Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (Sweden and Poland being later replaced by) Prussia, the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Russia have pressed and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground. At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asian and MENA proper. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany had appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politically-militarily press onto peripheries, including the two European mega destructions, known as the two World Wars. Therefore, this new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma lasting from the 1814 Vienna Congress up to Potsdam Conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germanies and Italies should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?
At the time of Vienna Congress, there were nearly a dozen Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. The post-WWII Potsdam Conference concludes with only three Germanophone (+ Lichtenstein + Switzerland) and two Italophone states (+ Vatican). Twenty five years ago, we concluded that one of Germanies was far too much to care about in the future. Thus, it disappeared from the map overnight, and instantly joined the NATO and EU – without any accession talks.
West of Berlin, the usual line of narrative claims that the European 9/11 was an event of the bad socio-economic model being taken over by the superior one – just an epilogue of pure ideological reckoning. Consequently, the narrative goes on that the west (German) taxpayers have taken the burden. East of Berlin, people will remind you that German reunification was actually a unilateral takeover, an Anschluss, which has been paid by the bloody dissolutions affecting in several waves two of the three demolished multinational Slavic state communities. A process of brutal erosions that still goes on, as we see it in Ukraine today.
Sacrificing the alternative society?
What are Berliners thinking about? Their country that was lost overnight naturally triggers mixed feelings. In the case of DDR, the nostalgia turns into ostalgia (longing for the East). Prof. Brigitte Rauschenbach describes: "Ostalgia is more like unfocused melancholy." Of the defeated one?! It is a "flight from reality for lack of an alternative, a combination of disappointment with the present and longing for the past". The first German ever in the outer space, a DDR cosmonaut, Sigmund Jähn is very forthcoming: “People in the East threw everything away without thinking… All they wanted was to join West Germany, though they knew nothing about it beyond its ads on television. It was easier to escape the pressures of bureaucracy than it is now to avoid the pressures of money." Indeed, at the time of Anschluss, DDR had 9.7 million jobs. 25 years later, they are still considerably below that number. Nowadays, it is a de-industrialized, demoralized and depopulated underworld of elderly.
If the equality of outcome (income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunity a tangible reality offered the day after to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition?
Journalist Wolfgang Herr claims: "The more you get to know capitalism the less inclined you are to wonder what was wrong with socialism." Famously comparing the two systems 15 years later, one former East Berliner have said: "Telling jokes about Honecker (the long-serving DDR leader) could lead to problems, but calling your foreman at work a fool was okay. Nowadays anyone can call (Chancellor) Schröder names, but not their company supervisor. It brings your life into a serious trouble." The western leftists involved in the student uprisings of the late 1960s were idealistically counting on the DDR. When the wall fell, they thought it marked the start of the revolution. After sudden and confusing ‘reunification’, they complained: ’But why did you sacrifice the alternative society?’
They were not the only ones caught by surprise. In the March 1990 elections, the eastern branch of Kohl’s Christian Democrat party, passionate for ‘reunification’, won an easy majority, defeating the disorganized and dispersed civil rights activists who – in the absence of any other organized political form, since the Communist party was demonized and dismantled – advocated a separate, but democratic state on their own. The first post-‘reunification’, pan-German elections were held after 13 months of limbo, in December 1990. "Our country no longer existed and nor did we," Maxim Leo diagnosed. “The other peoples of Eastern Europe were able to keep their nation states, but not the East Germans. The DDR disappeared and advocates of Anschluss did their best to remove all trace of its existence”. Vincent Von Wroblewski, a philosopher, concludes on Anschluss: "By denying our past, they stole our dignity."
Yet another alternative society, butchered
The collapse of the Soviet Union – which started in Berlin on 09th November 1989 – marked not only a loss of the historical empire for Russia, but also a loss of geopolitical importance of nonaligned, worldwide respected Yugoslavia, which shortly thereafter burned itself in a series of brutal genocidal, civil war-like ethnical cleansings. The idea of different nations living together and communicating in different languages in a (con-)federal structure was (though imperfect) a reality in Yugoslavia, but also a declared dream of the Maastricht Europe. In fact, federalism of Yugoslavia was one of the most original, advanced and sophisticated models as such worldwide. Moreover, this country was the only truly emancipated and independent political entity of Eastern Europe and one of the very few in a whole of the Old Continent.
Yugoslavia was by many facets a unique European country: no history of aggression towards its neighbors, with the high toleration of otherness, at home and abroad. Yugoslav peoples were one of the rare Europeans who resolutely stood up against fascism, fighting it in full-scale combat and finally paying for it with 12% of its population in the 4-years war – a heavy burden shouldered by the tiny nation to return irresponsible Europe to its balances. Apart from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia was the single European country that solely liberated itself from Nazism and fascism. (Relative to the 1939 size of state territory and incumbent population within, the top WWII fatalities were suffered by Poland – 18%, the Soviet Union – 15%, Yugoslavia 12%, III Reich/Germany – 10%. For the sake of comparison, the Atlantic rim suffered as follows: France – 1.3%, UK –0.9%, the US – 0.3%.)
