“I am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism”–Edmund Husserl, University of Prague, 1935)
Modern Western Civilization presents us with a Janus-like face: On one side Renaissance Humanism which begins in Italy in the 14th century with Petrarch, on the other side Enlightenment Rationalism which begins in France in the 17th century with Descartes.
After Descartes, there is a dangerous tendency to separate the two cultural phenomena and consider Humanism either anachronistic, or superseded. The inevitable result has been sheer confusion in the area of cultural identity; consequently, at this critical juncture of the new polity called European Union, there is talk of a “democratic deficit,” that democracy that is integral part of Western Civilization.
We are in urgent need of cultural guides to show us how to better harmonize the two above mentioned phenomena. One such guide is Emmanuel Lévinas’ humanistic philosophy. In as much as it challenges the Western rationalistic philosophical tradition, it is extremely important for the emergence of a renewed European cultural identity. It explores in depth the threats to the authentic cultural identity of Europe, how modalities of thinking powerfully affect other ideas and shape a whole cultural milieu, sometimes with less than desirable consequences.
A few background biographical details may be useful to better understand Lévinas. He was born in Lithuania in 1902. In 1923 he moves to Strasbourg to study under Husserl and writes a doctoral dissertation on his philosophy. There, he also comes in contact with Heidegger’s philosophy. The dissertation on Husserl’s phenomenology gets published in France in 1930 and reveals that, even at this early stage, Lévinas is beginning to take his distance from Heidegger. He enlisted in the French army, was captured in 1940 and spent the remaining five years of the war in two prisoner-of-war camps.
Upon being liberated he returns to Lithuania and finds-out that his parents and siblings had been killed by the Nazis, while his wife, whom he had left behind in Paris, had survived thanks to the help of French nuns who hid her. He became a teacher and administrator in an institute for Jewish education in Paris (l’alliance Uneversel Juif); there he begins to study traditional Jewish texts under the directorship of the Talmudic sage Mordechai Shoshani to whom the Nobel laureate for peace Elie Wiesel (who also studied with him) devotes a chapter in Legends of Our Time.
In 1961 Lévinas defends the first of his two major philosophical works (Totality and Infinity) before the philosophy faculty of the Sorbonne becoming a professor of philosophy. His second major work bears the title of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.
Those are the basic events that dramatically change Lèvinas’ thinking. Prior to World War II he had merely criticized elements of 20th century Western thought; afterward he begins to attack the whole European philosophical tradition, especially its culmination in Heidegger’s thought, for what he considers its indifference to the ethical and its “totalizing of the other.” He begins to indict western philosophers in general for an uncritical reliance on vast concepts, such as Hegel’s “Spirit,” or Heidegger’s “Being,” which assimilate countless individuals to rational processes, thus negating their individuality.
To be sure Kierkegaard had also criticized this Hegelian tendency, countering it with his existentialist philosophy. Those who understood his critique only too well, promptly proceeded to relegate his thought to the theological within a false dichotomy (shown absurd by Thomas Aquinas way back in the 13th century) of philosophy/theology, thus insuring that Kierkegaard would never be as influential as a Hegel or a Heidegger.
In any case, Lévinas too argues that this taken-for-granted totalizing mode of doing philosophy in the West denies the face-to-face reality in which we—philosophers included—interact with persons different from ourselves. He argues that this “face-to-face” realm is not the same thing as the realm of abstract concepts. It possesses its own texture which is primarily an ethical one.
In this domain we are challenged by “the otherness of the other person.” It is this “otherness,” which is an integral characteristic of human life, but the Western philosophical tradition has overlooked and even negated it, thus contributing to the dehumanization of Man.
Lévinas’ life and thinking were deeply affected by the trauma of the Nazi genocide, better known as the Holocaust. But what is unique about his thinking is that it refuses to make those monstrous events its core subject matter. In other words, one cannot easily insert Levinas within the tradition of confessional writers. As Derrida, who admired Lévinas’ philosophy, aptly expressed it once: the danger of naming our monstrosities is that they become our pets. That is to say, Levinas refuses to name the monsters lest they become our familiar pets. Even words fail at times vis a vis unmentionable monstrosities.
Lévinas’ writings provide no extensive discussion of the Holocaust itself; therefore, the assumption, on the part of those who were thinking and writing on it, has often been that Lévinas could not be considered a valid source of philosophical insight into this dark period of human history. But that is an erroneous assumption, just as invalid as the assumption that he unreservedly admired Heidegger’s philosophy because he happened to have translated it into French. As a matter of fact, Lévinas’ thinking is a reaction to the Holocaust by the mere fact that it asks the crucial question: What does it mean to be a human being?
Were one to encapsulate the whole of Lévinas’ philosophy in two succinct words, they would be “being human.” This philosophy insists throughout that an extreme, unbalanced rationality devoid of imagination, feelings, senses and spirit, unconcerned with the ethical dimensions of life, is the equivalent to a refusal to be human, to allowing oneself to become a monster.
