In my view, no secular parliament should waste time and taxpayers money in endless discussions about, say, gay marriage. Why should any modern state dictate who should I love or have sex with (of course, ça va sans dire, provided everyone involved is of age and up for it). No one forces straight people to enter gay relationships, but why should gays be denied formalizing their unions? Why is anyone concerned about other people’s sentimental lives, for that matter? Or, while no one should force women to terminate pregnancies against their will, no one should also ban them from access to abortion in a safe environment, if they wish to terminate, for whatever reason.  Is it really too difficult to understand? To me, these topics are not a matter of left or right, but simply of humanity, tolerance, compassion. Either you are a decent human being, or you are not.

Problem is, it all went tits up. Pretty much everybody ran out of ideas (and ideals), and while the left-wing parties are still trying to figure out whose rights to fight for next, the right became reactionary, a refuge for self-serving xenophobes. Racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, suddenly rediscovering “our” Christian roots and identity, where the “Christian” really stands for “non-Muslim and preferably white”, because let’s be frank: when was the last time you attended a Mass that did not involve singing Christmas carols or wasn’t someone’s wedding (in which case wouldn’t have known when to sit or stand if it hadn’t been for the priest’s guidance). There are no ideals to follow anymore. Our leaders are businessmen who go to politics out of sheer greed, to gratify their egos, get a boost for their already thriving businesses, or to avoid prosecution. The implemented policies are designed for benefit of the richest and big corporations, while common employee is crushed with tax burden he has no means to avoid. The electorate just provides the necessary numbers to keep the powerful in power for the next four or five years, because that span has become a time-frame for long-term planning these days. And to get those numbers, political campaigns started addressing the underbellies of the worst-off.

Luckily the culprit, the scapegoat, was already at hand: the immigrant. It is all their fault, or so they say. We just about accept that we should probably help war refugees, but only just. Economic migrants? Help them in their home countries! Whatever that may mean. Observation no 1: please note that we have been “helping” them in their home countries until roughly 1960’s and then swiftly declared that the mess we left behind was theirs to solve, cheerio! Observation no 2: I say we, because even though we may have not been directly involved in colonial free-for-all, we are now part of the EU, and accepted shitloads of money in EU funding, therefore it is now our problem too, because we are all in it together. Observation no 3: the climate is changing, mainly because of reckless natural resources exploitation from the first world companies, and unfortunately the third world gets hit by most dramatic and violent weather anomalies. If you live in a place where it hasn’t rained in the last 10 years, and the one time is does, it kills thousands of people, do you really need to wait for a civil war to break out to decide it’s time to try your luck somewhere else? Is it really so incomprehensible? Oh, but we cannot help them all. Really? Many countries in Europe are in desperate need of low-skilled workforce. I think we have the means to help a significant part of them, if we start acting like decent human beings. But no, it’s easier to collect cheap points by blaming the desperate. And so suddenly the immigrant is responsible for the effects of short-sighted policies.

In Czech Republic and Hungary, suddenly the migrant is the number 1 public enemy. Not that there are any migrants. Czech Republic accepted the unheard number of 12 refugees (yes, twelve) and we had the nerve to demand they were of christian faith. A country where if you are a fervent catholic you are disliked as much as if you were fabricating bombs in your garage (sorry, bad joke), a country that reluctantly managed to reach an agreement with the Churches about compensation for property stolen by the communist regime (25 years after the revolution) and now some propose to back-tax it (because, yeah, stealing is bad, but stealing from the Catholic Church is probably acceptable), demands to help only the Christian refugees. A joke, really. In Italy, Salvini’s Lega readily swapped the southern Italian parasites for slightly darker parasites from the other side of the Mediterranean. Italy has been facing an exodus of bright young minds since many years (the emigration is much bigger problem than the immigration), but it is  the guy on a rubber dingy who gets blamed for lack of any sensible politics in decades. And so a Fascist decides – in a clear breach of international marine law – to close the ports, and gets applauded. I mean, even if you think that they should not come here, even if the refugee trafficking is a big business for some, those people are victims. Do you really think it is acceptable and decent not to help people on a sinking ship? What have we become? In the UK, well, let’s not even talk about it. The conservative party that used to be most sensible, the most competent in Europe, has become a nest of radical psychopaths. A confirmatory referendum would be undemocratic, because Brexit means Brexit. Raab: We can always dissolve the Parliament and crash out with no deal, if the elected representatives oppose our neoliberal wet dream. Nice one. But Corbyn is the real danger, not the bunch of incompetent Brexiteers proposing to turn the UK into a rogue country by withholding legally binding “divorce payment” to the EU and ignoring the Good Friday Agreement (who cares about the Irish, after all ignoring the Irish has always worked well, hasn’t it?). Note: a terrible prime minister (yes, I agree Corbyn is, to quote a friend, an idiot “stuck in 1970s who probably still wonders how he got the gig”) can be kicked out in a few years. Breaching an international agreement is a one-way trip. Finally to close the circle, Spain is no exception of centre-right parties to collapse in favour of far-right populist. 

Simply, even though I don’t consider myself left-wing, I am not of far-right believes either, I find them repulsive. I am, after all, an immigrant. Even though we like to call ourselves “expats”. The fact that I arrived to my host country on an airplane only makes me luckier than most, bot not necessarily better. If the strategy of parties I would normally support is shifting towards racism and bigotry, they will not have my vote. If the price to pay is ending up with a higher tax bill, so be it.“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”* I believe at times changing a view is not just an option. When facts change this much, it becomes a duty. 

 

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*) John Maynard Keynes

 

 

 


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