In a span of 75 years, between 1926 and 2001, six books appeared which greatly influenced Western Man’s thinking about his own civilization, so called Western Civilization.
In chronological order of appearance they are: Oswald Spangler’s The Decline of the West (1926); Arnold Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial (1958); Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987); Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992); Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998); and Erik Voegelin’s Order and History (2001).
In this essay we’ll survey those six books to determine how they have influenced the thinking of conservative ideologies which believe that while it is true that the West is in decline, there is still time to mitigate it or even to reverse it and preserve it for posterity. A mere glance at the titles of those books will hint at what the fuss and concern of those conservatives are. They go a long way in explaining their alarm at what they deem is an invasion of Europe by Moslems from Syria or Afghanistan or Turkey. They feel that Western Christian Civilization has to be defended anew from the hordes of Moslem invaders threatening its very existence. This is going on as we speak in Hungary which has now closed its borders justifying the measure as the defense of Europe.
The lazy way to explain this sad phenomenon of the advocacy of fortress Europe is to brand all those who invoke the preservation of heritage and civilization as sheer xenophobes or fascists, even racists, which they probably are; but such a shallow explanation does not even begin to touch the complexities of the Western cultural identity. In fact, it can be safely asserted that many of the crisis of present day EU are due to the refusal to search for and discover its genuine historical identity rather than summarily dismiss such a search as anti-modern, obscurantist, retrograde and medieval.
I believe that part of the problem is the failed distinction between what is universal and what is particular in Western Civilization. Characteristically, the imagined goods of modern progressive or leftist ideologies are conceived to be “universal” values (such as liberty, equality, and fraternity), whereas the goods and values defended by conservatives are more readily understood as contingent particulars. There does not appear to be a single substance knowable as Tradition per se, but rather many historical traditions, great and small, each making a claim for allegiance and conservation on its own particular terms. As a result, while there may be a Socialist International or a Communist International—one may even speak of a Liberal International—there has never been a Conservative International.
There is, however, one “quasi-universal” that conservatives of many nations have understood themselves to be conserving: the West. Obviously, the very word indicates that this good or value is not truly universal: it excludes, at least, the East. On the other hand, insofar as the term denotes a civilization transcending in space any particular Western state, transcending in time the history of any particular Western nation, and transcending in intellectual scope or catholicity any particular Western philosophy or doctrine, “the West” stretches toward a kind of universality. To speak of the West is to speak of something cosmopolitan, and yet not deracinated. Perhaps the defense of the West is close to the heart of what it means to be a conservative in the modern world—yet the definition of the West and the identification of the threats to it is also a source of disagreement among conservatives of various sorts, not to speak of progressives and liberals.
Earlier and particularly nineteenth-century assumptions about the West were nearly always whiggish celebrations of the historically “inevitable” progress of Western European civilization to its rightful place in the imperial sun: “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set,/ God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet” was a British invocation, but it summed up a more general sense that the West was simply “the best”—and destined for indefinite global dominion. That confidence, however, was profoundly shaken by the civilizational self-immolation of the First World War. For many on the Left, the carnage of the Great War was evidence of the structural flaws of Western “bourgeois democracy,” requiring the remedy of revolution.
Against whom or what is it, then, that the West finds itself in need of defense? Two general forms of threat may be identified. First, over the course of the twentieth century it was frequently contended that the West must be defended from internal decay or decline. Conservative reflection on this theme was prompted in the first instance by an engagement with the thought of Oswald Spengler, whose book The Decline of the West was a publishing sensation in Germany and Europe immediately after the First World War. In a resonant, even poetic, though not altogether scientific manner, this prophet of pessimism argued that civilizations are organic wholes organized around a High Culture with a particular “Soul.” Civilizations throughout history have risen and fallen in a pattern of birth, growth, apex, decline, and death—and our Western civilization is no different. It is doomed like all the others.
In Spengler’s view, the West was clearly in the last phase of its civilizational life: the “Soul” was no longer animating the body. The telltale signs of a High Culture’s decay included skepticism, materialism, scientism, and the fall of philosophy into mere academicism on the one hand, and urbanization, vulgar democracy, the rule of the rich, and eventually bureaucracy on the other hand. The cataclysm of the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century seemed to many to lend plausibility to the contention that the civilization of Western Europe (and its diaspora in the New World) was now entering its “twilight.” Vladimir Putin still goes around preaching this doctrine.
While Spengler himself held that the roughly thousand-year civilizational life-cycle was a fact of nature beyond man’s ability to control or modify—in short, that our civilization’s decline was inevitable and irreversible—this was not the lesson conservatives took from his work. Conservatism, after all, was accustomed to resisting the “tides” of history; indeed, conservatism often specialized in imagining ways to “turn back the clock.“ Far from leading to an acquiescence in pessimism, therefore, Spenglerian gloom served as a rallying cry, a call both to action and to reflection: if the sources of decay and decline could be uncovered, perhaps they could also be reversed. This has been the rallying crying of most 20th century dictators on both the right and the left.
Another writer whose thoughts on the rise and fall of civilizations colored conservative understandings of the West’s predicament was the philosophical historian Arnold Toynbee. Writing primarily in the 1950s, Toynbee developed a universal history of civilizations in terms of challenge and response. The challenge might be physical (e.g., the cultivation of nearly inarable land), civil-social (an internal intellectual crisis or religio-political faction), or external (the pressure of another civilization). Whatever the case, the response of a healthy and growing civilization depended upon the efforts of creative minorities able to meet the challenge. (In the absence of any challenges whatsoever, civilizations tended simply to decay.) The signs of civilizational decline, in turn, were a ruling minority turned in on itself and on its past glories—no longer creative—and the construction of a “Universal State” that acted to smother dissent and discontentment among an emergent “Proletariat.” Here one thinks of Nazism, or Fascism or Communism.
