Impositions and Hard-Boiled Eggs

Let us begin with stating a few matters whose significance is not doubted. Everybody pays attention to China’s burst into global politics, such as in the Pacific and regarding Taiwan. Few can miss Moscow’s aggressive reassertion dominance. The observer might be cognizant that the condition of the transatlantic alliance, -US-European relations-, is suboptimal. Awareness fades when it comes to the internal affairs of the European Union and the significance of its tensions.

If it would be a healthy outfit, the EU would play a stabilizing role commensurate to its significant economic power. In that case, Europe would not be a zone of a partial vacuum in world affairs and it would not need to rely on the American protection it resents. Beyond that, the old continent would be enabled to prevent with political means, a development that truly threatens her existence. Being feeble through a lack of concern means that the missing muscle encourages the extension of Russian, Chinese, and Islamist tentacles into the West’s soft body. Weakness, especially if it expresses a lack of resolve, is not a building block of security. Some might see it as a guarantee of security because, supposedly, the feeble do not threaten anyone. Nevertheless, in reality it provokes to pick the low-hanging ripe fruit before the next hungry predator enters the picture.

Among the ticking bombs that imperil the EU from within, there is one that is overlooked due to a mixture of politeness and PC, while hoping that in time “it will go away”. Alas, since the problem is about a century old, “time” is only a band-aid on a stubborn sore that demands an ointment.
While Europe’s development has been fortunate, her post-medieval recovery left behind a weakness. The states that emerged in the course of revival were entities that expressed ruling-class preferences and did not correlate with the rising consciousness of their peoples. As states solidified, their borders ignored -as in the case of colonial Africa- the emergence of new ethnic communities. Sovereignties evolved according to their own, government-determined process, while the growth of nations was governed by a parallel progression. As identities emerged reflecting consciousness, communities that wished to be nations, awoke in states that did not to reflect their essence.

Frustrated nationalism’s discontent has, as it pitted small peoples and multinational empires against each other, greatly contributed to the outbreak of World War One. That conflict created a unique chance for the victors to rearrange the continent into parts that conform to the demands of their citizens. Through that, they could become consensus-supported democracies, enabled to cooperate internationally for the sake of peace. Had this, admittedly tall order been fulfilled, then, “the war to end all wars” would have delivered President Wilson’s promise.

In the reality that is the foundation of the present, something totally different came about. Not homogenous national states without serious territorial demands on each other emerged. The “Great War” broke out because of a virus built into the prewar order and, inspired by that, it was fought for dominance. Supposedly the first casualty of war is the truth. The second spot should be awarded to the abandonment of common sense.

Among other things, the “Paris Treaties” promised to respect national self-determination. However, that principle was followed only if it benefited the victors. Already during the conflict, allies were “bought” by offering them coveted territory. This ignored the will of the indigenous and, at times, the same land was promised to several lured states. The upshot became an activated minefield embedded in the post-war order.

The Great Powers, primarily France, England, as a courtesy Italy, and a rather disappointed USA, dictated the peace. In truth, the new order had been French made. With the fall of the German Empire, the disintegration of the Russian one, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, and the erasure of the Ottoman Empire, their components laid around needing to be assembled to fit a new design. For that France had been ill-suited as her immediate goals ignored her long-term interests and, proceeding from false premises, she missed what was makeable.

France is cursed by a past that raises aspirations that, due to limited means, the country cannot sustain. The solution had been to create conditions to guarantee, by weakening the other players, Paris’ supremacy. This demanded that, contradicting “nature” Germany be permanently lessened. Additionally, successor states were created out of the defeated multinational empires. But for routed Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary, these were to be allied with France as their guarantor. The assumption that the new, often artificial, entities needed a protector was correct. Believing that France could play the role had been false.

