Michael Žantovský at GLOBSEC 2016
April 18, 2016
Michael Žantovský: Once upon a time in the West
Thank you for this honor, it means a lot to me, even more for the fact, that I share it tonight with a great friend to our two and to me personally, a great American patriot and one of my heroes, Madeleine Albright.
There will be a lot being said at this conference about serious things like politics and security, so let me delve briefly into film studies.
1968, a year laden with historical and political significance, witnessed also the premiere of one of the best spaghetti westerns of all times, Sergio Leone´s Once upon a time in the West. It was truly a work of transAtlantic cooperation, with an Italian director, with Charles Bronson, an American actor of Lithuanian ancestry as the main hero, and with Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale in the supporting roles. As most westerns do, what it lacked in philosophical depth, it compensated for in moral clarity. The good was good, the evil was evil, the damsels were fair, the heroes were brave and the villains cowardly.
In real life, things are not always so simple. Still, the Cold War era that had given rise to the Transatlantic Political and security cooperation, which found its prominent expression in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, may have been a very dangerous time but it also had some advantages of simplicity. The adversary, its formidable strength, and the deadly nature of the totalitarian threat were clearly recognized, as was the need for Western unity in the face of the danger. In facing the perils of the totalitarian ideology, the West was also able to clearly identify, for others and for itself, the values of liberty, democracy and plurality it stood for, and fall back on them as its strength.
In the 25 years since the end of the Cold War, these values have prevailed and became established in a large part of the former Soviet Bloc and in other countries as well. The West has grown. At the same time, however, the sense of unity and common purpose that kept together the two sides of the Atlantic, has somewhat weakened, both externally and internally, and so has the awareness of the values on which it is based. We seem no longer sure, which is the more important, freedom or economic wellbeing, human rights or trade benefits, compassion or selfadvancement, responsibility or entitlement, truth or political correctness. Some of us seem no longer sure, whether our common heritage of the Antiquity, the judeochristian spirituality, the reformation, enlightenment and liberal democracy is relevant to the issues of the present. For some, the idea of the West itself, has lost much of its meaning, or has been deconstructed altogether.
It may not have mattered much as long as the world has been enjoying the benefits of peace and growing prosperity. Lately, however, we came across some serious bumps in the road. All of a sudden, there have emerged or reemerged around us alternative concepts of the society and of the world, posing new political and security risks and threats to our East and our South. Some of their proponents are not content to pursue their ideas at home, but frame their goals as inherently inimical to, and incompatible with, the Western civilization. For too long, the West could not decide whether to oppose these threats or try to appease them. But, as Václav Havel reminded us twenty years ago, “Vaccilation always provokes aggression. A resolute attitude blocks it.”
Let me finish with another excursion in the history of Westerns. Fred Zinnemann´s High Noon , made at the height of the Cold War in 1952, features Gary Cooper as the sheriff of a small Western town, Hadleyville, who all alone faces and prevails over a gang of outlaw villains bent on revenge and wreaking havoc through the town. However, the real villains of the movie are the good citizens of Hadleyville, who, through their indifference, indecision or pure cowardice allow the evil to flourish, illustrating the meaning of the famous Edmund Burke quote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Perhaps it would be well to remember that high noon may not be far away.