While Toynbee’s work was by no means accepted uncritically, conservatives did find many points of agreement. Toynbee, for example, tended to highlight religion as a source of recurring civilizational renewal, and conservatives too saw in religion a source of hope for the West. Toynbee’s “Universal State” and “Proletariat,” moreover, had something in common with the centralizing “collectivism” and emerging “mass society” of the twentieth century, against both of which conservatives had set themselves: perhaps, through conservative efforts, the West could retain or regain its individualistic spirit and so continue to nurture creative minorities. Most significantly, Toynbee was no determinist. There was no set date for the West’s demise; all depended on particular human choices and human actions. And, Toynbee admonished, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” It was up to conservatives to forestall, through acts of cultural recovery, the West’s suicidal tendencies.
The theme of a moral crisis of the West, one requiring a concerted and creative response, has remained a staple of conservative argument for more than half a century. It is noteworthy that what are taken by Spengler, Toynbee, and many conservatives as the indicators of civilizational decline—a coolly skeptical stance toward religious claims, the sensual delights of an urbane materialism, the democratization of society, the rational administration of a bureaucracy, the growth of a cosmopolitan “Universal State,” the burgeoning of novel liberties—have been understood by others as signs of civilizational flourishing and progress. The experiences of the first half of the twentieth century taught conservatives to doubt the solidity and sustainability of such phenomena in the absence of vibrant cultural foundations. Hence, in recent years, conservative initiatives in the culture wars constitute a continuing effort to arrest internal tendencies toward decline within Western civilization.
Beyond the threat of internal decline, “the West” has also been understood to require defense against threats arising externally, in international conflict. By invoking loyalty to the West as a whole, one may make “one’s own” the political concerns of other peoples who are not fellow citizens of one’s nation-state. In other words, the West is a basis or rationale for “natural” alliance in time of war. Thus, the British during the First World War were eager for that conflict to be seen by their potential allies as one pitting the liberal and civilized traditions of the West against invading hordes from the East, “the Hun.” In this way, isolationist America and unenthusiastic Commonwealth countries could be brought into the conflict as allies in the common defense of (Western) civilization itself—rather than in defense of British imperial interests.
The inclusion of the Soviet Union among the Allies of the Second World War tended to obstruct recourse to the language of the West, but even still, both Churchill and De Gaulle in their wartime speeches spoke of the defense of “liberal and Christian civilization,” a good short description of the meaning of the West in contrast with Nazi barbarism. With the Nazi defeat and the advent of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the defense of the West could serve as the basis for the NATO alliance against the totalitarian barbarism of the Eastern Bloc.
It was in the context of the Cold War that the West became an especially important concept for a nascent Western conservatism. Given that context, the term West carried in the first instance both geostrategic and economic connotations—mirroring the fact that our Soviet Communist adversaries understood economics to be at the “base” of all political, cultural, and spiritual life. Thus, despite its cultural dissimilarities, Japan could be understood to stand among the “Western” nations, since it was a free-market democracy and a U.S. ally (having been reconstructed as such by the Americans after World War II), while Spain under Franco might be understood to stand outside the West, since it was not (yet) a NATO member, nor a democracy. During the Cold War, the world was more or less neatly divided between the Communist Eastern Bloc, the so-called Western alliance (NATO) whose glue was democracy, and those nations which held themselves to be Non-Aligned.
Yet throughout the Cold War period, conservative thinkers worked to reach a deeper level of analysis of the manifold crises of the twentieth century. Many, following Eric Voegelin, concluded that Soviet communism was an extreme instance of “Gnostic revolt”—in effect, a characteristic heresy within the Western experience, rather than something arising from outside the West. If the “armed doctrine” threatening the West was itself a bastard child of the West’s own traditions, however, then the defense of the West began not on the tense military frontier dividing the two Germanies; rather, the defense of the West must begin with an effort to educate Western publics about the orthodox strains of the Western heritage. But what exactly were the “orthodox” traditions of the West?
Standard nineteenth-century accounts of Western civilization understood the West to have four roots. Athens stood emblematically as the source of the West’s philosophical traditions. Jerusalem was the source of the West’s religious traditions. Rome was the source of the West’s legal traditions. And Germany—the German forests, in which had dwelt the Gothic tribes—was the source of the peculiarly Western spirit of liberty, contract, and self-government. In such an account, the West was in effect an alternative, secularized name for “Western Christendom.”
Christianity, after all, had absorbed ancient philosophy; the church had displaced the Roman Empire as a universal jurisdiction; and the Goths were converted. In such an account, Christianity is the primary “marker” of the West, and so Rome, the eternal city, might be understood as the main taproot among the other, lesser roots. Such an account had, and continues to have, a particular appeal for traditionalist conservatives: the West they seek to defend is readily recognizable as Christendom. As a result, such conservatism has tended to have a high opinion of medieval civilization, finding within it a privileged cultural synthesis that remains normative, and so standing in a critical relationship to certain features of the contemporary world. Such a conservatism also searches in the Middle Ages for the origins of many Western institutions and practices that are often mistaken for modern innovations. The source of the West’s dynamism, for example, is found to be the Church. Christopher Dawson’s The Making of Europe, jumps to mind here.
The first major challenge to this traditional account of the West occurred during the First World War: for the purposes of that war, Germany had to be located outside the West, and so a rich literature on the Gothic dimensions of the Western experience was lost. As a result, we would in time no longer be able to understand what Montesquieu, for example, meant when he praised England for having retained its Gothic constitution; we would no longer feel the intuitive force of Hegel’s arguments concerning the special world-historical role of “German freedom.” Western liberty would have to be extracted from other and perhaps less adequate sources.
In America, moreover, a Jerusalem-Athens-Rome account of the West was usually thought unsatisfactory, since it tended to confer primacy to Roman Catholicism as the synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem—something most non-Catholics were not prepared to concede. Protestants and others understood “liberty of conscience” and the protection of the “private judgment” of the individual to be singularly “Western” achievements, responsible for the West’s special dynamism during the modern period—and these were believed to follow only from the Reformation’s repudiation of Roman “obscurantism,” and even Roman “despotism.” As has been said: anti-Catholicism became the last acceptable bias.
