Sunday, June 24, 2007

Return to normalcy

Edward Lucas has an interesting column in the Economist. I think the facts are spot-on but I would like to argue about the conclusions.

Lucas starts by contrasting our president-elect Valdis Zatlers with our outgoing president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga:
Optimists hope that Valdis Zatlers, an orthopaedic surgeon, will grow into his new job as Latvia's president. But even his doughtiest supporters doubt that he will fill the exquisite shoes of his predecessor, Vaire Vike-Freiberga, a steely-minded émigré polyglot who ushered her small Baltic country into both the European Union and NATO.
Then, he observes that this is a part of a bigger trend. The previous generation of Eastern European leaders had many big figures:
Lech Walesa of Poland and the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel remain world famous. Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski was widely admired abroad for his diplomatic skills. Reformist politicians such as Estonia's Mart Laar, Russia's Yegor Gaidar and Slovakia's Mikulas Dzurinda wowed the policy wonks with their zealous embrace of flat taxes and free-marketry.
Now, it's different. Only Russia's Vladimir Putin and Estonia's Toomas Hedrik Ilves qualify as "big figures", according to Lucas. As for the rest:
A lot more typical are such political leaders as Slovakia's prime minister, Robert Fico, or Hungary's Ferenc Gyurcsany: wily political operators with good business ties and a populist touch.
I think this trend is a part of Eastern Europe returning to normalcy, after the Soviet oppression and the chaos of first post-Soviet years.

Great leaders often emerge as a response to great challenges. When Vaira Vike-Freiberga came to power in 1999, Latvia had to convince the Western world that our country is a part of it. During her presidency, Latvia succeeded in that. Latvia became a member of the European Union and NATO.

The same thing happened in other Central European countries. Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel were symbols of Poland and Czech Republic rejecting Communism and aspiring towards the same values as Western Europe. Now, the values that Walesa and Havel fought for are universally accepted in their countries. And, once something is universally accepted, there is no need for a visionary leader articulating that.

Today, the main challenge for the countries that joined European Union in 2004 is ensuring competent day-to-day management. We are not making a fundamental choice between democracy and totalitarianism, or free-market and centralized economy any more. Those choices have been made long ago.

As a result, there is not much space for visionary leaders any more. Businessmen and managers are taking their place. The main issues in the past Latvian election were: "Who is the most competent?" and "Who is the least corrupt?".

I hope this trend towards normalcy continues. I prefer to live in a world where proper enviromental standards for new housing developments are the most burning political issue, rather than in a world were Latvia has to worry about Russian military buildups. Of course, that depends on whether Russia is heading towards normalcy as well, and I am not sure of that at all...

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