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Post details: Czech Switzerland

Czech Switzerland

My sister travels a lot, so she knows many hidden gems the tiny Czech Republic harbors in its interior. For this summer's family trip, she took us to a remote region in Northern Bohemia where the river Labe (Elbe) leaves the country and squeezes into Germany through a series of shallow river valleys meandering along a gently undulating landscape. When - more than a century ago - two Swiss travelers visited the sparsely populated hills crowned with sandstone formations and separated by colorful meadows, they were so reminded of their homeland that they chose to give the surrounding area the moniker Czech Switzerland.

As we were hiking through its flagrant gorges and across the brawny ridges, I suddenly remembered a snippet from an old history book which claimed that had it not been for the Soviet occupation, Czechoslovakia would have been an Eastern European Switzerland. Indeed, between the wars my old country sported many burgeoning industries that manufacturing cars, airplanes, chemicals, textile, construction materials, machinery and just about anything the modern world might need. It had large deposits of coal and uranium (the latter plundered by Russians in the 1950s), well maintained infrastructure and educated and hard working population to boot. But the dream was not meant to be.

In 1948, a Communist coup installed a puppet regime whose various incarnations managed to turn this Switzerland in waiting into a Balkan wasteland - all that over the course of merely 40 years. And not by an accident either. Collectivism - which was adopted as the state doctrine - may sound like a great idea on the surface, but humankind still has not figured out its proper working implementation. Unlike capitalism, socialism does not provide a natural driving force that would be compatible with the individual desire to succeed. Somehow its notion of everyone working selflessly for the common good does not rhyme well with the human nature. At least in Czechoslovakia it didn't. Small minds, pervasive envy, incompetence, petty grudges, lack of natural incentives and bloated personal ambitions eventually got the better of Lenin's lofty intellectual framework and buried it deep under the ashes of mediocrity.

We hear a lot about socialism these days. The excesses of the financial expansion showed that capitalism may have overstayed its welcome in the annals of economic history and people are desperately looking for alternatives. I hope that those who are trying to offer socialism a second chance will keep the bleak lessons of the Soviet experiment fresh in mind. However crude and cruel the current embodiment of crony capitalism is, it is still a few leagues above the self-proclaimed humanism and efficiency of the Stalin's paradise. I breathed its noxious fumes for almost 30 years, so I know what I am talking about.

There must be a third way somewhere between the Scylla of capitalist greed and the Charybdis of communist apathy. A successful amalgamation of social responsibility and free market principles. But finding it may prove trickier than discovering a Swiss restaurant in the heart of Czech Switzerland.

z3

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