Many American conservatives were therefore attracted to Leo Strauss’s articulation of the West’s Great Tradition as one of Jerusalem and Athens in irresolvable tension. This account had something to offer everyone. Catholics could read Strauss and supply Rome as the arena in which this tension had been worked out in history. Jews could appreciate an account of the West in which the religion of the Old Testament was understood to have priority over the New. Post-Barthian Protestants could resonate with the either-or existential choice between Athens and Jerusalem that Strauss posited as the fate of every thinking man.
For all of that, Strauss’s own choice was for Athens, not Jerusalem: Athens is the taproot in his account of the West, reaching deeper than other, lesser roots. For most neoconservative followers of Strauss, therefore, free inquiry and Socratic enlightenment are the primary “markers” of the West. The West they seek to defend is not Christendom, but rather the civilization that philosophy built and in which universal reason has its home: in other words, the civilization of modern liberal democracy.
Related to this Straussian account of the primacy of Western philosophy are those libertarian or classical liberal conservatives for whom the free market economy, with its abundant prosperity and constant technological innovation, constitutes the characteristic Western excellence. With some exceptions, such conservatives tend to identify the West with the “modern civilization” that arose in the eighteenth century as the project of the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment—and often, it is said, in self-conscious rejection of earlier traditions. Whereas Straussians give priority to the modern political order, libertarians and classical liberals give priority to the modern economic order.
A host of conservative debates and areas of research arise from these contentions over the essence of Western civilization. Was modernity really achieved only in rejection of the West’s older heritage? Or is modernity a fruit of earlier Western traditions and institutions? (Or, more fundamentally, is modernity to be regarded simply as an unproblematic “achievement”?) Are modern Western institutions self-subsistent? Or do such institutions depend upon cultural prerequisites that may be undermined by modern life? If the West is identified exclusively with the modern and the cosmopolitan, is America in fact the only or the “most” Western nation? And if Socratic enlightenment, free markets, and modernity in general are truly universals, is the particular Western history that led to their achievement merely a husk that may be discarded once we have entered the stage of a truly universal civilization?
Such questions became urgent in the decade between the fall of Soviet communism in 1989–91 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. No longer facing an Eastern Bloc, the contours and boundaries of the West were thrown into doubt. Indeed, many observers—and not a few conservatives among them—followed Francis Fukuyama in concluding that we had reached the “End of History,” with liberal democracy (the characteristically Western political regime, but one with putatively global application) everywhere triumphant, and rightly so. Under Fukuyama’s tutelage, we witnessed the return of a version of the older Whig narrative, now in a new, quasi-Marxist or quasi-Hegelian guise: where before it had been said that communism was the inevitable “wave of the future,” it was now held that there was something inevitable about the triumph of liberal democracy. The West’s triumph was the triumph of humanity itself, a universal triumph.
At the same time, the 1990s were the decade of American conservatism’s acute struggle with multiculturalism in the academy. Despite numerous conservative caveats and objections, the locus classicus of conservative arguments against multicultural relativism was Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), a best-seller with enormous influence. Bloom was a student of Leo Strauss, and the peculiar feature of his intervention in the academic wars over the “canon” of texts to be studied in the university was his stipulation that the Great Books of the West were to be preferred only on account of their philosophic universality. In other words, the only rational basis for allegiance to the West was the West’s own allegiance to universal, Socratic questioning. Anything less would be a species of mere ethnocentrism.
As globalization—the universalization of Western business practices and popular culture—gathered strength in the 1990s, the “facts on the ground” lent further credence to an understanding of the West as a universal civilization openly available to all. Hence America, as the “the first universal nation“ seemed to stand as the West’s (and the world’s) vanguard and model.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought a jolting return to History. Suddenly, we were confronted anew by the most traditional enemy from the East: Islam—or at least elements from within Islam that were intent to resist the rise of a universal civilization built on Western foundations. Shortly after Fukuyama had published his work on the “end of history” (1992) Samuel Huntington had published an article (1993) and later a book, The Clash of Civilizations (1996) arguing that, after the Cold War, international conflict would no longer be nationalist (as had been the case in the nineteenth century), nor ideological (as had been the case in the twentieth), but would instead center around a “clash of civilizations.” That is, cultural identities and antagonisms would play a major role in relations among states. Presciently, he observed that Islam in particular has “bloody borders”—a greatly disproportionate number of the ongoing conflicts in the world involve Muslims. September 11 appeared to prove Huntington’s analysis more cogent than Fukuyama’s: there would be no escape from the burden of history, and ideas and institutions could not be discussed apart from culture and the historical process.
The situation remains unsettled intellectually, however. On the one hand, the attraction of a universal modern civilization equally available to all remains great—and so many conservatives, especially neoconservatives, are inclined to understand the emergent terrorist threat either as a species of totalitarian ideology (assimilating it to the experience of the twentieth century, as with the use of the term “Islamofascism,” to be defeated by force of arms) or else as a kind of historical backwardness (something “medieval”) that is susceptible to being “modernized” out of existence through the processes and practices of enlightenment, that is, through the application of “democracy.” In either view, the West’s history remains a universal history, confronting inevitable road bumps—albeit sometimes large ones—on the road to inevitable future triumph.
On the other hand, the confrontation with jihad (to say nothing of the spectacular recent rise of China) is beginning to force a reacquaintance with the particularities or non-universal elements of the West. Not least, we begin to appreciate more fully that Western ideals and institutions depend at least to some extent on cultural foundations that are the possession of historically Western peoples—and so we view with alarm the demographics of contemporary Europe, the cradle of the West, with a burgeoning Muslim minority amidst a dwindling native population. Hence the closing of the borders.
