The Action Slav's gamble
Thinking that the game has fundamentally changed, some Eastern European countries are shorting Tesla with their life savings. That's the best read, the alternative is that they're beyond rationality.
90s Vienna: bohemian, libertine, civilised yet it has a streak of Balkan messiness that made it such a memorable backdrop to Before Sunrise (1995), a movie that implanted most Westerners’ impression of the place. Did you get the feeling that, as this story took place (and the movie itself was shot), the genocidal civil war right next door, in Yugoslavia was still going on? No you didn’t, and neither did us, Hungarians: the war next door is not how we remember the decade.
Keep this mid-90s Austria in mind.
Action Slavs: certain East European nations whose hawkish stance in the Russio-Ukranian War would make John McCain blush.
A year ago I made some money on Gamestop. It was a wild ride, and I’m lucky that I left the table with a profit. I’ve already payed my taxes on it, so it’s well behind me, save for some later investment that’s still stuck in the red, but the company is backed by the German state and pays a dividend so I’m at peace with it for now (order some military vehicles please, gov). The wild part, for me, has been over for a year, no day trading ever since, thank you.
Looking back, my general experience of that volatile time in the meme stock space of early 2021 is the following:
Small investors riding the hype train would always try to buy into shares a day before the hype became mainstream on social media, expecting to make a quick profit on future bag holders. Unless you had a direct line to the taste makers, you were certainly too late to buy into the craze du jour. (You FOMOd)
Small investors believed that it’s their combined mass that moves the stock price (it wasn’t), so they can make anything real as long as they all went in together. In reality, Whales moved the meme stocks, as they always do. The small fish finally getting their turn was just a cushy illusion.
Whatever you do, only risk play money, not your life savings, not borrowed money. Don’t quit your day job, don’t even dream about it.
Never short Tesla: with TSLA breaking new records, and the market - from within the meme stock bubble - seeming extremely volatile (it wasn’t), betting on the imminent collapse of their stock price was in fashion. (It didn’t.)
The people who ignored these points provided an endless, daily entertainment posting their Ls on social media. Having some play money invested in the game, I closely followed these stories, and in a few of those glorious weeks I got a lifetime dose of cautionary tales about blind greed in general, and more specifically the irrationality and myopic short temperedness of a fired up gambler.
The Hungarian perspective
They say that we are Putin's interlocutors, when the question everyone should be asking is whether or not Russia will be in our neighbourhood for the next 100 years - I think it will be.
We understand: Hungary has a difficult relationship with Romania over historic clay ownership. Having a continent-sized nuclear Romania waging a war next door would make us jumpy also.
But we don’t have. This provides us clarity.
It would be hilarious if we woke up one day and the whole Western world hated Romania. We would love it, our society would get high on this as if we won the World Cup, or more. But the people in government are supposed to be in charge to keep this at bay, to stay practical, at least backstage. Diplomacy is not the sport of the masses, but it’s essential for their benefit that the elites keep it functioning at the — seemingly — worst of times. One day the West might find something else to occupy itself, as they always do, leaving us here to deal with the aftermath, with an angry Romania. What then?
When you expect the individual, little people to think ahead for a few decades when they sign a contract with a bank, how can you be fine with a ruling elite that seems to be living for the moment? China’s elite plans for centuries, meanwhile they EU’s elite, since the war started acts as if they don’t even consider how we will make it to this September. October is on a different planet.
All this war does is damage: like a catastrophic flood, there’s no upside, just lesser destruction depending on damage control. The Hungarian stance is damage control.
Some nations don’t seem to act like us. They seem to go all in on some sort of gamble, where antagonizing Russia will somehow pay off. Did some more powerful entity promised them that? If it did, Hungarians weren’t invited to that cigar smoke filled room, or we were, but we walked out knowing it better not to take such promises seriously.
Are we past rationality?
Said the man at the empty petrol station, kicking the wheels of his car as it refuses to run on pure emotional energy.
An early conclusion of the war was the failure of the German appeasement strategy: viewing Putin as a rational player and building economic ties with Russia to keep the bear at bay. That obviously failed, because Putin is insane (and has only one testicle, poops on the chest of his niece, has Napoleon complex and the rest of the post-mortem Hitler defamation best of).
Did it though? Let’s look at it from Moscow’s point of view: since 2008, when - according to leaked cables from then US ambassador to Moscow, now CIA director William J. Burns- NATO crossed a red line offering membership to Ukraine and Georgia. Russia’s stance, regarding Ukraine, had remained the same for the next 14 years.