A little personal anecdote may be illustrative here: many years ago I took a course on Heidegger with a professor who was a staunch admirer of his philosophy. The students were made to read Being and Time on which the professor in question would offer in class brilliant comments and interpretations. Not once during the entire duration of the course was it ever mentioned that Heidegger, for a short while, had joined the Nazi party and had heard echoes of “the voice of Being” in the speeches of Hitler; somehow that particular existential detail was not considered essential by the professor for any valid appraisal of the ponderous rational scheme of Being and Time.
I wrote a paper where this existential fact was mentioned and reflected upon. I received a C- for it. The comments of the professor chided me for straying from the concerns of Heidegger’s philosophy which had nothing to do with his private life and beliefs. In hindsight, that academic event of my life proved to be my first serious existential encounter with modern Western rationalism and its dichotomy intellect/life. It eventually led me to discover Vico and Lévinas.
Lévinas’ attack on what he considers negative elements of the Western philosophical tradition begins with analyses of the philosophical roots from which sprout the extreme individualism of modern times, and the reaction to it, extreme nationalism. Not unlike Vico in the 18th century, he individuates such a root in the Cartesian ego, an autonomous center of consciousness which in modern philosophy has assumed the function of a paradigm for thinking about human beings. Lévinas does not deny this world-constituting ego, rather he leads it to the discovery of an ethical core within itself; which is to say, he uncovers another root growing within the first root which he calls the “self.”
The conundrum seems to be this: if it is true that the ego does the conceptual work of philosophy by announcing what there really is in the world, how can this ego then acknowledge the essentially ethical “self” which lives within itself? Somehow a bridge has to be found between this limitless power and freedom of the independent intellect, and the particular concrete ethical obligations to another person. For, this ethical self, unlike the ego, finds itself caught up with the welfare of the other prior to a conscious, rational decision, in a recognition, even when unwilled, of his/her humanity.
Indeed this ethical capacity seems to come from another place than our rational powers of analysis evidenced within the Cartesian ego. Even if we grant that such an ego is adequate in identifying the truths of philosophy, it somehow remains unable to acknowledge a domain where there is no choosing of the connection with the other; in fact the other way around may apply: the other chooses me, one is “already responsible” for the other prior to any rational analysis.
And here is the philosophical paradox: Lévinas’ task becomes that of using rationality to take the Cartesian ego beyond rationality, somewhat similar to what Vico does with his concepts of fantasia, which for him precedes rational reason, and the concept of Providence who guides human events and is both immanent within history but also transcendent. Which is to say, the rational ego has to be brought to recognize a sort of enigmatic “ethical” truth which Lévinas calls “pre-originary,” i.e., arising outside, prior to the usual time-line of the reflective ego.
In attempting this operation, Lévinas will proffer statements such as: ethics is “older” than philosophy, it is “first philosophy,” on the scene before the arrival of rational philosophical thinking; something ingrained in being human. Within purely classical categories, that may be equivalent to the Socratic preoccupation with dying well by living a life of integrity and devotion to truth, as exemplified in Plato’s Apology. It is this ancient voice of goodness, which even Vico’s pre-historical “bestioni” possess to a degree, a voice often overlooked by rationalist philosophers, but powerfully present in Talmudic texts, that Lévinas finds strangely silent in the modern Western philosophical tradition.
In mytho-poetic language, it’s as if Lévinas were to come face-to-face with the goddess Europa, as she is being abducted by a black bull (Zeus in disguise), to journey to another shore, there to assume a different persona, and he were to ask her, “Europa quo vadis?” after warning her to remember her original identity: “nosce te ipsum”; which is to say, go back to the future and know yourself holistically: know your Greco-Roman origins, yes, but also the Biblical tradition (the foundation for Christianity), the Christian heritage, the Humanistic synthesis of Graeco-Roman and Christian civilizations, Celtic and Germanic cultures with their ideas of freedom, the universalizing Enlightenment rooted in the democratic-scientific tradition born in ancient Greece, the Islamic influences. Voltaire and Descartes yes, but Vico and Novalis too are part of your identity. Your unity will be a chimera if it is only a unity of a bank and neglects its spiritual elements.
Undoubtedly this hermeneutics, or re-interpretation of the Cartesian ego, placing at its core an non-refusable responsibility for the other without granting the ego any time to think it over and choose, so to speak, challenges some of the most basic assumptions of modern, and in some way classical, rationalistic philosophy. Not since the times of Mamonides in the 13th century had a Jew dared such a fundamental challenge from within the Western philosophical tradition. It is the challenge of Paul to Greek culture revisited. For indeed Lévinas is saying nothing short of this: the knowing ego does not exhaust what it means to be human. Some have called his philosophy one of “ethical subjectivity,” as a way of dismissing it as the raving of a lunatic, just as the ancient Greeks dismissed Paul in the agora. For the serious reader, however, it is rather a re-definition of subjectivity face to face with a totalizing kind of Cartesian reflection.
