A New Future

The “Versailles” peace treaty is about a century old. The less aware one is of the behind-the scene of politics, historical backgrounds -they tell “how we got to where we are”-, the more likely that a seemingly “old and cold case” will be ignored.

To the relatively informed, “Versailles” refers to treaties that the victorious Entente imposed upon Germany. The French wanted an arrangement that would make a second-rate power out of Germany. Instead of that, they provoked vengeance, and so, President Wilson’s “war to end all wars” led to a new global conflict. If that would be all, one could close the case observing that, wisely, after the last world war old mistakes were not repeated. Peace and growth in Europe’s west were the benefits of not continuing the war with other means.

Here a realistic view of Europe needs to be raised. There are about three Europes. One being its western fringe that the reader means when he discusses the continent. Two more zones need to be added to widen consciousness. There is a central zone, that stretches from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Lastly, there is Russia. Ignoring these two regions distorts the picture and skews calculations.

Almost regardless of what it does to itself, Russia is, since about 1700, a force without which no stable European order is possible. Most imaginable conflicts, or collaboration between Russia and the western hegemon will be, and has been, carried out in central and eastern Europe. Currently, due to its recent victim status, that in between area might register in western minds as a perennial problem region. To correct that picture is the purpose of this writing.

A good history book with a global orientation will reveal that present-day weakness, lagging development, and relative poverty, hardly describes the total record of Poland, Bohemia, or Hungary. These and other countries had not only been parts of a “European system” but were also decisive components of it. Their decline came about not due to bad genes but on account of the rise of large predatory entities on their borders -the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Prussia, and Russia. Combatting these sapped the energies of the region. Often, one may argue, this resistance (1456, 1526, 1683) has helped to save the West by delaying threats and by encumbering their occupiers such as the Sultans, Stalin and Hitler.

At the same time, the prevailing ignorance of the contribution of east-central and eastern Europe to mankind’s progress does not erase numerous discoveries and political innovations, such as the first decree of tolerance and religious freedom (1568). No, that region might suffer from an interrupted development but not from lacking talent or individual achievement.

To those that are the product of a (western) Euro-centric perception, it might come as a surprise that there are signs that Europe’s old center is “coming back”.

After decades lost following the implosion of the USSR spent to reconnect to the modern world, several of the expanse’s nations are doing well and are finding a voice. As developments within the European Union confirm, these entities receive attention and exert a growing influence.

The most important of the instruments through which Europe’s east and center asserts itself is the V4, (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary). Intensified cooperation with Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, and the Baltic states can be expected. Shared calamities but especially the similarity of the way the world is viewed, speak for such a strengthening of ties.

Before indicating the tensions with the states of the west, the factors that hinder cooperation are to be mentioned. Escaping the current tutelage of the EU’s founders depends largely of the ability of the late comers to work in unison. Potentially, the forces of division are as significant as the motive for standing united. Attribute this to the Versailles Treaty. The imposed peace wished to stabilize the vacuum left by the dissolution of the old empires -especially of Austria-Hungary. To replace the old order’s multinational states, several supposedly national entities were created. This attempted to ignore ethnicity by creating nominally homogeneous national states.

Ignorance, bad experts, the temptations of might, made the peace-makers overlook an unalterable fact without being able to avoid the error’s consequences. Central and eastern Europe is a zone in which no state border can be drawn to separate ethnic groups. National borders must split peoples and formal citizenship and ethnic identity cannot fully correlate. This resulted in multi-ethnic states with large minorities that saw their natural homeland on the other side of the border. To lend substance to the pretense of being homogenous, minorities were pressured to assimilate. This domestic misdeed transcended borders because the resulting irredentism led to poisoned interstate relations. It also made the region’s countries succumb to great powers to protect what one had in the hope for more land in exchange for good behavior. Hitler and Stalin benefited in the past. In a weakened form, the problem still exists, and so, its residues continue to divide what belongs together.

While old quarrels reduce the ability to cooperate against the concentration of EU-power, a number of considerations emerge that activate common resistance. Its upshot amounts to much of the EU’s present crisis.

Centralism and creeping bureaucratic encroachment are, as a result of exposure to Soviet domination, threats to which many countries are sensitive. Given the lessons of the recent past, danger is felt more intensively than in Europe’s west. A yoke is detected well before it snaps into place. So, the dislike of neighbors is surpassed by the fear of new domination. In widening sections of the public it is clear that turning problems over to officialdom does not work, and if it does, it works only for the wrong people.

Preserving liberty, -for long lost and only newly regained-, rather than the level of development, is the determinant of the conflicting views in the east and the west.

Perceptions are reflected through the policies that communities implement. Even if it contradicts the convention that the west surpasses the east, a plea needs to be articulated. The sensitivity of central and eastern Europe for certain dangers, and the west’s inclination to assume that its liberalism will soften threats that are unlikely to materialize, mutate into advantages or disadvantages.

Europe’s east, such as the V4, is more likely to resist effectively armed foes, or the penetration of hostile masses, than the easy-going liberal west. It might not score on the gage of multiculturalism and rate low on the scale of unqualified tolerance, nevertheless, dogged resistance matches hazards better than does giving in. At any rate, defiance does not amount to self-decapitation.

Detecting nascent danger and to confront its source early is, regardless of its other virtues, not a trait of western Europeans. Another potential advantage of Europe’s disdained periphery is that it is evolving immunized to socialist-collectivist solutions. Here too, the west’s inclination to ignore that certain theories have never worked in practice, and that all ideas should be entertained, creates potential pitfalls. A Corbyn, a Cortez, or a Sanders might sell as well as do drugs. They are equally destructive.

It can happen that a civilization becomes unable to respond to its challenges; it might not sense threats, be likely to be surprised by the predictable, it can doubt its moral right to exists, and become unable to mobilize its protective means, or it can be incapable to adjust its system to change. Whatever the case, disturbingly, several of the traits that denote destructive decadent paralysis apply to western Europe.

Regardless of having missed decades of development due to their past incarceration in the Soviet Bloc, some countries of central Europe are poised to enter, as an insurgent force, the future with good cards. The V4 economies are growing and shift from competing with low wages. The emphasis is moving to low taxes and good governance. Mainly, however, they do not seek to escape from challenges into illusion’s comfort zone. Confidently they subscribe to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and they take pride in their national heritage. Complete these assets by the pursuit of growth and the affirmation of capitalism as the motor of progress.

Projected, the emerging differences carry a message. Not only are traditional political parties expiring, a new European constellation is evolving in response to a changing world. The shift means that, in time, the west’s pre-eminence will be stunted by a relative decline. Concurrently, several entities of the derided east rise and modernize. Due to that swing, the EU’s politics and its global positioning will be altered through the advent of a new Europe. Indeed, the past to which we have become accustomed, will not extend into the future.

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