Even if the West is less universal than we have lately thought, so the argument goes, it is still good, still ours, and still in need of a defense. This explains the forbidding of the constructions of mosques and the closing of the frontiers (Hungary in particular which claims to be defending nothing less than European Christendom) to the hordes of Moslem refugees fleeing from the Syrian conflict and seeking refuge and a new life in the EU.
And yet there are some European intellectuals that have been exploring the idea of multiple modernities which would include religion as part of the ongoing dialogue in the public agora on the West’s identity. Jurgen Habermas is one of those. But for the moment let’s leave the concept of “multiple modernities” for another essay in the Ovi Symposium.
Note: This article has previously appeared in Ovi magazine.
Building Europe’s Future
On November 18, 2020, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Russian Federation Géza Andreas von Geyr was giving an open lecture at HSE University.
What is the place and role of the European Union in the modern world? How is the European integration project developing, and what role does Germany play in it? How are relations between the EU and Russia today?
The event was organized jointly by HSE University and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Moscow as part of the Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union and of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as well as in the framework of the Year of Germany in Russia.
Text of the Lecture
Building Europe’s Future
Prof Kuzminov, Prof Prostakov, Dear Students,
Thanks a lot for the invitation to speak to you today.
I regret that, due to the pandemic, I can´t talk to you face to face—but I enjoy that I can reach out to so many of you online.
I´m especially grateful for the invitation as your university is one of the best and most prestigious in Russia. And it is an excellent venue for a discussion dedicated to Europe.
From the beginning, the HSE has established a strong cooperation with European Universities—and with European Institutions.
The ties in education and science between Russia and Europe go far back in history, they were mutually enriching—and they still are.
That’s why we can say that the DNA of so many universities in Russia is very much European. And we Europeans learned a lot from Russians in the field of science and education as well.
If I take just my country, Germany:
Cooperation and exchange in education and science is one of the most stable and reliable links between our countries—and for me it is one of the most precious:
Because I take it as a strong investment in our common future.
Yes, I´m proud, that today Germany is the top destination for students from the Russian Federation going abroad.
More than 14,000 students and scientists came to Germany in 2019, each of them contributing to building bridges between our countries.
And the other way round Russia is attractive for German students, as its Universities offer great conditions and high standards.
Our scientific cooperation continues to produce excellent results. To mention just two fascinating projects:
Russian and German research centers work together on the European XFEL, the largest X-ray laser in the world, and Russian and German researchers jointly took part in the largest Arctic research expedition ever—“MOSAiC”—which was successfully completed a few weeks ago.
And this bond continues to grow:
We have just concluded a bilateral year of Higher Education Cooperation and Science, and in September, we have started our year of Germany in Russia, which includes a multitude of education and research related events and projects.
(Is the discussion on European-Russian relations adequate?)
What I just mentioned shines a light on only some of the many layers of relations Russian universities and scientific institutions enjoy with European countries.
I´m convinced, if we added them all up, the Euro-Russian dimension would turn out as one of the strongest partnerships in education and science worldwide.
This stands as an example for one part of the European–Russian reality: Things go well—in some areas.
The other one is: we all read and experience that EU-Russian relations are, to put it in diplomatic words: not in the best shape.
Or, to be more precise: On very fundamental, tangible political issues we very much disagree.
I could leave it at that, go on and talk about the need to paint a layered and nuanced picture and that a lot of work will have to be done to solve those problematic issues and to rebuild trust.
But my feeling is that the problem goes deeper.
Something went awry in the way we perceive each other.
Are we still both convinced that good European Russian relations are in our long-term interest?
So, do we give this relationship, be it currently good or bad, the strategic depth it should have?
And even more basic:
Do we still understand each other well enough? Do we explain our views well enough?
Are we attentive enough when listening to each other? And: how do we talk about each other?
I´m convinced that the time has come to reflect well on all of this; if we do not take our time to do that, the very core of our relationship could be seriously harmed.
This is what I have in mind talking to you about Europe today.
To explain and to be ready to understand, in both directions. This is, if you so wish, the essence of diplomacy.
So, what in fact I already started with, is to explain my views, offer some remarks on Europe—and I will do this in the form of answers to questions I often hear.
My remarks will be personal ones, not official positions of my government, nor of the German EU Presidency or Council of Europe Chairmanship.
It´s more a European talking with fellow Europeans. And the other way round, of course, I´m ready to hear your remarks and to learn from you.
And speaking about Europe, I mean of course a wider scope of countries than the 27 member states of the EU.
At the same time the EU as such is not only part of this Europe, it has the essential, decisive role.
It has reached a degree of integration the European continent in modern times has never seen before.
So, the first question is or rather was:
Is the current discussion on European-Russian relations adequate? You have just heard my answer—it is not.
My further remarks will be on the following questions:
Is there a core ratio of European integration? What is the motor keeping Europe alive?
Is the supertanker Europe able to adapt? Is the European model outdated?
Is Europe ready for the globalized future? Which future for European-Russian relations?
Is there a core ratio for European integration?
Sometimes when I follow discussions here in Russia—and not only here—I think that Europe must be a lost cause.
Statements are made creating an image of a continent all but united.
The EU is portrayed as having lost its moral compass, in foreign policy a poodle of the Americans, as if with Brexit European integration had run out of steam and as if migration would put an end to European identities.
So what does European Integration stand for?
This year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War all over the world, all over Europe, especially here in Russia.
I was deeply moved listening in September to Johannes Brahms´ requiem played and sung in Moscow´s Lutheran cathedral by Russian musicians, conducted by an Israeli maestro, in honor of the many millions who lost their lives in the most terrible of all wars and in the Holocaust, both caused by my country, Germany.
What did not succeed after World War I, was successful after 1945: Countries in the western part of this continent, who through centuries fought wars against each other, decided to integrate step-by-step, so that wars amongst them would no more be possible or indeed thinkable.
The dimension of this is unique: Proud nation states, hundreds of years old, started to merge parts of their sovereignty and handed them over to shared institutions.
