I recently had the good fortune to take a hiking trip to the Czech Republic, which was mostly in the countryside and smaller towns. The Czech Republic is a small country and, as part of Czechoslovakia, was one of the nations dominated by the Soviet Union and its harsh authoritarian regime, only achieving true independence when that repressive force collapsed in 1989. Many Czechs recall living under Russian control, and not fondly. For the older Czechs, who spent much of their lives in that era, you still see the sense of anxiety and unease on their faces, the constant fear that you would come to the attention of the authorities, never a good thing, and the constant deprivation of even life’s little pleasures. One of our guides, who was 9 when emancipation occurred, related a story of never seeing an orange or other fruits and vegetables until after the Soviet Union and its absurd legacy of central economic planning disappeared.
The Czech people quickly rebounded with all the passion that pent-up desire to work and build and create can unleash. Even in smaller towns life looks good. Unlike most European countries I have been in, including Italy, France, Germany and Spain, you see many young children and young families. This is a sign of optimism, satisfaction and confidence in the future. Czechs are bright, hard-working, well-educated and oriented toward making things better. Those are all crucial ingredients for a nation to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Some Czechs sound almost apologetic when talking about their country in comparison to a large nation like the US, but they not only have nothing to be ashamed about, but much to teach us. The measure of a nation’s greatness is the opportunity it provides for its residents to live meaningful and secure lives and the Czech Republic looks great by that standard.
After the failures of the Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela and all the other adherents of socialist, centrally planned and controlled economies, it is astounding to find large groups of Americans who support the same policies, often in total ignorance of history’s lesson or simply more interested in ideology and control than in what actually works to improve the lives of citizens. And this same group engages in, encourages or silently approves the physical assaults and social media lynchings directed at anyone who disagrees with them, in tactics worthy of the Nazi brown shirt thugs. This country was founded by people devoted to, indeed architects of, the ideals of individual freedom and individual economic opportunity. We have strayed a long way from those ideals and we are not the better for it.