Germany and the rest of the EU took a back seat when it came to Maidan and the establishment of the post-Maidan Ukraine: it was clearly an American project - “fuck the EU”-, so they avoided it as much as possible. They did take a seat, it’s in their backyard after all, but Merkel and Macron were as effective and eager to act on the ground as blue helmets guarding the embassy district in some shithole during a civil war.
As far as Moscow was concerned, this was a conflict with an American puppet regime, so whatever their paratroopers are doing in the outskirts of Kiev should not affect the Netherland’s investment in Nord Stream 2. To an extent, they were mistaken, the EU eventually bought into this conflict at the last moment. Not as wholesale as the Action Slavs though, that undersea pipeline is still there as of late June, ready to ship Russian gas should the war wind down and trickle off the front pages of West European newspapers.
Despite all appearances, perceptions really, rationality is not out of the window, and once you compartmentalize this mess to gain clarity from the Kremlin’s point of view, treating Ukraine as one project and the rest of Europe as an entirely separate one, the defenestration of pragmatism has culprits on both sides.
The Austrians, my go to standard for people who can quietly sleaze past a crisis and even make a profit on the side don’t seem to be agitated: keep your eyes on them, and less on the circle jerking Twitter accounts from the Butthurt Belt.
What if charges of Russian insanity is just an excuse for our own though? There is bad crazy and there is good crazy: boundless irrationality, according to many in the West, has its qualities:
Being hawkish is the Right™ thing to do
Damned be the heartless realpolitik of peacetime! How dare you suggest practical concerns in these circumstances? Going berserk, overcame with righteous anger is fine, it’s selfless, really, and doing so is obviously the right thing, expecting the total annihilation of Russia, the concept, the people, down to the last fucking book printed in that language is the most morally bullet proof plan since the Children’s Crusade!
Many Action Slav leaders like, share and subscribeto this message, indignant at the slightest sign of hesitation to follow their example and as proud as Mussolini listening to the cheering crowd that was just promised 8 million bayonets.
Moral totalitarianism that doesn’t tolerate any dissent is the new norm in Action Slavia. Submit to the axiomatic good or shut the fuck up.
There are two major problems with this: first, injustice didn’t start with Ukraine. Where was all this blind fervour during the Iraqi War? The aftermath of the Iraqi War, when it wasn’t risky to condemn it from a safe distance? Palestine? Anyone? Well, those aren’t next door to Slavia. Sure, but that should make it even easier to grand stand about it, BDS has stronger support in Brooklyn than Beirut.
Second, all these politicians in power are politicians who managed to get into power: the honest and kind hearted don’t make it to the top of this filthy field, Darwinian pressures get rid of them long before they get anywhere close to an office.
I find the moral crusader card too incredible for a successful politician, as I always do, so I discard it from the deck. They must have a goal in mind, a way to gain an advantage, if not for the benefit of their electorate, at least for their own future career within the Empire.
Escaping the Butthurt Belt
Nothing good comes from embracing the butthurt that underlies all of East Europe, in thick, multiple, centuries old layers: it’s a lose-lose when it’s just us bickering among ourselves, and it’s definitely catastrophic when great powers to our East and West are looking for a battlefield to clash on and convince us to eagerly join in, promising us to gain something at the expense of one and other: when this happens, we all lose, we always lose. History teaches us so.
The past decade gave us some hope that we’re leaving this behind, that we’re learning the Austrian way of Central European prosperity, which is a predominantly selfish, insular and rational one, where business is first: the great hack that can supersede the poisonous relations we had established by longing for past territories and losing sleep over each others minorities residing within our borders. Brothers in making Euros, embracing an inner Švejk, keeping our respective Banderas locked in the closet.
A vertical greatness, not a horizontal one. A goal Hungarians are still aspiring for, a goal Poles chose to abandon since late February.
But wait a second, to a country like Poland, this is shift is not optional, it’s existential: first of all, look at their history… well I don’t care, sorry, I’m sure it’s pure Solzhenitsynian horror and hope crushing injustice over and over, yeah, we get it, we all do, that’s called being in East Europe. “But but but the Russians are about to march on the Atlantic!” And do it somehow while they’re simultaneously collapsing under shitty demographics, corruption, and millions of their young rotting from krokodil and AIDS. Sure.
During the first 3 days of the war, such illusions might have had credit, the Russian invasion was astonishing at first. A hundred days passed since, and Vlad struggles to subdue a country that rivalled Africa in dysfunction during peacetime, and unlike Poland, has part of its population welcoming the invaders, at least at the Eastern part where the Russkies are still bogged down.
