The Vampires were on the march again in Prague during Halloween, bless their little hearts. Under the watchful eyes of adoring parents, their Jack-o-lanterns swung gaily over ancient cobbles, gleaming under the bright shop windows of our expensively lit and heated capital.
For every decade that has passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the imported and commercialized American holiday has been growing in popularity in Central Eastern Europe. Whatever one thinks of Halloween, there are other ideas that are being exported into our countries that currently pose a far more menacing threat to our security, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At the end of October, another crowd gathered on the cobblestones in Prague, namely the protesters who came out against the government’s aid for Ukraine. Complaining about rising energy prices, they demanded that Russia be allowed to trample on Ukraine’s national sovereignty and for the Ukrainian people to be sacrificed so that the Kremlin vampire could suck their blood.
For our societies to be resilient against Russian disinformation and propaganda, they have to be well-grounded in their own values, of which our Christian heritage and desire for national self-determination are cornerstones. The groups which swallow Russian propaganda without questioning unfortunately rarely reflect on which values Europeans have embraced for millenia.
Psy-ops are nothing new, of course – and much of the symbology in our folk legends contains the distortion of Christian symbols. Vampires emerged during the Ottoman invasion of Central and East Europe, when the enemy realized that the imagery of drinking Eucharistic blood and the dead rising from their graves were as powerful in their corruption as in their magnificence.
We naively imagine our modern, enlightened, era to be invulnerable to such basic assaults upon its collective mind. But on the contrary, we are ever more sensitive to novel symbols and paroxysms as we become untethered from the ancient social and religious conventions which once formed the basis of our society.
If Europe were a country, we would recently have celebrated the anniversary of our foundation. On the 28th of October, 312AD, Saint Constantine’s army triumphed over the Pagan Romans at Milvian Bridge; the most dramatic climax within our foundational story. But there is no such a country as Europe. And the wording of the EU’s most important documents carefully avoids mentioning God, let alone the Christian faith which is our only collective civilizational heritage. Thus it remains: to be a citizen of Europe is to be an interloper in a world of which we know very little.
Lacking any pretense of rationalism, however, Russia draws an enchanted strength from the fraying strands of the European mythos.
Today, as the conflicted narratives of our cultures blend, we see something that Aldous Huxley imagined in his Magnum Opus Brave New World: a society so overloaded with information that nothing can ever be falsified. But it was beyond even Huxley to imagine what comes about when the private doubts of the masses assemble at a grand scale around the Ouija board of the World Wide Web.
The only way to signal loyalty in a world where nothing can be verified is by doubling down on social conventions. Assent is best signaled when those conventions are absurd or verifiably false – which in turn drives a fashion industry in lies.
Rather in the same way people once had to worship a Golden Calf or sacrifice children to Aztec gods to be named a priest, one must now proclaim more than two sexes to become a child psychiatrist or believe in zero-carbon goals in order to lead a ministry for energy.
And out of the melee of such narratives a diabolical face seems to emerge and to say: ‘I am legion, for we are many.’
The rational-minded population who have no incentive to repeat the shibboleths of the mighty can only listen in bewilderment before they protest but, as a menace grows on our Eastern Horizon on the horizon. where should the shepherdless European flock run to for shelter?
The brilliant conservative English philosopher (and sometimes benefactor of oppressed Czechoslovak citizens), Roger Scruton, thus described the importance of the Christian faith to the secular social order.
“Some structures appear so perfectly organized as to provide the possibility to build a society around them, even when the authority at its center is totally absent.”
This illusion has some mileage, but isn’t ultimately good enough for the truth seeker. Just as Huxley’s Brave New World was a dystopia for its desire for happiness, so Europe’s common narrative of least resistance must be challenged by a personal desire for the truth.
Milan Kundera – a cynical materialist whose laconic one-liners rival those of Chairman Mao – made a point that seems more relevant every time I read it: ‘the criteria of maturity is our ability to avoid being snared by symbols.’ Indeed, Hermann Broch’s ‘système de la pensée symbolique’ was well understood by the Viennese witchdoctors of the early 20th Century and was put to cynical use by the political cults of the last century.
This, then, is our test: we must seek not only the symbols of righteousness but also those who act in accordance with their purpose.
Poland is a country whose sincerity I trust – not because I believe in every aspect of their government’s policy, but because their radical stance against the virtues of modernity is a true reflection of its citizens’ beliefs.
The Country which produced Pope John Paul the Great has taken the lead in sending military aid to Ukraine, providing the Ukrainian Army with more than 260 tanks. The country, in which installing communism Stalin described to be as easy as ‘trying to saddle a cow’, had the patriotic nerve to avoid sourcing cheap Russian gas while Germany spent decades pursuing its figleaf ‘Wandel Durch Handel’ dependence on the Kremlin. Little surprise, perhaps, that sophisticated urban liberals in Paris and London crown Warsaw with their thorny wrath and slander.
The Poles have also put great effort into making their society resilient to Russian propaganda, especially the type which focuses on rising energy prices. Under the watchful eye of the Minister of State Assets, Jacek Sasin, Polish state-controlled energy companies launched an information campaign through the Polish Electricity Association (PKEE). The Polish public was made aware of the fact that Putin is manipulating gas bills as a weapon for hybrid warfare.
But, ultimately, there’s nothing symbolic about gas bills, for which Austria, Germany and Italy lack any viable short-term alternatives to Russia.
I traveled through Poland two weeks ago on my journey to Kyiv, where I met with journalists, activists, and Ukrainian defenders who emphasized the importance of continued European aid to be able to hold back the Russian threat.
Czech voters have also shown resilience to Russian psyops as shown by the victory of General Pavel in the first round of the Czech presidential election last week. It will be paramount for Czechia’s, and Ukraine’s security, that their determination remains steadfast in the second round of the election as well. As I believe in their values, I am convinced it will be the outcome.
Now we can see that those who had their ship in order before the storm blew in are those who live closest to the traditions which define us all, let’s take comfort from the lesson. Europe can tackle its problems as a union because it can tackle them first as nations. And where the nation is strong, it is because its faith in all our values is strong.
Tomáš Zdechovský is a Czech Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party Group and the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) and a member of the Presidency of KDU-ČSL (Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party). The party is one of the parties making up the current coalition government in Czechia.