While Lévinas does not write directly about the Holocaust, other thinkers, who influenced Lévinas, were nevertheless reflecting upon the philosophical implications of this dark event of human history. One such was Berel Lang who wrote an essay titled “Genocide and Kant’s Enlightenment,” which appeared in his Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide. In this essay Lang uncovers certain lines of affinity between some classical aspects of Enlightenment thought, and the Nazi genocide. His conclusion is that there are two important aspects of the Enlightenment that formed the intellectual heritage, which needed to be in place, for genocide to occur in the heart of civilized Europe: namely, the universalization of rational ideals, and the redefinition of the individual human being in terms of its possessing or not such a universal rationality. The genocide, Lang argues, was aimed at those groups who stuck to their own ancient pre-Enlightenment sources of particularistic identity, considered “irrational.” Hence the racial laws and racial exclusion were expression of ingrained Enlightenment prejudices. Which is to say, the Enlightenment sheds light on everything except itself; it remains to be enlightened.
This powerful essay leads many cultural anthropologists comparing civilizations, to begin to wonder: which, in the final analysis, is more obscurantist: religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, or a so called “enlightened” era throwing out the window the baby with the bathwater and arrogantly refusing any suggestion that it ought to enlighten itself, and not with its own light?
This conjures up that terrible face to face encounter of Dante with the poet Bertrand Del Bornio in a cave in hell doing “light to himself” with its own decapitated head. There we have reason eating its own tail; internal logical thinking and assuming the grammar of lunacy. I dare say that such a question has not been satisfactorily answered yet. In that question lies the challenge of Lévinas’ philosophy: in its displacing of the centrality of Cartesian thinking within modernity, in order to re-center it around ethics: the face-to-face encounter with another human being which is always hopeful unless it occurs in hell.
Everything we have discussed above begs this particular question: is Lévinas’ challenge to the Western philosophical tradition philosophically tenable? To answer the question adequately we need to be first aware that Emmanuel Lévinas, as well as Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig (the author of Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections in a Dark Time, 1988), are representative of learned European Jews with great familiarity with the texts of both the Jewish and the Western philosophical tradition. They challenge the latter exactly because they are so knowledgeable in both. Lévinas is fully capable of confronting the intellectual traps of those rationalists who would relegate him to the sphere of theology.
To the contrary, he insisted on writing in both spheres and claimed that Jewish religious textuality contains hitherto unexplored philosophical insights. For this is a tradition which puts great emphasis on interpersonal, social and familial relationships; phenomena not contemplated in traditional Western philosophy. Which is to say, the challenge is to Western philosophy’s totalizing pretense, beginning with Plato’s times, that it can gather everything up in one synchronic whole. It is that challenge that irritates control freaks, thought policemen, rationalists and mysologists galore. It goes a long way in explaining their attempt to relegate Lévinas’ philosophy to the sphere of the merely mystical.
Finally, let us briefly examine how Lévinas develops this fundamental challenge to Western rationalism. He names both the texts of Jewish tradition and philosophical discourse “the said,” while calling the living activity of interpretative struggle (its hermeneutics) with the texts, and the self which suffers for the other, “the saying.”
The said always tries to capture the saying, which may partly explain the ancient grudge of Plato towards poets (see Plato’s Republic, book X, on Homer). In any case, it is the saying which launches the said and puts it into circulation. The saying echoes outside of space and time destabilizing the comfortable, rationally secure positions rationalists take up in the said, in conceptual truths (thought to be universal and eternal), in a secure totalizing kind of knowledge.
Yet it is this very destabilizing process that injects the ethical outward-directness into the said. Lévinas will often contrasts the saying’s vulnerable openness to the other (which he calls “being ex-posed) with the said’s relative security (which he calls “exposition”). He asserts moreover, that there is a rich unexplored relationship between the way we are “ex-posed” in ethics, and the life “exposition” we use to analyze and order the world.
Indeed, this is a new, essentially Jewish, philosophical reflection which places into question the claim to totalizing completeness, by an appeal to the priority of ethics. It insists that any person that confronts me, needs to be placed outside the totalizing categories seeking to reduce her/him to an aspect of a rational system. Basically, what Lévinas is doing is relocating our dangerous ability to deny others their legitimate sphere of difference; an ability which is capable of destroying our own humanity.
This is nothing short than the core struggle for the achievement of moral humanity which was also the root ethical aim of Vico’s New Science. Like Vico, Lévinas shows us the way to keep the benefits of universal Enlightenment ethics while avoiding its perils. For, his ethics is not based on a totalizing sort of universalism, but on the particular concrete needs and demands of each unique individual, every “other’ that I meet within time and space. Every time I meet the other, she/he constitutes an ethical challenge to my self, a challenge as to who I am as a human being.