So, why should we be any more agitated than the average Viennese? Why should we cut our dicks off to somehow own Putler? The Poles will point to the Soviet occupation (again, we all had it), or to World War 2, as if it’s still relevant. If so, the last country to carpet bomb Hungary was Britain. We didn’t start buying air defenses when Brexit passed, did we? Even though their elite and press, save for a few people who can fit inside a cafe in Budapestis remarkably hostile to us.
This divergence in our attitudes must be due to a difference in our national character, because our past grievances, including the ones involving the Russians are similar. When it comes to shaping the modern Hungarian character in the way that it acts during this crisis, I blame our proximity to Austria: Hungary’s 30+ year old dream of enjoying a prosperity like theirs is ever strong: we managed to hack our way out of the butthurt-loop by embracing this material goal, even if pursuing it under the scrutiny of judgemental, moralizing eyes makes us look bad from time to time.
Even during this very conflict Budapest and Vienna is pretty much doing - or not doing - the same — the Austrians are just better at avoiding the gaze of the continent when they build a hotel on a natural preserve or pollute a river. They always smell like roses no matter how Balkan they behave. We still have a lot to learn from them about PR and general sleaziness. No hard feelings, notes taken.
Meanhwile the Poles had Germany on their Western border as an example, and it seems that becoming Germany 2.0 never became a national minimum over there. Warsaw acts as if they have a Stargate that’s open 24/7 to America, one that allows them to ignore the geopolitical realities that the rest of us have to deal with, one that’s wide enough for trains, trucks and pipelines to go through, one pipe pumping fresh air that blows the stink of Eastern Europe away and also makes you high on bravery.
They don’t have such portal to bypass reality. Their previous, illusionary Stargate connecting Warsaw to London and Paris was put to the test in 1939 with the well known outcome. If Poles are so keen on remembering history, they shouldn’t be selective about it.
In the most comprehensive World War II grand strategy game series, Hearts of Iron, one possible outcome of Operation Barbarossa - should the German player control the key cities of the Soviet Union, located on the European part of the USSR - is an event called Bitter Peace: if this happens, the war on the Eastern Front will come to conclusion, at least for a while.
Russia, a country that spans a continent is still there: why would it become the Reich overnight, all the way to Vladivostok, if no German ever set foot anywhere East of the Urals?
As far as alternate history goes, it’s an elegant way to deal with the outcome of a successful German offensive that captures Moscow and Leningrad. Trying to stretch any further would be a waste of manpower, even if no one fires a shot at the invaders, even if no partisans would be sabotaging the supply lines, the punishing attrition and the warm bodies needed to pull such endeavour off is too incredible even for counterfactual fiction.
No matter how rotten you make the structure of Russia, there’s no single kick that can make it collapse for good and make it quietly disappear, it’s not a viable option even for a clairvoyant Super-Hitler who has the ability to load save games.
Poland calls for end of phone calls with Putin - "Did anyone talk to Hitler like that?"
The fact that Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron keep calling Russia's head of state Vladimir Putin annoys Poland's President Duda. After all, the Allies did not constantly telephone Adolf Hitler during the Second World War either.
The conquest of Poland is a demographic impossibility. The Russians don’t have the manpower to conquer and subdue Ukraine, a place people flee and has fled by the millions during peacetime. For Poland to expand its territory is also a demographic impossibility due to the same, half century long reproductive disfunction that Russia and the former Eastern Block are all suffering from. Neither side has magic military technology to remedy this. Most of East Europe has been fighting its own internal war with demographics long before this actual war, and will be doing it for the rest of the century.
To be fair to Polish diplomatic decisions, their government doesn’t have the same degree of freedom as the Hungarian in its foreign policy: the unrelenting animosity from Brussels already has Warsaw on edge, by being the Most Loyal Slavic Barrack of the American Empire, at least Washington keeps the State Department on a leash for the time being. Having the US go Radio Rwanda on Poland the same way they usually do to us would be one trouble too many for them.
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Yet, if one looks closely, they seem to have their own beat when it comes to war drums in this conflict, there’s no need to look for Biden officials behind Poland’s leadership, prodding them forward; on the contrary, in the past 100 days there were times when Washington had to do some catch up with their most loyal Action Slavs, who seemed to be a bit too eager to fight the bear with their pants down. No one wants a repeat of Georgia 2008.