A community of European nations was build, of nations committed to democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
Out of this very spirit and rationale evolved what is now the European Union.
And after the fall of the Iron curtain it attracted the countries who finally regained their freedom, including their freedom to choose partners—and this Europe seems to be very attractive, or let´s say convincing to many who wish to partner with or even join it, until today.
Yes, this community succeeded in creating a region of enormous economic prosperity – but first and foremost it is and remains a unique peace project.
It was the peaceful togetherness of democracies and the rule of law that gave the people an unprecedented degree of freedom to seize their economic opportunities—not the other way round.
And the encouraging effects of this reach out far beyond the boundaries of the EU.
This remains relevant today, when we talk about the “who we are” of the European institutions.
The answer to the “why” of European integration is to be found on the countless military cemeteries all over Europe, including here in Russia.
What is the real motor keeping Europe alive?
Last week the Ermitage Museum and a Berlin Museum jointly opened a wonderful exhibition in Saint Petersburg on the Iron Age—with the wisely chosen subtitle: “A Europe without borders”.
Yes, it´s worth recalling, that in former times Europe did not define itself by borders, people were trading their talents and goods across the continent, influencing each other´s development from the Italian Peninsula to the German regions and the Caucasus.
This is part of our common heritage, our common history.
And in a special way this reflection of the past also gives us a hint to how our future could look like: A Europe with boundaries, as we are used to it, is not a given or a must.
Since the 1990s big steps were taken into this direction: Within Europe almost 30 countries introduced the so-called Schengen system, de facto abolishing the boundaries amongst them. From Portugal to Estonia, from Sweden to Greece, people can travel without being controlled. Young people can study, work and live in any place they want.
The Erasmus program has enabled, over the last seven years alone, 2 million students to study and train abroad and thus gain a personal experience of Europe growing together. And by the way: This program explicitly includes Russia.
These are some of the most exciting successes of European integration.
Others are the Euro, a common currency well appreciated in the world, in which most EU members participate.
Or think about the economic powerhouses Germany, France or Italy: despite their national strength, trade agreements with Tokyo or Washington are not negotiated by Berlin, Paris or Rome, but by Brussels alone, in the name of all 27, protecting our joint interests with far more leverage than any of us individually could do.
Think about the Council of Europe with its unique mechanism of protecting human rights and defining human rights standards, accessible for every citizen—next year we´ll celebrate 25 years of Russia´s membership. 2019 alone some thousand Russians turned to the court.
Or recall the mechanisms established in the OSCE on transparency, confidence building and verification where again Russia is member.
Its mechanisms were essential for the overall peaceful end of the Cold War in Europe. Today its instruments serve to at least calming down the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the OSCE is asked to continue giving a framework for negotiations on the future of Nagorno Karabakh and could well help solve the crisis in Belarus.
And, by the way, the OSCE was invited to observe the presidential elections in the USA, as it is in many European countries.
Or more recently, take PESCO, an initiative 25 EU members took for closer cooperation on defense matters: more efficient coordination and joint procurement, thus strengthening European defense.
And I could mention many more areas.
Has Europe established a perfect system? No, there is daily work being done to intensify, to improve, to readjust.
But is European Integration a lost cause? Definitely not, and this is the point I want to make:
What generated European Integration in the first place and pushes it further is its unique way of interacting: it is the culture of compromising.
In fact, European Integration, especially the EU as such, is probably the most efficient compromise machine the world has ever seen.
Every day EU member states meet on different levels on a multitude of issues to discuss, propose, regulate, improve, correct, decide together.
Yes, we all know that there are issues the Union sometimes can´t find a common view on—but compared to the amount of successful coordination and joint decisions those are just very few.
And yes, decision-making might be complicated, sometimes slow, requiring a lot of patience. But let me ask: is there any group of 27 countries constantly defining common policy on almost all areas of politics more quickly and effectively? I don´t think so.
It is the readiness to compromise which is the motor of European Integration.
And compromising becomes possible because all member states are convinced that peace and prosperity are best preserved in togetherness, and because they all are bound to democratic values and the rule of law.
And they can all carry the compromises because they know that in the decision-making process all points of view matter.
Is the supertanker Europe able to adapt?
The culture of compromising is demanding.
We experience this daily, even we EU Ambassadors do when meeting here in Moscow. Searching for common positions is not easy, but fair compromises make the solutions found sustainable.
Again, a deeper look into the EU—why not on the most difficult current crises situations:
Let´s take Corona: when the pandemic emerged, no country on the globe was really prepared, everywhere the search began for an acceptable balance between medical and economic health, and of course first reactions were national and inward-looking.
It took a while until the EU found a common approach, first comments from the outside were full of Schadenfreude/malicious joy—and not willing to recognize the fact that the EU succeeded to maintain the trans-border flow of goods: to the profit of countries inside and outside the Union.
Mocking the EU stopped when the 27 rather soon came up with the decision to support those who suffer bad economic consequences of the pandemic with an unprecedented volume of 750 billion €. All this in addition to the EU budget and national investments for recovery.
Or take the Brexit.
I do well remember EU council meetings I attended right after Great Britain took its decision to leave.
There were many in- and outside the Union who seemed to enjoy that the Union was shaken up by London, and who may have hoped that even more member states would follow.
But: it didn’t take long until member states reconvinced each other that in this globalized world no European country could be more successful on its own than together as a Union. And since then my impression has been that the 27 regained even closer unity than before.
It might be surprising to some how quickly the EU adapted to this fundamentally new situation and how strong the common line for the negotiations with London proves to be.
Think about climate policy and the consensus found on the extremely ambitious, progressive “Green Deal”, proposed last December by the European Commission, which might become a decisive, catalyzing element for the world to stop or at least slow down global warming.
Or take EU Foreign Policy in the last weeks:
The fact that the 27 rather quickly agreed on sanctioning those in Belarus responsible for election fraud and violence against their own people will have been a surprise for some, who
might have hoped that the Union be split—the EU is not and kept a clear position, faithful to standards we agreed upon in the frame of the OSCE.