This kind of philosophy is a challenge to each one of us to go beyond nostalgic returns to Greek classicism, as important at that may be, in the understanding of Western Civilization; to establish intellectual-background-assumptions which are different from those of the Enlightenment; to search for urgently needed new cultural paradigms, new ways of thinking appealing to the priority of ethics and the importance of the particular as a category of thought, a place in thought wherein genocide and hatred of the other becomes inconceivable; in short to prepare new wineskins for the new wine which is a “Novantiqua Europa.”
P.S. This essay, in a slightly modified form has appeared in Ovi magazine some seven years ago and will be represented in an up-coming symposium meeting by the same.
How Can Parity Be More Proportional?
International diplomats located in Bosnia-Herzegovina have recently launched an initiative requesting the Parliament of one of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s two entities, the Federation, to reconstitute its upper chamber, the House of Peoples, in line with „more proportional representation“. Yet, how can representation in the House of Peoples be more proportional, when already based on the principle of parity? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Representation can be based either on the principle of proportionality or on the principle of parity. When based on the principle of parity, it cannot possibly be more proportional. Moreover, such an initiative encroaches on the sovereign right of that very Parliament to constitute and reconstitute itself, without external interference.
Indeed, what does sovereignty mean in the present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina? In the rest of Europe it has been adopted, almost axiomatically, in the traditions of both Locke and Rousseau, that sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable. For, the will of the people, as the expression of sovereignty, can not be divided; otherwise, it ceases to be the will of the people and becomes a collection of individual wills and then the people can only be a collection of individuals. Also, sovereignty can not be alienated from its bearer: power may be transferred, but not will; it is impossible for any organ to exercise the sovereign will save the sovereign body itself. The state, as a state, can no more alienate its sovereignty than a man can alienate his will and remain a man. There is but one possible bearer of sovereignty, the people.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, it has been accepted, no less axiomatically, in the tradition of its long-negotiated partition sponsored by international envoys, that this country’s sovereignty can easily be divided, alienated from its people as a whole and transferred to its constituent ethnic elements and then consumed by its three ethnic oligarchies in the form of unrestrained political power over the pieces of territory assigned to them in the process of partition. Actually, such a divided sovereignty is treated as transferred to these oligarchies and consumed in the form of their private property over the resources found on the given pieces of territory.
Thus, whereas sovereignty is elsewhere treated as generated by a contract signed by free individuals, who thereby constitute themselves as the people and sovereignty as their general free will, in Bosnia-Herzegovina sovereignty is treated as dissolved by a contract signed, under the auspices of international envoys, by its three major ethnic groups, renamed for that purpose as ‘constituent peoples’, who thereby construct only a provisional state structure with no declared or acting bearer of sovereignty. ‘Constituent peoples’ are perceived as the contractors who should presumably be represented on the basis of the principle of parity in the parliamentary institutions, on the levels of both state and its two ‘entities’ (Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska), and it is only their three wills that are taken into account, although even they are not treated as sovereign, either, but only as dependent on each other’s acquiescence.
Moreover, yet another part of the country’s divided sovereignty has been transferred to the so-called High Representative (a diplomat appointed by major international powers), whose will may reign supreme over particular wills of the oligarchies claiming to represent their respective ‘constituent peoples’. In this sense, as a part of the country’s Constitution, the High Representative comes closest to the notion of the sovereign, although in practice this person rarely exercises his will and imposes his decisions on the three oligarchies in question. Still, the position in the Constitution makes the High Representative irremovable from the country’s legal structure, in spite of the permanent efforts of the three ethnic oligarchies to eliminate this potential threat to their unrestrained power.
Yet, is such a multiple division and transfer of sovereignty truly a part of the Bosnian Constitution, or it is rather an arbitrary interpretation of the country’s constitutional structure by both foreign diplomats and local politicians? In the preamble of the country’s Constitution one can really find its sovereignty divided among several different categories, positioned as sovereignty’s bearers:
Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as follows.(The Dayton Peace Agreement, Annex 4, The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina)
A similar formula can be found in the Washington Agreement (1994), which preceded the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995) and served as the basis for creation of the Federation of BiH, as one of Bosnia’s two entities:
Bosniacs and Croats, as constituent peoples (along with Others) and citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the exercise of their sovereign rights, transform the internal structure of the territories with a majority of Bosniac and Croat population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Federation, which is composed of federal units with equal rights and responsibilities.
Here sovereignty is divided between Bosniacs, Croats and others – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – and they are all treated as possessing a double identity,first as constituent peoples and then as citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For, the form ‘constituent peoples (along with others)’ presupposes that ‘others’ – whatever their ethnic identity or a lack of identity – are also to be treated as ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs and Croats. By analogy, Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others, are to be treated as both ‘constituent peoples’ and ‘citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ in the Dayton Peace Agreement’s Annex 4.But who can actually be proclaimed the bearer of sovereignty on the basis of these two constitutional acts?