Beyond the arrangement’s German aspects, and “winner” Italy’s dissatisfaction, the security system consisted more of straw than steel. Yes, the successor states, being dependent, were reliable allies. However, as in Germany, this order provoked destructive political developments.
Foreseen as “peasants” on France’ chess-board, the successor states were strengthened on paper against the “losers” to augment their worth as allies. Consequently, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia were given land inhabited by alien populations. These saw the new state as a cage operated to their disadvantage. The new borders claimed to reflect ethnic boundaries and, accordingly, the principle of self-determination.

Nevertheless, what were on paper national states were in practice multiethnic entities. More often than not, the alienating forced assimilation of the locals was attempted. The suppression of collective identities came about in regions where the minority, that had a state across the border, formed the majority. Therefore, a number of territorial demands were created and the resulting enmities made the region’s countries seek the protection of greater powers. This opened the door to German and then Soviet domination.

It is a plausible sounding myth that, when small and large countries ally, the weaker party will be used by the senior one. In 1914 Serbia, with a territorial claim against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, created a crisis into which it inserted its ally, Czarist Russia, and so a local conflict became a general one. Yugoslavia’s dissolution in the 1990s -a derivate of the Paris Treaties- led to a global crisis. The unfinished business of 1918 remains as an explosive device that you shake at your own risk.

The inheritance of the Paris Treaties of the 1920s cannot be undone; we are condemned to live with their results and to defuse now the consequences of a major mistake. We ask, what is to be done, what can be done? The worse response is to let matters drift in a, by tradition belittled region, in the false hope that the trouble embedded in the situation will not come our way.

Realism demands that existing borders be respected. At the same time, the states of the Balkans and East Central Europe need to abandon the illusion of being homogenous entities. Proceeding from there, there should be no attempt to use coercion to impose a new identity on indigenous minorities. Cultural autonomy, the free use of the local language in schools and official transactions needs to be guaranteed. On the whole, to make the country where one is a citizen into “home”, no one should be disadvantaged because of his ethnicity. Once borders cease to serve as collective punishment and to express personal misfortune, multi-ethnicity will stop to be a source of weakness. Seven hundred years of Switzerland with four nationalities proves the point. Once central governments see all their subjects as equals, the sense of being conquered will disappear and loyalties will emerge.

This recipe is a utopia only because, covertly, inclusion is rejected by the region’s fearful governments. The instrument exists to make progress that shrinks the tentacles that make a bad past permanent. If the European Union would not look down on its lesser members, if Brussels would know more about the zone East of Vienna, if the problems and the EU’s proclaimed principles would be taken seriously, then a healing process could be initiated. Alas, beyond some slogan-mongering, little effort is made to cajole misbehaving governments to conform to the norms of democratic governance and to clear thereby the way to genuine democracy, economic growth, and good interstate relations.

With a modicum of good will and understanding, a poisonous legacy could be defanged by the European Union: the terms of admission of members would need to be enforced. Instead, as things are, disinterest creates another area of the union’s failure. In name, the EU might be a continental organization. In fact, however, Brussels operates as a regional association of its original western founders. This geographically and culturally induced short-sightedness implies that an opportunity is lost and that an embedded crisis is handled by inattention.

Having said that, we stumble on a related imperfection practiced resolutely by the EU as a virtue by becoming an institution that likes to avoid what it could do and pursues what it should avoid. Two areas strand out. One is the red-lib-green elite’s attempt to solve the problems of migration by legalizing and then not containing it. Countries, parties, and leaders that take the “wrong” side are castigated as racists so that Brussels may try to destroy them. The attempt to crush Brexit-Britain for quitting, and the extortion of the “surrounded” but obstinately independent Swiss, are examples. The other area in which the otherwise soft pseudo-government of the EU takes a hard stand, is its attack on the sovereignty of small member states that cling to their identity. The French-German tandem and the bureaucratic center in Brussels find it easier to run a centralized system than an association of sovereign states. Thus, creating a European state in which its nations lose their role is justified by fighting “nationalism”.

Few support this agenda, and so the pursued goal creates resistance that weakens Europe and the world order. In the end the centralizers might discover that the nations they try to soften up and to shove aside are comparable to eggs. The longer you boil them, the harder they get.

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