Do these examples mean that everything is perfect?
No, we constantly have to work on our relations amongst each other, on very practical issues as well as sometimes on the mutual respect we have to pay to each other´s specific national experiences and identities.
But the ability of the supertanker EU to adapt should not be questioned.
Is the European model outdated?
Is Europe, especially the EU a modern place, open to the future? My answer is two-fold:
Europe has the industrial base, the scientific base, the human capital and the necessary open society which allows it to keep up with the other top players in the technological vanguard and in the competition for the top brains.
But we may not rest on our laurels, we have to ensure that we remain at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s technologies, in areas such as digitalization, nanotechnology or biotechnology.
That’s why the EU is intensely working on a Single European Digital Market and on a roadmap called the “Digital Compass”. We are also discussing the issue of Europe’s so-called Digital Sovereignty that to our understanding should pave the way for a rules-based framework for the digital sphere.
Our efforts in climate change I mentioned before, on health the European Commission and the German Presidency last week announced, drawing lessons from the pandemic, to be working on a “Common space of Health”, part of a future European Health Union,
and Foreign policy is definitely a field, where we will have to find a way to better speak with one voice.
Now here comes the second part of my answer:
If we look at all the key challenges, we are faced by globalization—be it climate change, reducing poverty, a fair access of all to the more and more limited natural resources of the planet, establishing rules in the information and cyber space—we see that solutions will only be found in togetherness: across nations, countries and continents.
And I speak about challenges not only as problems.
It´s all the wonderful possibilities a globalized togetherness could offer, providing food and water to all humans, as well as education, medicine, and I would absolutely add: freedom and security.
To assure this, a willingness to open up to the world is needed—at the same time there needs to be a willingness to refrain from the wish or even the political goal to dominate others.
This is another lesson, we Europeans learned from the painful history during the last century on our continent.
A very wise European once said: If any European thinks he could be more than Nr 2—then Europe is in trouble.
So we Europeans know from our tragic past that any policy claiming: “my country first” will not work for us.
This is why we, in the EU, manage to be a community of equals—even if some of us might be economically or militarily stronger or politically more powerful than others.
This is sometimes hard to sell to others, because it does not match traditional lines of international power policy—but this is what defines the strength of our togetherness.
And more than that:
Just think about it the other way round: Because the EU members as Nation States regard and treat each other as equals, we together, since decades, are trained to cherish and to promote both: unity and diversity. Or, in other words: a high degree of tolerance.
A croissant in France, a cappuccino in Italy and a slivovic in Zagreb or Prague—on this small continent we enjoy diversity and our cultures will never melt into one—and that is good.
Diversity is at the core of our history, culture, arts, languages.
At the same time there is something that strongly unites us. And this goes beyond the joint code of legislation:
It´s our understanding of freedom and of the dignity of every single human being.
And here I´m not talking just about the EU.
Think about the Council of Europe with its 47 Members having established a highly sophisticated and intense human rights protection system.
Or think about those many issues covered by the Human Dimension of the OSCE, setting and observing standards to the freedom of press, for free and fair elections and so on.
The best expression for what I mean I found in the title of a book written by a British author some years ago: “dignity of difference”. (Jonathan Sacks)
Without space for difference and diversity no Europe.
Does this mean that just everything is possible? Not at all: the protection of the dignity of each human and of their freedom is defining the limits of freedom.
Is this undisputed? No, it is not, we all witness intense discussions on the balance between freedom and security and these discussions are important as they show the vitality of our democracies.
An example: Chancellor Merkel, during the pandemic underlined – with a view to the necessity to limit rights and freedoms of the citizens – that the virus was a tough challenge to a democratic society (“das Virus ist eine demokratische Zumutung”).
And in many European countries during the different crises of the last decade political forces gained momentum, who argue for exclusion and a very national way. My country, too, is not immune against this.
Currently an extraordinary exhibition of contemporary art is being put together, to be shown next year in Berlin, Paris and Moscow.
It brings together more than 80 of the most prestigious artists from 35 European countries, including Russians, expressing themselves on Europe under the slogan “Diversity United”. I´m very much looking forward to this big European event that will be part of the Year of Germany in Russia and which fits so well with respecting and promoting cultural diversity being one of the core tasks of the Council of Europe.
So, this was my second answer to the question about Europe being modern:
Our globalized future will ask for a high degree of tolerance across continents and cultures—of tolerance, which has for a long time already been a prerequisite for our European Integration.
Is Europe ready for the globalized future?
Europe as such does not claim to be a world power.
But we do have interest in peace, stability and prosperity in the world.
And the world means: a more and more globalized world, where problems and opportunities can quickly bridge any distance and cross any border.
During the last years we all learned a lot about this. Just a few examples concerning Germany:
When a few years ago Europe had to deal with an enormous influx of migrants a German politician, now President of the Federal Parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble, called this a “rendezvous with globalization”.
Or: Just a decade ago nobody in Germany would have thought that our soldiers would be sent to Western Africa, Mali, training Sahel forces to fight Transnational Terror and trying to stabilize that fragile part of the world.
We have understood that, in the globalized reality, what seemed to be far away has become part of our own national and European security interests.
Currently especially climate change and the pandemic demonstrate that global problems need global solutions.
Europe´s answer can and will not be building a fortress that must be shielded from a dangerous outside-world. We know that our own well-being and security depend on the well- being and security of our neighbors.
Of course, we need a Europe that efficiently protects its external borders, and we are making progress on this. But at the same time we will have to intensify opening up to neighbours and beyond, and look for partnerships with like-mindeds.
And we will do this more and more together as EU, as our national interests become more and more identical with our joint European interests.
The rationale for this is rather clear:
The big geostrategic trends and dynamics shift towards Asia and away from Europe.
And the demographic trends describe shrinking societies in Europe, while those in Asia and Africa are growing.