Following the modern theories of sovereignty mentioned above, if sovereignty is to be regarded as indivisible and if, accordingly, there can be only one bearer, then the bearer must be the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, acting as a whole. Then the ‘constituent peoples’ (Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, along with Others) are to be understood simply as the constituent elements of the whole, which cannot be treated as multiple bearers of sovereignty. And then the citizens may be represented in a unicameral parliament, founded on the principle of proportionality.
On the other hand, if we take sovereignty as divisible, the ‘constituent peoples’ maywell be regarded as its multiple bearers. Then, however, these ‘constituent peoples’ are not to be reduced only to Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs: the preambles used in both of these constitutional documents suggest that the category of Others is to be regarded as equal to the categories of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs.
Constitution makers, obviously, had no clear answer to the question of sovereignty’s (in)divisibility in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina: instead of a formulation that would follow the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility (for example, „Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs (along with Others) as citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina“), they introduced the ‘constituent peoples’ as parallel to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and thus proposed a form of shared sovereignty between the citizens and the ‘constituent peoples’. This shared sovereignty is reflected in the structure of the parliamentary institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina and both of its entities: all the parliaments are bicameral, the lower chambers representing the citizens on the basis of election results in accordance with the principle of proportionality, and the upper chambers representing the ‘constituent peoples’ on the basis of the principle of parity.
Yet, even such relative consistency has ceased to exist in the practical implementation of these two principles. In the the upper chamber of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 5 seats), while Others are totally absent, as if they do not exist in the Constitution’s preamble among ‘constituent peoples’, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. In the upper chamber of the Parliament of the Federation of BiH, the House of Peoples, the principle of parity is again applied only to representatives of Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs (each represented with 17 seats), while the number of representatives of Others is arbitrarily reduced to only 7 seats, as if Others are not to be found among ‘constituent peoples’ in the Constitution’s preamble, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs, and as if the principle of parity can be applied selectively or in some reduced manner. Similarly, in the upper chamber of the Parliament of Republika Srpska, the Council of Peoples, parity is applied again only to Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats (each represented with 8 seats), while Others are represented with only 4 seats, as if they have not been put into the category of ‘constituent peoples’, along with Serbs, Bosniacs and Croats. In other words, even if we theoretically accept the possibility that sovereignty may be divided between the ‘constituent peoples’ and the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, such shared sovereignty is in its constitutional implementation distorted to such an extent that only Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs are recognized as ‘constituent’, whereas Others are sometimes treated as partially constituent, with a reduced number of seats, and sometimes as non-constituent, that is, practically non-existent!
Obviously, when the principle of parity is applied in such a selective manner, it ceases to function as parity. Otherwise, Others would be represented in all these parliamentary institutions on the basis of parity, along with Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs. And then, it only means that Others have been permanently discriminated in the political reality of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that such a constitutional discrimination must be removed if the model of shared sovereignty is to be applied at all. If not, then full sovereignty must be given back to the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, regardless of whether they link their identity to any of its ethnic groups or not. And that has to be reflected in the structure of all its parliamentary institutions: the Houses of Peoples should be abolished and the parliaments should then become unicameral, so that only the citizens would be represented in the Houses of Representatives, based on the principle of proportionality and the principle one person/one vote. Of course, for that purpose the country should get a new constitution, adopted by its own Constitutional Assembly, instead of the one tailored in such an inconsistent (and theoretically problematic) manner by foreign diplomats as a part of the international peace treaty.
However, the international diplomats calling for „more proportional representation“ obviously do not distinguish between, and directly mix up, the principle of proportionality and the principle of parity. They assume that the House of Peoples in the Parliament of the Federation of BiH is based on the principle of proportionality, and ask for more proportionality, although it is clear that parity is its sole founding principle. For, political representation can either be proportional, reflecting the proportion of actual votes for actual political parties and candidates, or it can be based on parity, reflecting the parity between the constituent elements of the entire constituency (presumably, of the country’s population as a whole). As already noted above, it is the principle of parity in the House of Peoples that has been violated by under-representation of Others: while Croats, Bosniacs and Serbs are all represented with 17 seats in this House, Others are represented with only 7 seats. Yet, the diplomats do not pay any attention to this violation of the constitutional principle of parity. Instead, they suggest the Parliament to adopt even „more proportional representation“ in its upper chamber (which, in practice, can only be over-representation of one of the groups already represented in line with the principle of parity), so as to even further undermine its founding principle of parity, already violated by the existing under-representation of Others!