Inflammatory Polish foreign policy is nothing new: Józef Beck had a wild run during the decade leading up to World War 2, which is considered somewhat tasteless to recall — they were victims after all, hard victims of Germany and the USSR, soft victims of the West, blaming them for a seemingly unavoidable national disaster is not nice. However, by the same logic, blaming Hungary for its role during WWII is also unfair, it’s not like we had a real choice, did we? If we’re assumed to had some agency back then, so did Warsaw, so I believe it’s fair to present this relevant quote - by a modern British historian - that Wikipedia - for now - has on Beck’s page:
Poland was almost certainly the most disliked and her Foreign Minister the most distrusted. Poland's pursuit of an independent line left her bereft of any close friends by the end of 1938.... The Western powers saw Poland as a greedy revisionist power, illiberal, anti-Semitic, pro-German; Beck was a 'menace', arrogant and treacherous.
If you do a deep dive, or any dive, even just a shallow one on Józef Beck, the guy who was in charge of Polish foreign policy for the whole decade of 1930, up until the disaster that Poland is still, 80 years later, in the process of recovering from, Beck, who had the backing of the country’s elite the whole time, paints a very different picture of his homeland than the one mainstream history suggests: not a neutral underdog that just wants to be left alone, the continent’s collective rape victim, but a manic, opportunistic middle power that is eager to play with the big boys.
Harsh, loud, irresponsible, way out of its league. May God have mercy on the average Pole with such an elite in charge.
With that history in mind, what threats or opportunities are responsible for making the current Polish foreign policy so polarized and undiplomatic? To Poland this war is not existential: most of the damage Russia can inflict on them they’re doing to themselves already: abandoning cheap Eastern energy. If they want to point to a knife at their throat as an excuse for abandoning civility, it’s not held by Russia.
So what’s their gamble? Even if I overlook the roughness of Polish diplomacy as an unfortunate national character, the most rational reason I can come up with is a hastly FOMOing into shorting MSCW to make some quick bucks. Risking infinite loss for a limited gain.
I understand that. I saw this before, a year ago, saw many such cases, to paraphrase Trump, and I’m glad that Hungary is more cautious, that we keep our cool while the daytrade craze consumes many of our Eastern brethren (so do the Austrians).
Someone will have to hold the bag, someone always does.
The Wisdom of Carpathian Coexistence
The Poles’ situation is their own choosing: it’s a hobby they chose to pursue, should they want so, or they could just sit this one out, say that this is none of our business and Moscow would agree. This is not true to all Action Slavs: the Baltic states are in a way more precarious situation due to their Russian minorities. This makes their participation less optional and their gamble way more spicy, as far as the end game is considered.
Old school multiculturalism, having borders irrespective of the ethnicities living within them is messy. It sucks and we now it here in Carpathia, trust us, but you have to make peace with it: that’s the key to a fruitful coexistence. We’ve learned this lesson the hard way, no matter how tempting the exceptions to this rule are, ethnically pure nation statehood is not a given. Follow our lead and prosper! - cries Vienna and Budapest of late.
So what does Lithuania do? To begin with, they interpret EU sanctionsas somehow being relevant goods transiting from Russia to Kaliningrad (Russia), escalating the troubles to a breaking point:
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his country was simply implementing sanctions imposed by the EU, of which it is a member. He said the measures implemented Saturday were taken after "consultation with the European Commission and under its guidelines."
"Sanctioned goods (will) no longer be allowed to transit Lithuanian territory," Landsbergis added.
Goods on the list include steel but are set to be broadly expanded to cover items from coal to alcoholic drinks
That’s a pretty ballsy move. Just a reminder: during the Cold War, post-airlift West Berlin had both rail and autobahn connection to West Germany.
The post-war agreements on the governance of Berlin specified that the Western Allies were to have access to the city via defined air, road, rail and river links. This was mostly respected by the Soviets and East Germans, albeit with periodic interruptions and harassment of travellers. Even during the Berlin Blockade of 1948, supplies could be brought in by air – the famous Berlin Airlift – and Allied military convoys could pass through East Germany en route to Berlin.
And hey, why stop at the Cold War? Arguments over a great power’s land access to Königsberg as a cause for war is also nothing new, right? Do I need a link to that Wikipedia page, or we’re all familiar with the story? If so, are the Poles celebrating Lithuania’s gamble? I don’t even dare to look, they probably do, blue-yellow emojis and everything. What can go wrong? Have the Action Slavs learned nothing? Have they lost their mind?
Vienna shakes its head in disbelief. So does Budapest.
So the stakes in this gamble are undoubtedly upped, they only ever seem to go up. What’s the endgame that Lithuania, geographically cursed to remain where it is right now - a miracle in plate tectonics aside - anticipates? A total ethnic cleansing of their Russians? That would deliver peace, it worked for the Croats in 1995 when they sent their Serbs away at gentle gunpoint. They were the exception: Zagreb could pull this off due to special circumstances, the World looked the other way, no sympathy for Serbs at the time, they were incredibly lucky in their ethnic cleansing game. A homogenous Croatia, no more sleepless nights, the old dream of every Slavia.