As a consequence we Europeans have the choice between acting more nationally, each one of us becoming more and more irrelevant or to intensify our unity and thus stay relevant together.
This means for our partners, that relations with us will stay bilateral, but at the same time they will—like it or not—become more European.
Which future for European-Russian relations?
Having said all this—where does Russia come in? The simple answer is: on almost all of it.
No country can escape two things: its history and its geography.
In this sense we do already live in what was called “one common European house”. Of course, we all make friends outside, seek best possible relations with neighbors. But moving out—that is not a realistic option for any one of us.
So, back to the questions from the very beginning: How do we think it is best to relate to each other? Do we still follow the rules we agreed upon?
How do we solve problems amongst us?
Do we both still wish to build our future together? And: How do we talk about each other?
Each side has to make up its mind.
I see, as a German and European, the following three perspectives:
Concerning those current very political problems, on which we fundamentally disagree, we have to work very seriously on solutions.
Be it the annexation of the Crimea, the Skripal case, the poisoning of Alexej Navalny, the massive hacking attacks on the German Parliament and the OPCW, and so on:
on all of those issues we have very clear EU positions, and with the so-called “Tiergarten- murder” in Berlin some more might follow.
They all concern issues which are essential to the core of our European self: when international law is harshly violated and Human Rights are harshly violated, when rules we all are bound by are violated, we cannot stay indifferent, we speak out.
An EU or Europe being silent or simply tolerating this, would give up its identity.
And this is not an interference into internal affairs:
The Council of Europe and in particular its Convention on Human Rights guarantee access to a European Court to the citizens of all Member States.
On the OSCE side in the Charter of Paris of 1990 all members are bound to commitments like abiding by common standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, refraining from the use of force against each other, respecting territorial integrity and adhering to a concept of joint and indivisible security.
Because of these commitments, violations of basic democratic standards or human rights are no longer a purely internal affair of a member country.
These are standards that all European countries signed up to.
At the same time we have to care about the strategic view on our relations and about areas where we share the interest that cooperation is needed.
Two weeks ago, the EU Delegation and my Embassy organized an expert meeting with the Russian International Affairs Council about this.
Only one single Russian voice pronounced repeatedly a very skeptical position on the future of EU-Russian relations.
All others present, Russians and Europeans, tried to identify areas where and how cooperation could make sense and improve.
Especially on climate change and transnational health we seem to have a common interest in working on common solutions—not to speak about the crises in Libya, Syria, in Ukraine or in the Caucasus, which need pragmatic cooperation and concertation in order to develop solutions.
And about a strategic view on the relations:
From the EU side, there is a strategy and there are intense discussions about it, just a few weeks ago on the level of our Foreign Ministers.
The five principles of this strategy do have a forward-looking approach,
mentioning the possibility of selective engagement on areas of common interest and stating the way out for the toughest of the problems that stand between us, that is Eastern Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Speaking about the Council of Europe, of which Germany is taking over the chairmanship today, my government worked hard in support of readmitting Russia to the parliamentary Assembly one and a half years ago.
And concerning the OSCE, we very much hope for more Russian engagement.
Currently Russia is in favour of using the OSCE Minsk Group instruments for working on the status of Nagorno Karabakh—but is not willing to advocate OSCE mediation in Belarus—why?
And I would ask about strategies the other way round:
Where is Russia, given all that happened since 2014, with a forward looking strategy on European Affairs?
I think we should continue the discussions on these questions. Our relations do need strategic depth and we should both find consensus on that.
What I would propose is reflecting on kind of a destination map.
To me, there seem to be many good reasons for that—and only very few against.
By the way, given comments I sometimes hear here in Russia about the EU: I´m convinced that a strong and powerful EU is in the long run the best partner Russia can find to cope with the challenges coming up by globalization.
The people are close to each other.
In my country there is great affection to Russian culture—and the same is the case all over Europe.
We should do our best to intensify contacts.
Let´s see how the people in Russia think about all this:
The last Levada poll dealing with the EU in Russian public opinion in May 2020 asked Russian citizens whether they consider Russia to be a European country. It brought a split result: 45 % answered yes, 44 % no, the others found it difficult to answer.
One other thing emerged from the Levada poll: The EU is seen positively and considered as an attractive place to study, work and live.
When Levada asked where Russians would like to go if they had to move abroad permanently, three EU countries were among the top-5.
The most appreciated qualities of the EU were a high standard of living, stability, democracy and the rule of law.
82 % said that closer relations with the EU would be in Russia’s interest.
I wonder how a poll would look like if the question is asked how far people in Russia feel European and how far “western”—but this could be a good topic for a future lecture.
These were my remarks on “Building Europe´s future”. I gave you my view on different aspects of Europe,
I expressed my hope for Europe being taken here in Russia for what it is, not perfect, but, as many European politicians put it: The best Europe we have ever had.
And I was trying to show how far Russia is part of all this and could or should be in the future. But this is of course for Russians to decide.
So where are we?
Let me end with the title of a book written on a historical topic a few years ago: “un seul lit pour deux reves”—only one bed for two dreams.
We might have different dreams, but waking up we realize each day that we live together and that we better ought to look for harmony in the daily life of our relationship.
From our partner RIAC
European sanctions against Turkey are more likely than ever
Another scandal erupted in relations between Turkey and the EU – on November 22, the Turkish merchant vessel, Roseline A, was detained and fully inspected by personnel of German frigate Hamburg in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, 160 nautical miles north of the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Since no weapons were found on board, Ankara received moral satisfaction which would later turn into notes of protest demanding an apology and compensation, as well as statements about European “Turkophobia”. Turkey for sure will use this cause in all possible ways – necessary protests will be made; lawsuits will be filed. This very issue will be included in the agenda of Turkey’s activities in NATO and the UN. The Turkish side has already declared its official protest, and the EU ambassadors have been invited to the Turkish Foreign Ministry for “talks”.
