Under the old communist regimes of Eastern Europe, Western brands were forbidden and therefore much sought-after.
Young people would do anything to get their hands on a pair of Levis or some French cosmetics. To walk around in a sweatshirt with Oxford University written on it was the height of cool.
This wasn’t about the quality of the material good. If we bought goods on the basis of quality there would be no need for brands. This was about making a statement: establishing and signalling status, setting yourself apart from the crowd while proclaiming your allegiance to an exclusive group.
Then came the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and full access to Western markets. Suddenly everyone in the Czech Republic could buy whatever they wanted. Branded goods began to lose their power to confer status. So how were people to set themselves apart now?
The answer is through a different type of Western good: the branded idea. Again, quality or content is not important. These ideas do not have to be good ideas. Indeed, as we shall see below, they are sometimes not good ideas – but they must be currently fashionable in the West.
Seasoning one’s speech with the names of these brands, ideally while also adopting the correct facial expression and tone of voice, enables an idea to serve as a kind of password or secret handshake, proof of membership of a certain club. It is the equivalent of carrying a Gucci handbag and, like the handbag, these branded ideas function on the principle of exclusion.
The latest such branded idea to arrive on the scene here in the Czech Republic is the concept of decolonisation, or decolonisation™ as it might be called.
On the face of it, the Western version of ‘decolonisation’ would seem to be a lost cause in the Czech Republic. For centuries the Czech lands formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were ruled from Vienna. During the course of the 18th and 19th centuries there was a national revival that promoted the Czech language, culture and identity, though it was not until 1918 and the end of the First World War that the First Czechoslovak Republic was created.
However, following the Munich Agreement of 1938, the country was occupied by Hitler. Then in 1948 the Communist Party came to power and the country was absorbed into the Eastern Bloc before being formally occupied in reaction to the Prague Spring liberalisation of 1968. Four years after the Velvet Revolution, and with no public consultation, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech and Slovak republics, prompting Václav Havel to resign as president.
From this potted history you could be forgiven for thinking that the Czechs’ interest in decolonisation™ would ensue from the history of their oppression.
You would be wrong for several reasons. Firstly, the Czech Republic is basically white, and as we all know, such people cannot be oppressed thanks to their white privilege™.
Secondly, the country’s clerisy, i.e. its credentialed, cosmopolitan class who work in the media, academia, the cultural sphere, NGOs, corporate HR, Big Tech, etc. and who decide what we may and may not say and think, is an emergent group that is still trying to find its feet. At the moment, its priority is to distinguish itself as distinct and superior to the rest of the population, not to find common cause with them.
Thirdly, the Czech clerisy has little interest in righting the wrongs of colonialism, but is rather concerned with uniting with their counterparts in the West. They want to revel in feelings of guilt, self-abasement and atonement, albeit for sins they did not commit, and these special treats are only on offer to someone buying into the role of coloniser.
Fourthly, like clerisies everywhere, the Czech variety feels nothing but disdain for its compatriots, who are variously described as bumpkins, cretins, racists, bigots… ring a bell? Instead it seeks alliances with the “right-thinking” people of the West. Its members prefer to mingle with people of their own kind at international seminars, festivals and conferences and on internships, sabbaticals and residencies. It is already adopting the discourse of declinism imported from the West and views the EU as the embodiment of virtue and Brussels as a city upon a hill.
And finally, the sheer contextual inappropriateness of the concept of decolonisation to the countries of Eastern Europe makes it, paradoxically, ideally fit for its true purpose. The branded idea is intended to give the impression of a special truth accessible only to the chosen, enlightened few. In reality this means that for a branded idea to confer special status upon its user it must contain a kernel of consummate stupidity that deters anyone possessing a morsel of common sense from adopting it. A Gucci handbag is not for everyone. And heaven forbid that a branded idea become popular! And so the stage is now set for the arrival of transgenderism, white privilege™, cultural appropriation™, taking the knee, and of course the triplets of diversity™, inclusivity™ and equality or equity (DIE).
It will be fascinating to watch the intellectual contortions involved in the illiberal application of these ideas in the Czech Republic by people proclaiming themselves to be arch-liberals.
One unintended irony is already evident.
Through its slavish adherence to Western perspectives in the form of branded ideas that are wholly inappropriate to its own experience, the Czech elite is allowing the country to be colonised once more, this time by decolonisation™.