Friends from Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, and Croatia talk about how in the West they are viewed as “eastern,” but in the East, they are considered western. There is a growing sense in Central and Eastern Europe of people who caught between two different worlds. Today, some migrants who left the region for better opportunities now want to return to what they call “home.” One common variable repeated by ex-expats was that they could not fully identify with the country they migrated to because of differences in historical experience.
Atilla Sulker | United States
Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jozef Martiniak at the 2018 Mises University. Dr. Martiniak came to Auburn all the way from Slovakia and had many great stories to tell about his experience growing up in a Cold War era Czechoslovakia. My conversations with Dr. Martiniak not only revealed an interesting story from the perspective of someone who experienced socialism firsthand but also sparked my interest in the politics of Slovakia. He mentioned that there was a libertarian-oriented party in Slovakia. So, I endeavored to examine the movement in Slovakia, analyzing its scope, significance, and authenticity.
The SaS Party and Richard Sulík
The main vessel of Slovak libertarianism nowadays is the political party “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS). Economist Richard Sulík, the man behind the Slovakian flat tax, founded the party in 2009. In February of that year, the party collected the 10,000 required signatures for its establishment. Sulík became the first chairman.
According to their website, the party claims to run on a platform free of the typical populist propaganda loaded with catchy slogans. They also claim that experts in various fields, rather than ideologues, run the party.
This idea of “experts” or “elitists” running the party is reminiscent of the system which the founders of the United States government hoped to maintain. It was a system in which the people would only directly elect a small percentage of state officials. This gradual shift from elitism to a system more centered around direct election helped lead to the growth of the state. This phenomenon has led to the rise of “mass scale pork barrel politics” such as the socialization of healthcare.
The party is also centered around offering specific solutions on how to allocate the budget. On the contrary, they oppose putting out “unrealistic promises”. It also asserts that the armed forces must have clear objectives. This sort of reform effort, though, puts too much trust in the state. Governments are inherently very tough to reform.
Though SaS never explicitly claims to be anchored in the chief tenets of libertarianism, it puts heavy emphasis on free will and individualism. The party draws a connection between individual freedom and happiness. From this, the party asserts that it opposes economic intervention. The party emphasizes a more consequentialist argument regarding the effects of freedom on the collective population.
One interesting thing I learned through my conversations with Dr. Martiniak was that the “passion” present in many libertarians in America was not present in Slovakia. Rather, SaS libertarianism is more “contra the state” instead of a truly moral, Rothbardian form.
SaS lists the promotion of “basic solidarity” as one of its key tenets in Article II of its charter. This sort of concept is manifested in the “euro-realist” stance of the party. The party sees the European Union as an idea with great potential, but also one that demands significant reform. The party also asserts, however, that it seeks to curb the EU’s bureaucracy and regulations.
Its perception of the EU, though, is flawed. SaS believes that the EU should exist for its promotion of free trade and free movement. However, in regards to this, a classic Bob Murphy argument comes into play.
In his article, “But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?”, Murphy comes to the conclusion that if a small-government society can sustain itself peacefully, these same people should be able to live together peacefully without a government. In the same way, if member countries of the EU really want free trade and movement, why would there be the need for a political union such as the EU? Even if countries were to reform the EU, it would gradually centralize power over time. The Iron Law of Oligarchy strongly suggests this.
In an article by The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead describes the sentiment of Richard Sulík. Sulík often receives criticism for being a nationalist, but Armitstead articulates that he is rather “the hero of all discontented Europeans”. This certainly demonstrates the growing resentment in Europe for the government. It underscores the borderless nature of freedom, its universal application. It is not something that remains within a single country, but rather, it spreads. Of course, it has nothing to do with nationalism.
An Imperfect Match
In my humble opinion, the efforts of SaS do not effectively line up with libertarianism. Sure, the party is pro-market, anti-centralization, and pro-civil liberties. At the same time, however, due to the fact that it is not grounded in property rights and the NAP, its attempts blur.
This is why it is so important that any attempt at libertarianism be grounded in these axioms. Otherwise, the message strays from being genuine. SaS embodies the more “pragmatic libertarianism” present in those such as Gary Johnson, rather than genuine Misesian or Rothbardian aesthetic.
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Jozef Martiniak | Slovakia
In March of 2018, I attended a seminar on Austrian economics in Slovakia that was organized by an institute whose statements I had been following for a long time. The event lasted four days with lectures on economics, money, and business cycle theory among other things, and the statements made seemed consistent to me. The rhetoric remained the same – what was said ten years ago was still relevant to today.
Moreover, these views have somehow all given awareness to me, a man with common sense. Suddenly you find out that something that you feel intuitively has a 150-years-old historical tradition and that there is a school that studies and develops this tradition.
Surprisingly, the majority of the attendees ended the seminar with a conviction against Austrian economics, but I experienced a change. Out of the blue, I became an Austrian. My ideas were synthesized and I found out it all makes sense. I used to talk about this moment like the story of St. Paul’s fall off of his horse. It was a moment after which you start looking at the world through different eyes and you know it will never change, you will never get back. You start to realize the connections in everyday situations. Not long ago, you have not seen them, but now you can clearly. Tom Palmer says that suddenly you look at the world through the lenses of freedom, through a filter that the majority of people do not have.
You start to become aware that this change is not so obvious like you feel it is. You have a feeling that everybody must see it, so you control yourself, you dose your knowledge to people around you just in bits. Then you find out that people around you do not care about you at all and most of them have not noticed any change in you, they are preoccupied by their own problems.
The impression that you understand the world better is followed by the impression that people will not understand you anymore. Suddenly, it is clear to you how some things will end up, because you distinguish responsibility from irresponsibility. And that is what really irritates the eminent experts who somehow see the change happening in you, though they do not know what has happened, they just see that you can say something responsibly and hold your ground, because you simply know it is true. They do not like debating with you because instead of trying to understand your point of view, they focus on trying to humiliate you in rhetorical competition.
A side-effect of the “conversion” is that you suddenly start to understand the Idealists whom you did not understand before.
Hazlittian awareness of invisible consequences of the events that already happened is another consequence of the ‘conversion’. Only few people realize it. Most people simply analyze their lives and only see the closest area of consequence of the acts that happened and that are related to their past.
In the summer of 2018, I completed a course at Mises University and henceforth joined a sect of people with an Austrian point of view in economics. I have used the word “sect” on purpose since we fit into the characteristics of the word ‘sect’ – we are in minority, we look at the others like those who do not understand yet, but if they are insistent, they will find out where the truth is. The lecturers at the Mises Institute say we belong to the two percent of the population who understands economics better than the majority. Even if it is said as a joke, it seems to me inappropriate since those who really understand the nature of Austrian economics know that they really belong to that small percentage. And those who do not understand are uselessly given a false feeling of exceptionalism, because they do not know why and in what they should be exceptional.
I like working in a world where your steps have meaning. Since we are homo sapiens, we should stop and think about future consequences of our present actions. The economists of the mainstream cannot explain how debt of countries will impact their future. They cannot explain how long the FED and ECB control will work and the public will trust it. In these aspects, they have adopted Austrian rhetoric of “laissez faire” – let it be, it is working somehow.
The Austrians are not satisfied with an explanation that it will work out somehow, because everything has always ended up working somehow. They want to change this system – even though it is very corrupted – so that it is the furthest possible from disaster. I do not know how other Austrian economists came into existence, perhaps they were born like this (at least Carl Menger, as he was nobody’s pupil and he was quintessential to the marginal revolution), but I am for sure a convert.
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