It is worth noting that this incident occurred shortly before the next EU summit scheduled on December 10, devoted to possible imposing of sanctions against Turkey for its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. EU top officials are once again trying to make it clear to Turkey that its activities in the region are unacceptable and “sanctions are more likely than ever.”
Moreover, on November 26, MEPs voted by an absolute majority in favor of a draft resolution calling on the EU member states to impose tough sanctions on Ankara. The document emphasizes that relations between Turkey and the EU have reached a “historical minimum” due to Ankara’s actions in the Mediterranean, Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Europe sends constant signals to Turkey that its position is contrary to European values, interests, and understanding of regional and global security.
What will happen at the summit on December 10, when the EU will, once again, discuss sanctions against Turkey? How far the EU will be ready to go and what steps Ankara will take in the near future to prevent it? Now Turkey provides a more restrained policy trying not to give a leverage to Europe, Paris, or Berlin.
France still may be the most anti-Turkish country in the EU, but now Berlin is starting to act more openly against Ankara. The incident in the Eastern Mediterranean was approved by the German leadership in advance for sure. This means that the situation for Turkey is changing for the worse on the eve of the EU summit, so important for Erdogan.
More pressure on Republic of Srpska
Recently, Bosnian High Representative Valentin Inzko, who is tasked with overseeing the civilian implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the Bosnian war, presented his 58th report on the situation in the country to the UN Security Council. He again accused Bosnian Serb and Croat leadership of secession, disruptive actions and attempts to make Bosnia appear dysfunctional.
“Republic of Srpska authorities are undermining Bosnia`s institutions and threatening its sovereignty, attacking the High Representative and foreign judges, and refusing to accept migrants. The Serbian member of the Presidency, Milorad Dodik, is the loudest in disputing Bosnia and Herzegovina, which he calls an impossible state“ – Inzko told the representatives of the states of the UN Security Council.
Such selective attacks on Serbs could not remain without a diplomatic response. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council, Vasily Nebenzya stated:
– We have listened carefully to Mr. Inzko and we are sorry that the quality of the High Representative’s report has not been improved. Criticism of Serbs in Bosnia has become a standard way of writing the Report. Instead of accusations, the OHR should offer solutions. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve to create solutions themselves – Nebenzya emphasized at the United Nations. Nebenzya also called for a revision of the conditions and criteria for closing the office of Bosnia’s international administrator. The Russian position on this issue is well known and logical.
Because what should an international administrator or a High Representative do in a democratic country in the 20th century?! What kind of country is Bosnia and Herzegovina if someone can make decisions outside the Constitution and the law. Unfortunately, this undemocratic practice continues primarily due to the intensified aspirations of certain Bosniak officials to rewrite the Dayton Agreement in favour of the centralization and unitarization of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The High Representative’s persistent desire to shift all responsibility for the failed process of interethnic reconciliation to Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is obvious. They are baselessly called Dayton (Peace Agreement) ‘destroyers’. The High Representative wants to scare the international community with the possibility of a dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina while completely ignoring the real situation in the country. Its obvious that some “international factors” support these aspirations and that no political views from the Serbian or Croat side can`t be considered.
What is important to point out is that the statements of Bosnia`s High Representative Valentin Inzko are in line with the statements of US ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently US ambassador to Bosnia, Mr. Eric Nelson stated that he advocates “reforms” for both Dayton agreement and the Bosnian constitution.(2) From decades of experience in the Balkans, when a US ambassador in the Balkans starts advocating for “reforms”, it actually represents an announcement of stronger US engagement, ie, as it is now fashionable to say – at least in the US – interference in internal things of that state.
In the 1990s, when United States was the only super power as a Cold War winner, the word “reform” had an almost mythical meaning that could not, and should not, be questioned. It was understood that the system of the so-called liberal democracy, was the ultimate winner of the entire process of human history (which Francis Fukuyama proclaimed urbi et orbi in his world-famous essay “The End of History”, published just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall) the only one that can set standards for the rest of the world. Therefore, the word “reform” could mean only one thing – changes in the direction of the ideal, only legitimate and acceptable model for US.
Who was not in favor of “reforms” in the direction of an absolutely victorious and, therefore, the only legitimate order of the so-called liberal democracy – political and economic isolation awaited him. From such a totalitarian and exclusive view of the world, the roots of future “humanitarian” interventions around the world sprouted very quickly.
Donald Trump gained the sympathy of the Serbs because he had promised not to interfere in the internal questions of other countries and because the entire mandate, including the just-concluded elections, he was under attack by the establishment, the deep state and the big media. However, objectively his administration continued to bother Serbia with the recognition of Kosovo and Republic of Srpska with a united Bosnia. He blocked the gas pipelines and the Silk Road to the Serbian protectors, the Russians and the Chinese. However, the change in the US administration towards the Serbs was obvious. During the Trump administration, the facts were taken into account that Serbs and Americans were allies in the two world wars and that certain Serbian interests in the Balkans should be taken into account.
On the other side, Bosniaks are celebrating Biden’s victory as if it were an election in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reason is simple, Joe Biden was one of the main lobbyists for the bombing of Serbs in the 1990s. And when NATO started the bombing, Joe Biden celebrated publicly. It was the NATO bombing of Republika Srpska in 1995 that forced Serbs to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosniak political leaders now hope that when Biden become president of the United States, he will force Serbs to “compromise“ again.
However, it should be borne in mind that this is no longer a unipolar world in which the United States is the only superpower. And that Trump’s policy is not the cause but an expression of the crisis of American society. That Trumpism will outlive Trump, which means, turning America away from the world towards itself, returning industry from abroad to the country for domestic unemployment and not interfering in the internal affairs of other states. In other words, America can no longer pursue the policies it pursued in the Balkans in the 1990s. However, without a doubt, with the arrival of Biden, the American administration, in accordance with its power, will put additional pressure on the Serbs in favor of Bosniaks and unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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