PANEL DISCUSSION 2023
Stephen Nikola BARTULICA:
EACH OF US CAN CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY
So thank you very much. Dear fellow panelists, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I'm delighted to be here in Prague. I want to thank the organizers from the Patrimonium Sancti Adalberti, Tomáš Kulman, Michal Semín, for helping to organize this. I see that Prague is still a safe place where we can discuss these ideas. I'm honoured to be here. I think that Croatia belongs in a conference like this, and I'll try to spark your interest with a few ideas in my remarks. I grew up in the United States, but I've been living in Croatia since the early 90s, over 30 years now. I love Central Europe. I've travelled extensively to most of these countries, and my first point is I think the world, Europe in particular, has much to learn from us. Not the other way around. And I'll try to explain why I believe this is true. When someone conducts a Google search about Central Europe or certain or individual countries in Central Europe, one can find headlines such as "The EU launches infringement procedure against Poland", "Poland digs in over EU rule of law pressure", "Europe confronts Hungary over its trampling over the rule of law". And it sounds very alarming. I mention Poland because this country has elections tomorrow. As a member of Parliament, I will try to make the case that culture is actually what matters most and determines the fate of our countries in the end.
But politics is important as well, and elections matter and the world is watching closely what will happen in Poland tomorrow. And I certainly hope that the conservative government will remain in power. But the first question is when we read these headlines, should we have confidence as Europeans in the judgment of European institutions? These are the same political bodies which considered, for example, the prominent Italian philosopher Rocco Buttiglione, a close friend of Saint John Paul II, unsuitable to serve as a commissioner in 2004. And his rejection by the EU at the time sparked my interest in what was going on in Brussels. I was quite naive at the time. I must admit, I hadn't realized that former communists, for many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were more welcome in Brussels than prominent philosopher like Rocco Buttiglione. So I was asking the question why that is. The Polish MEP and philosopher Ryszard Legutko, in his book The Demon in Democracy, makes this argument that the West has been far more accommodating to former communists who were on the wrong side of history than to the dissidents who were fighting for many decades. And there's a great irony there, and I think we have to learn the right lessons from the dramatic collapse of communism in 1989. Indeed, it is rare in history that we see a moment when there is an advance in political freedom and justice, a sudden advance.
These moments are very rare, unfortunately, in human history. But we are lucky that they happened in this part of the world. And I think part of the reason is the heroic witness of Pope John Paul II. And when I speak to students at the Catholic University of Zagreb, I try to explain to them they weren't alive during this time that most policy analysts, experts, government officials were taken completely by surprise. By this sudden turn of events, no one was expecting this to happen. No policy paper or analysis by the MI6 or CIA has been discovered predicting this would happen. The intelligentsia in the West, the professors were not writing textbooks about what to do once communism collapses. They all believed it was here to stay. So the first point is we don't know what will happen tomorrow. We cannot predict the future. And it's important for young people to keep this in mind who maybe feel oftentimes that it's in vain. Anything they do is in vain. Everything is already determined ahead of time. That's in fact not the case. And it's a very anti-Christian attitude. In fact, the reality of history is that every single person can make a difference. Now John Paul II's biographer George Weigel. He wrote extensively about the events of 1989. He argued that Pope John Paul II's first visit to Poland in 1979 is actually the moment which sparked the eventual peaceful revolution in 1989, ten years later.
One could argue that Poland and Central Europe would never be the same after the Pope had started to visit his own country, but other countries as well. And I believe this is an important point, that we must understand what is happening below the surface in our countries, not what is evident, not what at the primary level or at the level of media headlines. But what is happening deeper. And it's the same today. This this same principle holds today. The vast majority of interpretations offered by policy experts and pundits tend to focus on political personalities like Reagan and Gorbachev, and they certainly have elements of insight and truth, but are in the end, unsatisfactory because none of them take sufficient account of the why and the how behind the moral and cultural revolution. Now I want to say a few remarks about Fukuyama's End of History thesis. He wrote a famous essay and later a book explaining that the end of the Cold War, the collapse of communism in Europe, actually marks the end of this ideological struggle, and that liberal democracy had prevailed for a certain time this was held to be true by many, many intellectuals. Later, Fukuyama himself retreated from this idea. I think it is flawed.
