The Europes

A glimpse at the title might make the reader suspect a typo. Not so. Indeed, there are several Europes. So, it is a conceptual mistake to equate the Europe to which you travel with the more diverse reality.

To the assumedly American reader, Europe is a landing in the UK or, to honor ancestors, in Ireland. Paris is next, followed by Italy, after which, perhaps including a stop-over in Lucerne in Switzerland, he checks in Munich or Berlin whether Hitler is really dead. That is the end of the stay that misses out on various great sites without wall-to-wall tourists, such as Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Cracow, or Rovinj.

Europe split has a record. Two hundred years ago Metternich knew that “Asia begins” at Vienna’s city limits. To her benefit, England has only geographically been in Europe. The real-estate the Tsars and then the Commissars controlled, has not been run the European way, and also represented a division between Orthodox and Western Christianity. Until the late 17th century, the Muslim Near East encompassed Europe’s south to peter out along a contested border skirting Vienna. The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution created a further division that separated the western fringes from the bulk of the continent.

Much must be skipped to get to the era of a communist and a democratically ruled Europe. That order, created in 1945, had been unsteady. During the Cold War, extra-continental means, provided by the USA, stabilized the dividing line which Churchill labeled as the “Iron Curtain”. Without much help from Europe’s West, bad mouthed by the intellectuals, but aided by Soviet incompetence, America won the Cold War. With that the present’s partition emerged.

The line that separated what could have been a whole crossed Germany, bypassed Austria to extend to the Adriatic. To its West, there were democracies, advanced economies, protected by puny militaries and much American muscle. To the east of that boundary there emerged Russia as a successor state of the USSR. Between her and the “West” small entities, ex satrapies of the Soviets’ outer empire with their re-gained sovereignty.

Both Europes had an inheritance. The West continued to have NATO and the evolving European Union. Their context: modern technology, advanced and globally competitive products, and a market economy that responds to demand. On the other side of the line, the remnants of an inefficient “command economy”. It provided, besides a first-class military, socialisms’ shoddy products, badly made and outmoded well before their manufacture. Of that, there was not enough to fulfill demand, and a stage of development prevailed that made the gap between the first and the second world grow instead of shrinking it.

Beyond the inherited economic disaster, there was a political heritage that every sound-minded heir would have refused -if let to do so. The broken pieces of the inheritance were a diverse lot infected by decades of totalitarian rule. Missing was, due to oppression, an alternative elite enabled to govern. The separation from the modern world, its living standard, political culture and perspectives, has been generations old. Artificially impoverished by misrule, deprived of modern ideas through its isolation, the new old East deserved a bad prognosis. Its poor-houses, masquerading as sovereign countries, appeared destined for continued tutelage and a prolonged period to close the developmental gap. Two instruments seemed to be available to provide control and to endow the East’s with a sense of security, and to “ween the monkeys off the bananas”. They were NATO and the EU.

The condition of inferiority fermented in backwardness appear as real but also as unnatural. After all, before the rise of the Habsburg, Prussian and Russian empires, several of these countries -Poland, Bohemia, Hungary- were major states in the European mainstream. Even so, judged from the western side of the invisible wall, the hiatus separating the two zones seemed to be natural and of duration.

Regardless of the realist’s pessimistic forecast, the recovery of some of Moscow’s ex satellites -the Baltics and the Visegrád 4 (V4)- has been surprising. That pertains mainly to the speed and the extent by which they reconnected to the modern world. On the material level, and also in terms of the restructured political order, some elements of the East-West difference are shrinking. This suggests a process in which the bridges across the divide become links of convergence.

Newly, the process of growing together seems to be interrupted. Challenges unfold that accentuate differences. The response to them might alter the historic relationship of the two Europes by shifting the advantage from the West to the East.

As with a number of readjustments within the post-industrial West, the problem caused by mass migration is the issue around which differences crystallize. These disparities trigger divergent perspectives that express the dissimilar experiences that separate the Europes. New challenges demand novel responses. Time-tested ways that had worked in the past, can lead to misguided policies when applied to a new era’s novel requirements.