Such a legal absurdity is certainly unsustainable and can only lead to the total dissolution of the existing constitutional order in Bosnia-Herzegovina, already distorted by the abandonment of the principle of indivisibility of sovereignty and further undermined by the selective implementation of the principle of parity in the parliaments’ upper chambers. This brings us to a crucial point: either the parliamentary structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina will follow the logic of this request, abolish the existing provisional constitutional order and leave the country without any constitutional order whatsoever, or they will abolish this constitutional order and establish a non-provisional one, based on the principle of sovereignty’s indivisibility, reflected in a unicameral parliament, representing only the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole, regardless of their ethnic identity or a lack of it.
It is up to the parliamentarians. They may follow the principle of sovereignty as applied in the rest of the European countries, or obey the diplomats’ request, whatever the price for the country’s constitutional order. As for the diplomats, whoever they are, one should finally ask whether they would ever apply in their own countries any of the models they advocate for Bosnia.
Do Angela Merkel and Germany have a joint future?
Many foreign media and even some German media people reported during the endless appearing process for finding a coalition 2017/2018 about a “governmental crisis”. This mostly due to the lack of knowledge these coalition talks being a defined process despite taking unusually long. Germany sure wasn’t able to take major decisions hurting especially Emmanuel Macron and his affair of the heart: the renovation of Europe. On the topics Europe and Foreign Policy, Germany steps on the brakes for many years now, therefore the result remains the same – little or nothing happens anyway.
The new German government is in operation since a few weeks now but there is trouble brewing afoot in Berlin. Unexpectedly, the right wing AfD is pretty quiet at the time.
The CSU remains the arsonist
Those who have hoped the CSU (the Bavarian sister party to the CDU of Angela Merkel) will concentrate on governing the country after the forming of the government are utterly wrong. With the elections ahead in Bavaria, Horst Seehofer wanted to gather his voters and attract those who have left CSU for the AfD with the powerful comment “The Islam does not belong to Germany”. He even doubled within this context by adding “People of Muslim Belief belong to our country”. Just like one could take his belief and values off before going out on the streets. It certainly appears Horst Seehofer is able to abandon his belief and Christian values scarifying them to preserve his own power.
If you look into the history of Europe and Germany – and therefore Bavaria – you soon will discover Horst Seehofer wants to make the pure opposite of history to become reality. Whether by ignorance or on purpose is hard to determine, however based on facts the Bavarian Blusterer simply is wrong – “fake news” might the right term. During the early Middle Age Arabs and the academic people from their countries brought an enormous amount of knowledge to the backwardly European countries. People actually have to thank the Muslims for the following flourishing or Europe. They benefitted from countless innovative products and a vast knowledge transfer from the Occident into the countless by monarchs oppressed, socially underdeveloped and by a faint educational system inhibited countries of Europe. A startling detail: the majority of the academics originate from Chorasan – an expanded Afghanistan – and Iran, namely from the former intellectual stronghold Bagdad.
Angela Merkel took a clear position, criticised and rectified Horst Seehofers statement – who received it thin-skinned but did no longer make such unqualified statements.
Settlements within CDU still not finished
Angela Merkel has many areas with the need for improvement within her own party, too. While the Chancellor tries to convey she has understood the vote and is working on improvements her Health Minister Jens Spahn is backstabbing her. It took him just three appearances – perceived by the people concerned as big-headed and ice-cold calculated arrogance – to destroy Angela Merkels recently planted crop of hope. “Hartz IV does not mean poverty” was his first statement causing backlashes from many sources but also support by those who do not like governmental interventions (Hartz IV is the German unemployed support and welfare system introduced by the SPD in earlier times and a constant annoyance since it does not cover the rapidly increasing cost of life). With his second appearance Jens Spahn talked against the liberalisation of the abortion law unveiling his lack of knowledge and tact. Just a few days later he wanted to comply with his promise to create 8000 new jobs in health care and wanted to speed up the homologation of education certificates of nurses and doctors from other European countries. Again, the Health Minister unveiled he is unprepared since today it already is impossible to convince more than 1000 nurses from EU countries per year to come to Germany – also due to the questionable working conditions and much too low salaries in Germany.The situation is critical since many German nurses and doctors leave for better jobs in other countries like Switzerland. Based on these facts counting on foreign nurses and doctors seems to be questionable on two levels: these people leave a vacancy in their home countries and the problem in Germany becomes the burden of the foreign workers – the question is how long this can be done. Even more problematic is the continuous decrease of the quality in nursing which gradually becomes life-threatening, particularly with cheap foreign workers. Voices rise Jens Spahn is pulling wool on people’s eyes.
Even CDU exponents oppose the young politician and reveal there’s much to learn for Jens Spahn. At least, with his thoughtless, unemotional and erroneous appearances Jens Spahn is keeping all these issues prominently on top of the agenda of the Grand Coalition.However, the local CDU parties and the local party members have not yet understood the troubles of the German society, thus their ignorance could become a bigger problem than expected. The CNT Alliance visited some Kreisveranstaltungen (party gatherings) of the CDU in first semester of 2018 and discovered the mostly elderly party members are interested only in issues securing their own wealth. Other issueswere just briefly touched by the politicians on stage.