The home country of the minority Russians in question is a nuclear superpower though. Do the Baltics seriously believe that the end of this mess will give them a get-minorities-out-of-our-land free card?
The Baltics don’t have our wisdom, the hard earned, 20th century wisdom of all nations in East Europe, that the luxury of having a perfect, 1:1 mapping of your people and the clay below their feet is rare, and achieving it costs the same as a genocide. As it should, it is a genocide.
It’s a dream that lit one world war up and made its sequel welcome in East Europe. The Baltics had a different experience during this time, an unpleasant one, for sure, just not this kind. They seem to be betting on an outcome that wiser and cooler heads in the Greater Balkans have long given up on pursuing.
NATO is a well-tested suicide pact
But it’s not the only wisdom the Baltics lack: Lithuania’s government seems to be dumber - naive, less sophisticated - than Erdogan’s when it provokes Russia ass naked. The Berlusconi of the East was smarter about his foreign policy when Turkey decided to tickle the tail of Russia, having no illusions about NATO coming to help them should things go south. Meanwhile Lithuania explicitly states that they expect NATO to help them if Russia retaliates. Will they do? An embargo is an act of war, at sea definitely, on land open to interpretation, and Lithuania made the first move. The insurance of this defense pact does not cover such case. Have you ever seen the West lawyering its way out of taking responsibility for any damage their meddling in East Europe cost the locals? I’ve seen nothing but that!
Do they believe the West will put their own dick into the collective nettle bush if things heat up between Lithuania and Russia? Even the Action Slavs would laugh at the idea of joining a conflict as NATO members that Turkey stirred up: those Turks are only tolerated in our great alliance because the Bosporus is strategically important, everyone knows that, right? But us, East Europeans, we matter. If you believe so, ask a Westerner to list the three little Baltic states in the right order from north to south. Or any order. Or just to know how many of them are.
Was there nobody in the Lithuanian government to bring this up? We saw how the US government had influential members calling for a no-fly zone in Syria in 2016, and it took days and a dozen brave dissident voices to make all these dumb fucks realize that it would be a de facto declaration of war on Russia. Lithuania is a small country with a Colonial Maverick problem, their elites do not seem to be restricted in their actions by practical concerns. They seem to have no breaks on the one-upmanship train.
It’s like watching a bunch of drunk idiots on a viral video starting to play with a bucket of petrol around a camp fire: they seem to have no fear, for now, but you don’t need to play the whole clip to know how it ends, it has a hundred million views already.
But they’re not the crazy ones, no, Western consumer, and to prove it, here’s a listicle: “Five symptoms that indicate that Putin has brain worms”. The mad man, I knew it! How lucky we are that our elites are perfectly rational and look out for our collective interests and self-preservation with cold steel pragmatism! It’s not like they act like a bunch of clowns who stomp around crushing the very meds they forgot to take.
I’m willing to bet you can make a career in Chinese intelligence as a Westerner who tries to make sense of the crazy shit that’s going on over here. Spinning Trump’s blunders as 4D chess was way easier than rationalizing the West’s actions since 2013.
Lithuanians, as things stand, are screwed. Without knowing much about the place I’m pretty sure that being some server admin who could live in a clean and modern capitol, leaving a dying, post-Soviet swamp land behind is a deal good enough that most would like to keep. The Baltic Vienna option. Instead, their elites have a different goal in mind, whatever it is, it will come at a cost, and they’ll have to pay for it upfront. This is the worst time to delegate the responsibility of governance to a bunch of servile, imperial janissars. They will fly the fuck out should things turn bad and suffer no consequences, unlike the Lithuanian people who has to remain to foot the bill.
The Baltics always had, and might still have the option to go Austrian: tiny, prosperous nations that everyone overlooks, that only get mentions on corporate presentations about “digitalization”, hoarding money and staying out of trouble, avoiding a repeat of the 20th century at all cost. A bit of Carpathian wisdom about their minorities and a streak of Viennese cunning would serve them a lot better. Their actions, from a Hungarian perspective, make little sense.
Action Slav followup: instant karma
The Bulgarian government collapsed on Wednesday after a crazy, 6 month run. The prime minister, Kiril Petkov is out. His decisions regarding Russia will continue to haunt Bulgaria for the foreseeable future, possibly the rest of the decade. Was it worth the likes?
What was the gamble? The winning strategy? Bulgaria?
The question everyone should be asking is whether or not Russia will be in our neighbourhood for the next 100 years.
Overy, Richard J. (1999). The road to war. with Andrew Wheatcroft