November 22, 2016
“In our dialogue with the European Commission, we have assumed that our cooperation will be based on such principles as objectivism, or respect for sovereignty, subsidiarity, and national identity. However, we have gradually come to realise that interferences into Poland’s internal affairs are not characterised by adherence to such principles. On top of that, such actions are largely based on incorrect assumptions which lead to unwarranted conclusions.”
Polish government’s response to Commission Recommendation of 27.07.2016
“This is nothing but some fun work for entertaining the EU Commission and its officials.”
Jaroslaw Kaszynski, interviewed by the German newspaper ‘Bild’, 27 July 2016
“Mass migration is a slow stream of water persistently eroding the shores. It is masquerading as a humanitarian cause, but its true nature is the occupation of territory.”
Viktor Orban, 15 March 2016
“The freedom-loving peoples of Europe must save Brussels from Sovietisation”.
Viktor Orban, 23 October 2016
How should the EU deal with governments, in this case the Polish and Hungarian, who refuse to conform to the EU’s democratic consensus on the rule of law, human rights and media freedom? Are these serious violations of the principles on which the EU is based, or do they have to be seen, and tolerated, in the light of historical experiences that are specific to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe?
At the source of this disagreement are two different visions of the EU. For the original member states, the EU had one overriding purpose, even when it was still called the European Coal and Steel Community: to put an end once and for all to the competing nationalisms in Europe that had twice destroyed the continent. The Treaty of Paris from 1951 speaks of the ‘historic rivalries’ of ‘peoples long divided by bloody conflicts’ as the motivation for building a new kind of Europe whose nations recognise their common destiny.
The Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union 2016 takes up the theme: ‘The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.’ Article 2 states what these values are: ‘The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.’
But if the determination to avoid war became the driving force for the foundation of the EU, the perspective of Central and Eastern European countries that joined in 2004 was different and has remained so. In their collective memory, it was domination and control by the Soviet Union during the four and a half decades after the war that overshadowed everything, even the war. Nationalism was not seen as a source of conflict but as an important tool in the struggle against Soviet communism, so the collapse of the Soviet empire was a victory for the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. So they were, and still are, in no mood to give up their sense of nationhood for the greater good of the European Union.
We are now, though, witnessing a radical new development in the way leaders in Eastern and Central Europe are giving nationalism an identitarian twist. When Viktor Orban compares Hungary to a frog that is slowly being cooked by adding more and more quantities of hot water, i.e. Muslim immigrants, he uses images of national and religious purity that have their roots in the most dangerous forms of nationalism: the demonisation of all those who are not part of the national community. Often these pronouncements include references to Christianity, while failing to mention that they blatantly contradict Christian values; this is a Christianity submissive to the demands of the state.
The Eastern European version of identitarian nationalism serves two distinct purposes:
At home it has become a rallying cry to support the current leadership. Alternatives are not being discussed by a largely subservient media, so this model of governance appears to much of the electorate as the only possible one.
Secondly, Orban’s and Kaszynski’s posturing links up directly with nationalist and identitarian movements in rest of the EU, from Farage to Le Pen and Wilders. Ironically, the institution that provides much of this linkage is the European Parliament.
This leaves the EU with a real dilemma. Doing nothing would seriously undermine the foundations of the Union and risk its unravelling from both ends, East and the West. But the options for action are limited. Sanctions against a member state under Article 7, such as the withdrawal of voting rights, need the support of all other members, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Given these difficulties, the EU, both institutions and member countries, need to start a campaign of openly countering identitarian nationalism. First, they must point out that it is based on a dangerous concept of a static, ethnic identity and a false view of European history. Secondly, they have to engage the Eastern nationalists in a public and open debate about the principal values of the EU, equality, human rights and the rule of law without which the EU would not be worth maintaining.
In a media environment that is less than open and largely confined by national borders this is not an easy task. But if that debate doesn’t happen, these fundamental differences within the EU cannot be settled.Author : ¿Que gigantes?