Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
It has now been almost 3 years that I live in Slovakia, and as a matter of fact, this country is rushing head-first into neoliberalism*, following blindly the Western economic model.
Right now I can see that people are more and less fine with the economic system. I think it is generally accepted that getting away from communism to embrace the neoliberal model was a good deal. I also think it actually was. But unfortunately it is already time to change.
I want to warn Slovak people before you go too far in this logic: economic growth** is unsustainable and following it will cause more harm that you can imagine. The apparent increase of well-being and betterment of material conditions due to a favorable economic growth is an utter illusion.
Right now you don’t see it because there is still quite a strong economic growth.
However, this economic growth is like a comfortable mattress made of ice: it’s nice and pleasurable but sooner or later the ice melts and you hit the hard ground. Just like economic growth will slowly melt because it is unsustainable. And by the time you wake up on the hard ground, you will have destroyed much of you social, cultural, and natural capital, making it even harder
Let me explain.
Today, like every week, I went to the farmers’ market to buy my seasonal locally ecologically produced food. The farmers I talk to are all older than 50. Most of them probably more than 60, sometimes 70. In few years they will be dead and the family farm or small farm they take care of will perish since no one wants to take responsibility of the farm anymore.
The only younger farmers, those under 50, had to become industrial farmers to make a living, to adapt to the economic model. I see their abundance of fruits and vegetables regardless of the season, all alike, with no flaw, shiny, like in a supermarket. That is an illusion too.
To simplify, the small farmers shape balanced landscapes, full of biodiversity, stock CO2 in their soils, and don’t pollute the environment. On the other hand, industrial farmers cut trees down to increase their fields and to ease the use of larger machinery, use biocides and fertilizers that reduce biodiversity and pollutes the environment, and their farming practices reject more CO2 in the atmosphere than they stock.
Two (schematic) farming methods that lead to the same result: food in the markets, and supermarkets (for industrial farmers). But economic growth doesn’t care if the food tastes and looks different, if the environment is damaged, if the biocultural landscape of a country is wrecked, if farmers are poorly paid. At the end of the day for the system what matters is that food is produced, and hopefully consumed.
Don’t let your small-scale farmers die.
Supporting teachers and nurses is great. Supporting family farmers is greater still
Most of you, unlike French people, have parents or grand-parents with food gardens or small farms. Don’t let this die out because in few years they will become the most precious resource.
In France, the trend goes that more and more people want to grow food again, but nobody knows how it works anymore, we have lost connection with the soil. Sometimes literately: there is only concrete, and nowhere to plant anything. And worse: we literally loose soil, the origin of our life, due to industrial farming practices. Unfortunately concrete is more profitable than trees. The economic system based on economic growth doesn’t have much room for ecologically sound practices in farming. It is true in France, it is also true in Slovakia. But you have not lost this connection with earth. Not yet. Don’t let this knowledge and practices go extinct the way we did in France, because you, or your children and grandchildren, will have to get back to it anyway, inexorably.
Don’t let go of your traditions, don’t cut yourself from who you’ve been and who you are, don’t uproot yourself.
I am not saying the past is better than today. I’m only 25, and I am not nostalgic at all about the “good old days”. My point is, if we want a sustainable progress, it is better to keep the things that are still existing now and that we know are more sustainable.
Think about it this way. Going on with the example of agriculture, in the West we have explored the way of industrialization of agriculture and its heavy reliance in toxic chemicals. We are realizing now that it is a dead-end and we are trying to find other ways. You, Slovakia, don’t need to follow the very same way, you see it, it is a failure. Spare yourself 50 years of wrong “modernization”, spare yourself this trauma. Progress no longer means economic growth. Be smart, innovative: skip this step, it is not necessary to take it. Just go one step further. Get inspired if you want from our own innovative solutions (urban agriculture, community supported agriculture, permaculture, agroecology, sharing economy…) that we are forced to imagine because of our shitty situation, but please don’t repeat the same mistake.
Why did I choose to live in Slovakia?
As a French living in Slovakia, every single Slovak asks me why the hell I live in their country, supposedly so bad compared to France. I usually answer with a list of stuff that I like, but deep down there is one simple, radical answer.
I live in Slovakia because I find more roots here than in France. I see more of the past France in the Slovak roots than there is in France itself! I have found more fertile ground here than in France to personally grow. Humans, like plants, need roots to grow. By roots I mean communities, traditions, historical culture, popular customs. Basically, roots means knowing and embodying where you come from.
In France, and especially in Provence where I’m from, it’s mostly gone. In many places, highways, roads, and cars have taken over the landscape. Customs are mostly lost, traditions long forgotten. The only bits of identity that survived are those which could be merchandised, most of them sold to the rest of world to show what France is. But no, it’s actually showing what France was. I think that France is now none but the shadow of itself, trying to get reborn from its ashes. But I’m still hopeful for France: the civil society is waking up and is bringing thousands of alternatives, new ways of living, more social, more ecological.
If you want to follow a model, follow this one, the one of the silent forest that is growing, not the one of the gigantic tree that is falling down.
And in Slovakia? Well, this country is definitely going into the wrong direction yet I believe it is not too late. This country is still much more resilient than France to face economical, financial, or environmental crisis. And that is another reason why I’m choosing this country. In the long term, I think it is a safer place to be.
In France, many things need to be rebuilt. In Slovakia, things are not entirely destroyed.
Water is and is most likely to remain clean and abundant, lands are still mostly fertile, forests are covering about 40% of the territory, the local food is tasty and diverse, culture is rich and (still) alive, and most people haven’t lost touch with earth. These are your assets. They are all going to be increasingly valued in the future, yet they are all threatened by the economic model which Slovakia is following.
In a neoliberal economy based on economic growth, there is no room for things that cannot be sold.
No, it is not Arabs and Muslims that threaten “Your Slovakia”. Slovakia needs protection against the powers of money that would see you forests sold and cut for investment companies, your environment polluted, adverts in every corner of the cities, art, culture, education, or health funds cut for political reasons. The greedy powers that would see shopping malls, savage urbanization, and parking lots eating public space, parks, and fertile lands. And finally the tragedy of the Slovak youth that concerns many of my good friends: they are forced to leave the country or to have a boring job that they don’t like in international corporations such as IBM or Amazon.
That’s why I warn you, don’t follow the West. We have shown what way NOT to take. If you really need to follow someone and copy a model, then get inspired from what we, the French civil society, try to tend to, not from what we try to end.
Leave neoliberalism, and the irrational faith in economic growth.
* I define neoliberalism as an economic model characterized by the predominance of privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, and free trade. It also promotes the reduction of the influence of the public institutions in order to develop the role of the private sector in the economy.
** Economic growth in this context is what neoliberalism is based on. It implies the notions of productivism and consumerism, two sides of a same coin, and both necessary to fuel economic growth.