Yugoslavs also firmly opposed Stalinism right after the WWII. Bismarck of southern Slavs – Tito doctrinated the so-called active peaceful coexistence after the 1955 Bandung South-South Conference, and assembled the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) founded at the Belgrade Conference of 1961. Steadily for decades, the NAM and Yugoslavia have been directly tranquilizing the mega confrontation of two superpowers and satellites grouped around them (and balancing their irresponsible calamities all over the globe). In Europe, the continent of the sharpest ideological divide, with practically two halves militarily confronting each other all over the core sectors of the continent (where Atlantic Europe was behind some of the gravest atrocities of the 20th century, from French Indochina, Indonesia, Congo, Rhodesia to Algeria and Suez), and with its southern flank of Portugal, Spain and Greece (and Turkey sporadically) run by the military Juntas, Yugoslavia was a remarkably mild island of stability, moderation and wisdom.
Domestically, Yugoslavia had a unique constitutional setup of a strictly decentralized federation. Although being a formal democracy in its political life, many aspects of its social and economic practices as well as largely enjoyed personal freedoms and liberties featured the real democracy. The concept of self-management (along with the Self-Managing Interest Community model) in economic, social, linguistic and cultural affairs gained a lot of external attention and admiration in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Still, there were neither enough sympathies, nor mercy in the towards-EU-headed Europe, to save the Yugoslav people from immense suffering or the symbol this country represented domestically and internationally. Who needs alternative societies and alternative thinking?!
(D)one flew over the cuckoo's nest
Despite the post-Cold War, reality was very different from the often pre-paid rhetoric that Eastern Europe rebelled against the Soviet domination in order to associate itself with the West. Nagy’s Hungary of 1956, Dubcek's Czechoslovakia of 1968 and (pre-)Jeruzelski Poland of 1981 dreamt and fought to join a liberal Yugoslavia, and its world-wide recognized 3rd way!
By 1989-90, this country still represented the hope of full emancipation and real freedom for many in the East. How did the newly created EU (Atlantic-Central Europe axis) react? At least tolerating, if not eager to support, or actively eliminating the third way of Yugoslavia? It responded to the Soviet collapse in the best fashion of a classic, historical nation-state, with the cold calculi of geopolitical consideration deprived of any ideological constrains. It easily abandoned altruism of its own idea by withdrawing its support to the reformist government of Yugoslavia, and basically sealed-off its faith.
Intentionally or not, indecisive and contradictory political messages of the Maastricht-time EU – from the Genscher/Mock explicate encouragement of separatism, and then back to the full reconfirmation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia – were bringing this multinational Slavic state into a schizophrenic situation. Consequently, these mixed or burial European political voices directly fed and accelerated inner confrontations of the elites claiming to represent Yugoslav peoples.
Soon after, the Atlantic-Central Europe axis contained the western Balkans, letting the slaughterhouse to last essentially unchecked for years. At the same time, it busily mobilized all resources needed to extend its own strategic depth eastwards, later formalized by the so-called enlargements of 1995, of 2004, of 2007 and finally of 2013.
The first ever fully televised war with its highly disturbing pictures of genocide came by early 1990s. It remained on tv sets for years all over Europe, especially to its East. Although the Atlantic-Central Europe axis kept repeating we do not know who is shooting whom in this powder keg and it is too early to judge, this seemingly indecisive, wait-and-see, attitude was in fact an undeniably clear message to everyone in Eastern Europe: no alternative way will be permitted. The East was simply expected to bandwagon and passively comply, not to actively engage itself.
This is the only answer as to how genocide and EU enlargement could occur at the same time on such a small continent. At about same time, Umberto Eco talked about eternal yet reinvigorated Nazism. By 1995, he famously diagnosed: ‘Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak’.
It’s no surprise that the East soon after abandoned its identity quest and capitulated. Its final civilizational defeat came along when the Eastern Europe’s Slavs silently handed over their most important debates, Slavism, anti-fascism and of their own identity, solely to the recuperating Russophone Europe.
Europe of Genocide and of Unification – Happily Ever after
As said, the latest loss of Russophone Europe in its geopolitical and ideological confrontation with the West meant colossal changes in Eastern Europe. One may look into geopolitical surrounding of its largest current eastern European state, Poland, as an illustration. All three land neighbors of Poland; Eastern Germany (as the only country to join the EU without any accession procedure, but by pure act of Anschluss), Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union have disappeared overnight. At present, Polish border-countries are a two-decade-old novelty on the European political map. Furthermore, if we wish to compare the number of dissolutions of states worldwide over the last 50 years, the Old continent suffered as many as all other continents combined: American continent – none, Asia – one (Indonesia/ East Timor), Africa – two (Sudan/South Sudan and Ethiopia/Eritrea), and Europe – three.