I think actually we see today that the end of the Cold War was not the end of ideologies. We have new emerging ideologies that have been mentioned previously that are even more harmful than Marxism was. Marx was a bad economist, a poor philosopher of history. But he understood that there was a natural difference between man and woman. He never brought into question the nature of the family. But today we have an assault on actually the human person, what it means to be a human person. In the United States, people at the highest levels of politics cannot answer the simple question of what is a woman? What is a woman? They can't answer that question. How did we get here? How did we get here? That a Supreme Court justice nominee in the Senate, in the United States, in Brussels, it's not much different. Cannot answer the question. What is a woman? She herself is a woman. She couldn't fail to answer the question. I think Fukuyama's it's a Hegelian view of history, lacks it has no place for the reality of evil. The reality of evil, and the 20th century has clearly shown that evil, unfortunately, is an inherent part of the human condition and will always find an organized social expression. So I believe that the West, our Western world, the EU, has forgotten that politics is a function of religion or culture, and the left understands this.
The left takes culture very seriously. We can just imagine what the world would be like if people in this room controlled Hollywood, for example, or controlled the publishing industry. The world would be a very different place. But that's not the case. And as a result, if we're in politics, we're at the start at a disadvantage because the left has huge cultural power, some say cultural hegemony. So we must take this seriously and when necessary, not yield an inch to the left. On these questions. I'm proud to say that I was involved myself ten years ago in a constitutional referendum initiative to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in the Croatian Constitution, it passed by two thirds majority. I was called the next morning by a correspondent of the New York Times, who was very upset, but I'm pleased that he quoted me accurately, and that it's the one occasion that I was mentioned in the New York Times ten years ago. But it was it was an important statement and I think disrupted this narrative of human rights and this direction that the elites believe we are heading. It's not necessarily so. We surprised Brussels. Croatia had just joined the European Union four months earlier, and then we passed this constitutional amendment. Now, today's EU doesn't resemble, of course, what the founding fathers of Europe had had envisioned Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and others.
They would probably be considered extremists today by the Brussels mainstream. I would offer to your consideration that the EU functions more or less as a Hobbesian structure. Thomas Hobbes was a very important philosopher in England, but he believed in a materialist universe, denied the soul, and basically reduced reason to a means for attaining what human beings desire, more or less. So he was metaphysically, unfortunately, confused, but his influence was vast and deep. And I think the EU in many ways resembles his idea of how a sovereign state should function. And we should be very worried about this, because centralized power hubs had no answer for what citizens should do once power is abused. The EU is a place... Brussels is a place where power is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of unelected elites. This is not a good thing. This is not a good thing. And it's very remote from the rest of Europe. Citizens in Zagreb, citizens in Prague, Budapest, Warsaw. Many ordinary people have no idea what these European bodies are doing. But we can see what their ideology is. This secularist ideology. I served previously as an adviser to a former prime minister of Croatia, and at this time Brexit was on the agenda in Brussels. And I would accompany him to these meetings that sometimes would last till 4 or 5 a.m.
That's how the EU makes decisions. They have meetings until 5 a.m. and the people who are dissenting or resisting the mainstream finally give up and don't have the will to carry on. And then there's a press conference at 6 a.m. But anyway, during these meetings, I had time to discuss with other advisers. We had private conversations, and I noticed something very disturbing, this kind of self-censorship among my colleagues. They, even in private, were very uncomfortable talking about religion, culture. These more sensitive issues. That's not a good sign. If the people at the top of European politics even privately hesitate to utter their opinions on what matters most. But that's the reality. So, ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I want to offer a few closing thoughts. I think we can learn very much from the government of Viktor Orbán that it is not only necessary, but a country can succeed in pushing back against EU overreach and abuse of power. And make no mistake; the EU elites have contempt for the governments in Poland and Hungary because they openly defend the Christian identity of our countries. That's the main reason, in my view, why there's so much contempt. This is hidden; of course, this is masked under the rhetoric of rule of law. Et cetera. But it's actually anti-Christian bias at the top levels of Europe. Secondly, I think and it was mentioned by my previous by the colleague from Bulgaria, there is great significance in suffering.
I think a source of strength in many of our countries is that we suffered so much during the 20th century, Croatia included, and more recently in the 90s as well. But this suffering is a source of great strength, and this is something the Western elites fail to appreciate, but it gives it gives one hope that things can change. If enough people find a common interest, interest in collaborating, and have the courage. I think that's the virtue most lacking today in politics the courage to speak the truth. Next, the importance of the natural family. Of course, it's been mentioned. There won't be any disagreement, I hope, on this plenary session. The natural family is absolutely fundamental for the survival of a free society. National sovereignty is worth defending. That's why we're here. I think Central Europe can be a model of cooperation on many, on many levels. And I do agree that we should try to do this within the EU framework, within the EU, but build alliances so our voices can be heard by people who tend not to agree with us. So that's what I wanted to offer. I'm really delighted. And it's been a privilege to address this distinguished audience and hopefully there'll be time for discussion. Thank you very much.