All this is a bit more than a tendency towards right. Like the strategy paper presented the group “WerteUnion” (Union of Values) beginning of April with lots of criticism for Angela Merkel. With this paper the opponents request a re-positioning of the CDU from the middle towards the right and fiercely oppose Angela Merkels refugee policy. Within this conservative manifesto they request the “return to the core values” of the CDU. The main part of the manifesto focusses on the Islam and migration. Again, it seems much easy for the authors of this manifesto to leave their Christian values behind (refugees) and putting them back in the centre of attention (Family) by demand. It doesn’t come as a surprise Jens Spahn sending a greeting to the approximately 100 people of this manifesto.
Interest to enthuse new members and to focus on younger people or migrants does not exist – in the contrary: our questions regarding rejuvenating the CDU or to include new members originating from foreign countries were quietly, but definitely opposed even with some discomfort. It seems Angela Merkel does not recognize the “Small AfD” among their own people – or she tolerates them on purpose.
Little fuss from the SPD
The partner in the coalition, the SPD, did not stir issues up after they’ve started governing. During the coalition negotiations the SPD has secured the Ministries of Finance, Justice and the Foreign Ministry besides others, much to the displeasure of those people in CDU and CSU who were keen on these jobs as well. With these ministries the SPD owns quite some power and the ability to steer the government: an excellent success for the negotiators of SPD.
At the other hand the SPD remains in a fuzzy situation not just within its own quest for identity. Several representatives of SPD do not find common ground regarding the welfare programme Hartz IV. Some people around vice president Ralf Steger for instance want to replace Hartz IV knowing the programme was introduced by the SPD but also is the reason for the downfall of the party. At the other hand, the Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wants to keep Hartz IV – since it is some kind of his own child from the time he worked for Chancellor Schröder, the facilitator of Hartz IV. The designated president of the party Andrea Nahles rarely shy of some “Kick-Ass”comments is very quit despite the discussion about Hartz IV and the job market being the opportunity for SPD to position itself clearly. She commented Jens Spahn’s intentional slip geared towards media with surprisingly soft voice, but straight into the face. Horst Seehofe and Jens Spahn are after the personal representation but missing out on their duties, and adds: “The primary job of the Chancellor is to sort out the act of government”.
Angela Merkel is flagging
Over the past years Angela Merkel became the symbol for political stability and predictability. She is popular in Germany and abroad but scratches in the paint become visible. Her political style is increasingly perceived as boring and leaden even by her own people. Usually, watched from distance she acts successfully and well balanced even for extensive problems. Angela Merkel is the chancellor of compromises and subtle but also of half-hearted decisions and stalling in front of complex problems. This works fine at the moment since economy runs excellent and tax revenues are on a steady high – both causing additional problems which she isn’t regulating. This stability increasingly is perceived as stagnancy which it actually is e.g. if looked at the Digital Offensive launched by the government many years too late.
Along with a certain fatigue in society towards Angela Merkel – a phenomenon previous chancellor Kohl encountered too – and her style the many postponed “building lots” become visible. Media often simplify the situation and explain the fatigue towards Angela Merkel merely with her misjudgment in the situation with the refugees and her catastrophic and negligent management of this issue. This, however, is just a small part of the real reasons for the poor results of the elections and the steep head wind Angela Merkel is facing. It is the combination of various diverse issues such as the state of emergency in nursing, poverty among the elderly, housing shortage, low wages and this in combination with contemptuousness and ignoring several population groups, particularly those at the far right of the political spectrum. The situation with the refugees therefore is just one part of the picture – but one people easily can discharge their hate and anger. Also because of the right wing party AfD right wing ideas and right wing protesting became “En Vogue” – even the voters of CDU/CSU are going towards the right. In this climate the uprising hostility against the Jews in the German society and the anti-Semitic activities of the past month are not unexpected. The internal policy of Angela Merkel was meant to be visionary and creative but it looks more like uncertain, delayed, reactive, and unveils many large problem.
Rumble at the right
The “old” parties still underestimate the right wing AfD. The equally underestimate the potential of right wing populism and the count of German citizen having conservative/right wing thoughts – even within CDU and CSU. For example, much disregarded by politics the right wing union “Zentrum Automobil” gained six mandates during the last works committee elections in March 2018 at the Daimler (Mercedes) plant in Untertürkheim (Stuttgart) – with the result of 13.2% they achieved a similar result like the AfD during the election last year, the Bundestagswahlen. The “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen“ stated approximately 15% of the members of the politically social unions did voted for AfD instead for SPD during the last Bundestagswahlen. A result pretty much replicated during the works committee elections at Daimler.
