Self help and Visegrad

  • Written by  Keith Miles
Keith Miles. (Photo: Demokracija archive) Keith Miles. (Photo: Demokracija archive)

The most famous book about ‘Self Help’ was written by a Victorian Englishman called Samuel Smiles, and it became the Victorians gospel for inspiration and guidance.

It was about what we now call Victorian values and which are disparaged by many so-called liberals and those on the unthinking left. It is a book that should in my view be read by all decent politicians and even standard reading in Universities.

What has this got to do with the Visegrad countries you many wonder?

The Visegrad counties were all mainstream European countries before World War Two and you could say that they were culturally and politically in advance of some of the western countries. However as we all know they fell under the Stalinist communist yoke, whereas the Balkan countries fell in three ways; Greece escaped communist rule, Bulgaria and Albania (initially) fell into the Stalinist net, and Yugoslavia slipped away from Bolshevik devotion to Stalin to communist devotion to Tito.

These countries are challenging the domination of Brussels bureaucrats and the German-French hegemony in the EU.

When Slovenia was preparing and applying to join the EU they were already members of the Central Europe Free Trade Area (CEFTA). CEFTA was founded at the end of 1992 by the Visegrad countries and Slovenia joined in 1996. Membership of the EU meant leaving CEFTA. I tried to encourage Slovene politicians to try to negotiate with the EU as a block because that would mean better entry terms. Unfortunately the EU used its usual ‘divide and rule tactics’ and each country negotiated separately. They had not fully appreciated that economic growth had slowed considerably in the EU and the EU wanted access to the faster growing central European economies as they came out of totalitarian communism. There was a certain naivety that through the EU they would consolidate democracy, free market economics, and civil society. They did not give sufficient weight to the Empire building desires of the EU. This is also shown by their ‘bending the rules’ to allow Greece and Italy to join the Euro monetary system. I might add that under the criteria it seems to me that Belgium did not qualify either and it would have been unthinkable if they were left out so the scene was set to be ‘flexible’ in order to expand the Empire.

The Copenhagen Criteria were agreed for former communist countries to join the EU and these include among other things the rule of law and with it an independent judiciary. Little has been done until recently to follow up on these criteria. In the case of an independent judiciary countries such as Poland and Hungary have become frustrated by the continuation of old communist networks behind the scenes and have taken action that upsets the EU. Many in Slovenia still speak of these old networks continuing to have major influence in many areas. This is after 30 years of independence.

The EU has belatedly started to look at the matter of the ‘Rule of Law’ requirement in the Copenhagen Criteria and a programme was put in place at the beginning of 2020. A report was issued on 30th September 2020.

To me it is quite miserable reading not least because it is 27 years since the accession criteria were set out and it seems to me that monitoring and help to achieve them has been minimal . Not just monitoring what is written down on paper in law but what has been happening on the ground in reality. A report is now promised in 2021 and one fears that this will be another bureaucratic fudge, an English word which means ‘a vague or inadequate report, especially so as to conceal the truth or mislead’.

I hope that Slovenia joins with the Visegrad group to get more influence, which brings me back to Samuel Smiles and his philosophy of self help. The Visegrad group seem to have realised that only following his principles of hard work, family, honesty, duty, perseverance, honour, morality and integrity will get them to a truly free society. That is why I recommend they read the book Self Help with its numerous examples from real life.


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