Jefim Fištejn: As soon as society becomes tolerant of intolerance, that's the end of it
For two years now, we have witnessed the biggest war conflict since the Second World War. The Russian-induced war in Ukraine is still not coming to an end. In our discussion show CZ DIALOGUES, we have already looked at this war conflict from many angles and talked to many experts, not only from the defence sector. This time we asked for an interview with Jefim Fištejn, a prominent journalist, essayist and columnist who was born and educated in Kiev and, except for a period of emigration after the signing of Charter 77, has been working in the Czech Republic. Jefim Fištejn graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at Lomonosov University and worked as a translator in Prague from 1969 to 1980. He was forced to emigrate after the signing of Charter 77. From 1981 to 1996, he worked as a political commentator for Radio Free Europe, where he specialized mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1996 and 1997 he was editor-in-chief of Lidové noviny. He then returned to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a political commentator. Later he became deputy programme director there. He is still an active journalist. Since the 1990s, he has worked as an external collaborator for Czech Radio 2 - Prague. In November 2023 he became a member of the Council of Czech Television. In this episode of our CZ DIALOGUES, we talked with Jefim Fištejn not only about the war in Ukraine and Israel, but also about the future of Europe and democracy in Russia.
Video: Interview with journalist and publicist Jefim Fištejn / CZ DEFENCE
Both conflicts are not just military actions. They are mainly a political and, above all, an existential conflict. According to Fištejn, the West is primarily concerned with its value system. The West, he says, pretends to be a society based on systemic values, and Western values are seriously threatened in both these conflicts. "A victory of the opponents of the so-called collective West would mean a very precarious future existence for the West itself and a revision of all the pillars on which the West stands," says Jefim Fištejn in the interview. However, he says Europe has many internal contradictions, which are manifested in particular in the difference between declared and actual aid to Ukraine. According to Fištejn, this is due to the weakening of basic values such as military honor and patriotism, love of family, and love of country. "These basic values, at the same time, are complemented, of course, by openness and tolerance towards other ideas, not towards other value systems. In general, this is called the struggle of good against evil, but in reality, we see in individual cases that it is a struggle of open, democratic, tolerant societies against, on the contrary, closed, intolerant and unfree societies," says Fištejn, adding, "At a certain point, the West stopped recognizing this danger, and as a result of this laxity, Western culture was relativized and challenged by the influence of various movements. This destruction of Western values has been influenced at some point by uncontrolled migration. One of its results is the mass anti-Israeli protests in major European countries such as Germany, France and others. We are witnessing violence, extremist attacks."
A large role is played by high tolerance, according to Fištejn. "Tolerance is good when it applies to foreign systems, except those that profess intolerance themselves. Once a society starts to be tolerant even of intolerance, then that's the end of it. She doesn't know where to stop and doesn't understand herself," says Jefim Fištejn in the interview, who at the same time recalls 2015, when, according to him, Western civilization lost the sense of peace that defines the most important meaning of human civilization. "Then, under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the West lost its sense of peace and adopted a mentality and a political practice, the so-called willkommen policies, i.e. the policy of open borders and open doors, which is a tragedy," Fištejn points out, recalling that Europe still cannot cope with this. However, he says, this does not mean that Europe was not open to immigration before. However, he says, it has maintained a sense of peace. Peace meant allowing immigration into Europe that preserves the dominant role of the basic existing civilisation and does not threaten it by diluting it.
Another threat, especially to our territory, is the war in Ukraine. According to Fištejn, it is a great complex of essentially civilizational superiority of one particular dictatorship and also of a semi-fascist regime imposing its social model on the whole environment. It is about trying to somehow complement these two nations without knowing the differences. "Let me tell you, there are no more different mentalities than the Russian and Ukrainian. It is not a matter of language. A Pole also speaks a Slavic language, but he is not a Russian. It's a completely different mentality. A Ukrainian is a completely different mentality. The difference lies in the fact that the Russian derives his human meaning from the size of the state. A mighty state that arouses awe in the world arouses fear, perhaps admiration and fear together. Such a state is his state, and he would be an insignificant figure if he were not a citizen of that state. The Ukrainian has never had supremacy over himself. Ukraine has never had a Tsar and the Hetmen were not Tsars. The hetman was also an elected office, limited in time and not hereditary. A Ukrainian does not have a relationship with the hierarchy, he does not have a slavishly subordinate relationship," Fištejn says in the interview, adding that the Russian principle is a vertical of power. "Tsar or commander-in-chief, we see it with Putin. Putin decides on war and peace. The tsar decides on war. And yet that's a completely different type of society," says Jefim Fištejn.
According to him, the West is not aware of the difference between the Russian and Ukrainian mentality. "We can have various debates at this time about where European civilisation really ends in the East and so on, but the important point is the future contribution of the West to this long-term conflict," says Fištejn. The West has a different system of thinking based on the four-year term of elections. But wars like the one in Ukraine go beyond these periods. "In Europe and here, the role of the leader has disappeared. A leader is not a politician who fulfils the wishes of the electorate. A bureaucrat is enough for that. A leader is there to lead. The word leader means to lead. As Churchill made clear to the citizens, all I can promise is blood, sweat and tears. Such a leader can lead. He transcends the will of the citizen," says Jefim Fištejn in the next episode of the CZ DIALOGUES discussion programme.
The question of leadership is reflected in all structures of the West, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The latter, according to Fištejn, is currently experiencing a hangover from the awakening that the age of confrontation is over. Today, he says, armies do not play a defensive role, but rather a policing role. "People still remember the three or four year old arguments about who wants to fulfil the 2% of GDP commitment to defence and who does not want to fulfil it," says Fištejn, adding that the controversy over whether and why to fulfil this defence commitment has brought with it an attempt to roll up and dismantle NATO. "As I say, there is a hard sobering coming. But better late than never. And sobering up has its power even now. Nobody argues about it nowadays, they just don't like to remember why they didn't want to give two percent for defence four years ago when it was possible to prepare NATO for today's conflict. If the member countries had given two per cent for defence four years ago, they would have had a fuller storehouse today and we would probably not have to say to the Ukrainians: we do not have one ourselves.
The mentality associated with the idea that liberal democracy has won the world has been misleading and has caused a lot of mischief, has lowered the guard. And this applies to NATO as well," Fištejn said. "I think that if NATO continues to increase its combat capability in all aspects, it will be the right way to go," Fištejn believes. He also recalls a much more offensive stance against the Russian threat in countries such as Poland, the Baltic states, but also the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. The bottom line is that all these countries carry their own experience. "That experience is, as they say, under the skin. It is a lived experience. The experience is that you have to respond to aggression firmly, unequivocally and from a position of strength," says journalist Jefim Fištejn in an interview. To learn more, listen to the full interview at the beginning of this article.