The statements by some of the exponents of the works committee of the IG Metall union: right wing ideas today are little visible but are spread subliminal throughout the whole company and, therefore, it’s expected to see a further rise of the “Zentrum Automobil”. The confronted union IG Metall got us evasive responses only.It seems this issue is hushed up. Time will tell whether Angela Merkel tactics to sit such problem out are the successful tactics for the unions. Looking at the general tendency in the country towards the right we believe Angela Merkel and the unions both are playing with fire.
Some more foreign policy?
During the past Germany was known for a little consolidated, imprecise and often lacking foreign policy. Domestic policy always was more important and it still is. The country focuses on economic foreign policy driven by the industry and its lobbyists, and otherwise relies on symbolic policy geared towards the media.
This image could slightly change. One of the first official acts by Heiko Maas, the new foreign minister, was his visit to Israel. His predecessor Sigmar Gabriel several times acted awkwardly and Angela Merkel didn’t want to become involved but Heiko Maas clearly, pragmatically and quietly put down some counterpoints.On top of it he clearly took position against the lighting up anti-Semitism.
Despite his appearances sometimes being perceived as nicely stage-made he did not make his own life easier since expectations are high now. The quick and friendly meet up with the French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Israel stirs up some hope Germany – after months of naval-gazing – finally will take over responsibility in Europe and the World. Moving from inactivity towards political creation with the friendly support by France.
The future of Angela Merkel
Foreign policy slowly picks up speed but Angela Merkel seems to have a hard time with her country. It no longer seems to be the Germany she knows. She seems to lose more ground contact the more she tries to understand the problems of society therefore losing more and more ground contact while facing fronts she has to fight. In the Bundestag CDU/CSU and SPD have to heavily deal with an number of parties, all of them having gained more than 5% of the votes. On top there is the AfD, the strongest party in the opposition owning an uncomfortable agenda – some of it even being attractive to her own party members.
With their vote for the Grand Coalition the SPD members have saved it and also saved the faces of SPD as well as the CDU/CSU. The SPD finds herself in a disruption and renovation process, even more so than the CDU. On top of it the parties of the opposition got stronger and this comes together with the incapability or the active reluctance of the governing parties to tackle the urging problems in the country in all consequence.
A forecast about the future of Angela Merkel and, therefore, of the German bipartisan system seems to be tricky. Though, the recent Grand Coalition steers towards the end of the factual bipartisan system in Germany. And people in Germany will be even more discontent for the next elections in 2021.The question how CDU/CSU and SPD will score is eligible. And whether the right wing AfD will establish itself as the third constant in the party landscape. The other question is whether the other parties will see the signs. Some media are singing the swan song for Angela Merkel forgetting she is not for nothing the most powerful woman in this world. It will be interesting to see how she will cope with the erosion on several fronts. It is not the end of Angela Merkel but she and her party are showing heavy signs of wear.
*Ajmal Sohail contributed to this article
Big mistake of EU against Washington
The EU is still confused! The U.S. government’s actions in the field of foreign affairs and economics have not been accompanied by strong and strong reaction from the European Union.
This has led the U.S. President Donald Trump to continue his efforts to isolate Europe in the international system more quickly. Since the beginning of the Tramp presence in the White House, the movements of nationalist and extremist groups and opposition to the European Union have intensified. That same issue has put the EU in jeopardy. It is widely believed that the President of the United States supports the collapse of the European Union and the euro- zone. However, it seems that some European officials still do not understand the deterioration of the situation in this region!
The fact is that if the European Union does not take a decisive decision against the United States and its policies in the international system, it will have to see its fall in the international system and the return to the twentieth century in the near future.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed.However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe.
But it seems that one of the issues that European leaders have not understood is the role of the United States in the process of destroying the European Union. This role is so high that few have the power to deny it: from the U.S. economic war with Europe to the direct support of the White House from nationalist groups in Europe. However, some European politicians still try to look at optimism about U.S. behaviors. Without doubt, this optimism will in the future lead to the destruction of the European Union.
Speaking at the Davos summit (2017), “Emanuel Macron” the French President warned of the victory of nationalists and extremists in Europe and said:
“In my country, if I do not make sense of this globalisation then in five, 10, 15 years time it will be the nationalists, the extremes which win — and this will be true of every country.”
The commonality of Merkel’s and Macron’s remarks is their concern about the return of European citizens to nationalism. As noted, this process has intensified in Europe. The extremist party of Freedom found way to the Austrian coalition government, and the increase in radical far-right votes in countries like France, Sweden and Germany, is a serious crisis in Europe. The recent warnings by the German Chancellor and the French President should therefore be seriously analyzed and evaluated.
But the main question is whether the French President and German Chancellor are aware of their great mistakes in the United States and the Trump government? Do they still ignore the White House’s role in strengthening extremist groups in the European Union? What is certain is that it is possible for Merkel and Macron to realize their deep mistakes over the Trump government that there is no longer a way to save the European Union.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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