Are Czechs part of a new European dream?


Jeremy Rifkin is an American economist, philosopher, university professor and writer. He has written numerous books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, and has also been an advisor to many European politicians, including the former EU Commission president, Romano Prodi. He is very critical of the political right in the United States, and in his newest book, The European Dream, he suggests that the more social and collective approach to economic development that is often associated with Europe offers a powerful alternative to the more individualist American Dream. This is not a philosophy to win him the heart of the strongly Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Jeremy Rifkin is currently in Prague to plug the Czech edition of the book, so when David Vaughan caught up with him, he asked what he felt the book would have to say to Czech readers.

"Especially here in the Czech Republic there has been a lot of attention focused on America, and wanting the American dream and the American way of life and the American economic system. What I am here to say is, 'Be careful what you ask for.' The fact is that the American dream was the standard for 200 years, but that dream is now fading very fast. The dream is a very simple one: if you work hard, then you can become a success, or at least you can sacrifice yourself for your children to become a success. It's a very individual dream.

"That dream was robust until the 1960s. We were the most egalitarian society in the world. What Czech people need to understand is that our dream has unraveled over the last 40 years. The US now ranks 24th among industrial countries in income disparity - the gap between the very rich and poor.

"Meanwhile here in Europe a new dream is emerging. It's still weak, but it's the complete opposite of our dream. And nowhere, I think, does it have more potential than here in the Czech Republic. If our dream in America is the individual's ability to make money, in Europe the dream is good quality of life, which is a community exercise.

"The younger generation is beginning to dream a dream - for the first time in history - of global consciousness for a globalizing world. It may fail, but I think the reason I'm so interested in Czech society is that the Czech young people seem to be a bridge between the American dream and the European dream."

Politically Europe is very divided, it's very fragmented. If you look from a Czech perspective - for example - at the years just after the fall of communism, it was the United States that took the lead in trying to draw this country back into the family of western nations, while Europe was still confused - there was a lot of navel-contemplating - and this seems to be continuing at the moment. You can understand why the Czech President Mr Klaus is rather sceptical about the integration of Europe, can't you?

"Let me say that the future of Europe is an integrated Europe, politically, economically, socially. This is the laboratory where the next great political experiment is going on, which is the creation of a trans-national space that can mediate a global world. To go back to a 'free-trade zone' would be a disservice and ultimately undermine the future of Europe itself.

"You know, everyone's confused about Europe. I've spent time with heads of state, I've spent time in Brussels, and nobody really knows what the EU is. Why? It's bizarre... It's a work in process. Every other empire and kingdom and nation in history has been born in violence, in coercion, in revolution, seizing people and territories - even the great democratic revolutions. The EU is counter to it. It's based on the defeated in World War II coming together and saying, 'Never again.' Two thousand years of bloodshed, two world wars and a Holocaust and your parents' generation said, 'We're going to put down the sword and try to create a new way of governing based on reciprocity and peace. Now it's justifiable if people are confused and a bit frustrated, but this is the next great political experiment in the human journey, and it ought to be supported."