Western Europe has experienced the murderous 20th century in a “light” and short version. Nazism’s worse struck the East and was of duration. Communism, a menace that murdered many dozens of millions, has failed to make it to the Channel. Accordingly, the impression prevails that there can hardly be a basic threat to the communities within which the West’s nations structure their existence. On the whole, the great questions of the time seem to have been solved more-less peacefully by a civil discourse between rational men. In that context freedom worked and yielded wealth and good government. Given that background, a conviction can be wide-spread. It is that among good men -which we all are- who pursue decent ends guided by the rules of fairness, given a bit of patience, problems can be settled by a compromise. “Hug them and they will become lovable” is the idea.

No matter how commendable this spirit might be, at best it fits a welted reality. That makes it quaint and predestined to bring failure when relied upon uncritically.

One can plead that the nations of Europe’s center, even if left-behind and therefore disrespected, might have a more realistic view of the temper of our time than the established welfare zone of “Lucky Europe”. If that is so, then their chances to cope with the future’s problems are better than the West’s. If in a ball-game “The Big Guys” do not know where the end-zone lays, they are likely to do less well than “The Skinny Ones” that are aware where they can score.

The claim made is that some nations in Europe’s eastern region are, due to their experience and perceptions, better equipped to respond to the present’s and future’s hazards than the moment’s leading entities. This raises questions; what are these discernments and how have they come about?

Recent history’s lesson is that it produces change and that, unless the alternatives are astutely selected to defend the national interest, your existence is in danger. In a zone in which nations have been abolished, ways of life were liquidated, and the “impossible” occurred, the impermanency of the present appears to be self-evident. While the West, confident of the durability of its condition, belittles threats, the East is taught to take menaces –as in “we shall destroy you”- at face value.

Conquered peoples, that have seen their national sovereignty disregarded and that experienced the resulting demeaning lack of personal freedom and exploitation, will have learned several lessons. First, freedom is not for free. Second, collective and individual liberty is interrelated and is worth defending. Trading it for material goods brings poverty to the powerless. Third, to live your life according to the ways that express your identity is an aspect of freedom. Fourth, be suspicious of ideologies that promise to save the world, and to bring harmony to those that surrender in order to participate in an earthly paradise. Fifth, the totalitarian threat has not ended with Hitler. Sixth, distrust the “big state” as your provider.

To the extent that this view of the world is identarian, national, and suspicious of socialist and multi-culturalist collectivism, those that hold it are equipped to resist the pressure of illusions. Due to that, transferring power to an alien bureaucratic center is unattractive. So is swallowing the shibboleths propagated by those intellectuals that expect to gain power due to them. In this context, it is unabashedly articulated that socialism is a system that cannot provide toilet paper, and that the “religion of peace” nurtures terrorists and is intent to conquer. Furthermore, cultures might be of equal value, however, regardless of that, some require incessant support payments that feed few but enrich kleptocratic elites.

What follows from the foregoing? The dissonance of the noises coming from the West and the East will grow. At issue is not whether to keep the EU or destroy it. This has not been a goal of the Brexiteers who want to take their country back either. The conflict is about the nature of the union. Is it to serve as a first stage of a superstate, or shall it be an organization of allied national states? Expect more massive pressure by the EU’s ruling elite to bring those to heel what resist the movement towards a new artificial state.

At the same time, the importance of the V4, escalates. Credit that to assertiveness, and growing economic power. Additionally, the approach works because the V4’s way to face the future is more effective than old Europe’s left-liberalism. Failures produce counter elites that contest power in the West. The emergence of like-minded systems shifts weight from the west to Europe’s center. On the global level, the realistic use of Europe’s potential promises to even out an imbalance. As a result, America will benefit as a griping client is being replaced with an ally that is willing and able to punch in its weight class.

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