Underreported as it is, each and every dissolution in Europe was primarily related to Slavs (Slavic peoples) living in multiethnic and multi-linguistic (not in the Atlantic Europe’s conscripted pure single-nation) state. Additionally, all three European instances – meaning, every second dissolution in the world – were situated exclusively and only in Eastern Europe. That region has witnessed a total dissolution of Czechoslovakia (western Slavs) and Yugoslavia (southern Slavs, in 3 waves), while one state disappeared from Eastern Europe (DDR) as to strengthen and enlarge the front of Central Europe (Western Germany). Finally, countless centripetal turbulences severely affected Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the SU (eastern Slavs) on its frontiers.
Irredentism in the UK, Spain, Belgium, France and Italy, or Denmark (over Faroe Islands and Greenland) is far elder, stronger and deeper. However, the dissolutions in Eastern Europe took place irreversibly and overnight, while Atlantic Europe still remained intact, with Central Europe even enlarging territorially and expanding economically.
Ergo: Our last 25 years conclude that self-fragmented, deindustrialized, rapidly aged rarified, depopulated, and de-Slavicized Eastern Europe is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive and therefore, rigid in the dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among last remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy. It seems Europe still despises its own victims.
Interestingly, the physical conquest of the European east, usually referred to as the EU eastern enlargement was deceivingly presented more as a high virtue than what that really was – a cold realpolitik instrument. Clearly, it was primarily the US-led NATO extension and only after that, the EU enterprise. Not a single eastern European country entered the EU before joining the NATO at first. It was well understood on both sides of Atlantic that the contracting power of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin Russia in the post-Cold War period would have remained confused, disoriented, reactive and defensive. Therefore, the North Atlantic Military Alliance kept expanding despite the explicate assurances given to the Kremlin by the George H.W. Bush administration.
It is worth reminding that NATO was, and remains to be an instrument, an institutionalized political justifier of the US physical, military presence in Europe. Or, as Lord Ismay vocally defined it in 1949: ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’. The fact that the US remained in West Germany and that the Soviet Army pulled out from East Germany did not mean ‘democratization’ or ‘transition’. It represented a direct military defeat of the Gorbachev Russia in the duel over the core sectors of Central and Eastern Europe. As direct spoils of war, DDR disappeared from the political map of Europe and was absorbed by Western Germany, while the American Army still resides in a unified Germany. In fact, more than half of the US 75 major overseas military bases are situated in Europe. Up to this day, Germany hosts 25 of them.
The letzte Mensch or Übermensch?
In the peak of Atlantic hype of early 1990s, Francis Fukuyama euphorically claimed end of history. Just two decades later, twisting in a sobriety of inevitable, he quietly moderated it with a future of history, desperately looking around and begging: ‘Where is a counter-narrative?” Was and will our history ever be on holiday?
100 years after the outbreak of the WWI and 25 years after the Berlin wall came down, young generations of Europeans are being taught in schools about a singularity of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurfacing again.
Formerly in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya, Mali, Syria and Ukraine; Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, and while Eastern Europe is obediently bandwagoning, Russophone Europe is opposing. The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, headhunting punitive action. This time, both Libya and Syria (Iraq, Mali, Ukraine, too) have been given a different attachment. The factors are multiple and interpolated. Let us start with the considerable presence of China in Africa. Then there are successful pipeline deals between Russia and Germany which, while circumventing Eastern Europe, will deprive the East from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose an effective joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. Finally, here is a relative decline of the US interests and capabilities, and to it related re-calibration of their European commitments, too. All of that combined, must have triggered alarm bells across, primarily Atlantic, Europe.
This is to understand that, although seemingly unified, Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties). Atlantic and Central Europe are confident and secure on the one end, while the EU and non-EU Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end, are insecure and neuralgic; therefore, in a permanent quest for additional security guaranties.
“America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself” – Robert Kagan famously claimed. Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11 (09th November 1989 in Berlin) and shortly after, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Euro-zone drama, MENA or ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europes.
Therefore, 9/11 this year will be just another sad reminder: how have the winners repeatedly missed to take our mankind into completely other direction, towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing, and greener humankind. Where is the better life that all of us have craved and hoped for, that we all deserve?
Anis H. Bajrektarevic is a professor in international law and global political studies, based in Vienna, Austria. His recent book Geopolitics of Technology – Is There Life after Facebook? is published by the New York’s Addleton Academic Publishers.