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The Prisoner of Geography: Orbán’s perception of geographical pragmatism

Péter Kacziba, Ph.D.,

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Between the beginning of September and the end of November 2019, the Hungarian government has received an exceptionally high number of foreign officials. Among others, Viktor Orbán’s cabinet has hosted Aleksandar Vučić Serbian, Andrej Babiš Czech, Peter Pellegrini Slovak, and Antti Rinne Finnish prime ministers as well as received Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Charles Michel, the new elected President of the European Council. Besides the highest level, the five foreign ministers of Turkic Council have also been hosted, while after six years of demonstrative absence, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has also paid a visit to Budapest. 

Even though the visits of Mr. Maas and Charles Michel received less enthusiastic media coverage, the Hungarian government regarded all meetings with special attention. Besides tide security and traffic restrictions, the high regard has also included the introduction of a new political rhetoric which maintained the most important frameworks of Hungarian foreign policy but added a new interpretation based on geographical pragmatism. The new discourse characterized the joint press conferences given respectively by Viktor Orbán and the Russian and Turkish counterparts where the Hungarian PM presented his foreign policy as an approach driven by the unchangeable conditions of geographical realities. As Mr. Orbán described it to Vladimir Putin, “the basis of our political cooperation is a very simple geographical fact, that no country can change its house number”. According to Mr. Orbán, the geographical conditions of Hungary tie Budapest to the Berlin–Moscow–Ankara triangle which geopolitical environment determines the potentials of Hungarian foreign policy. 

Although the geographical explanation is not a new feature in the rhetoric of Hungarian foreign policy, the importance of Germany, and generally the West, was deliberately ignored in recent years. Since the visit of Angela Merkel in August 2019, this trend has begun to change. While the Russian and Turkish friendly approach remained to be a crucial part of the Hungarian foreign policy, Mr. Orbán seems to rebalance the relations and attempts to normalize partnerships with the West, and particularly with Germany. If the rebalancing continues, Hungary could turn back to the original frameworks of the Global Opening foreign policy that attempted to find a delicate balance between the West and the rest. 

The shifting balance of Global Opening

Since coming to power in 2010, Viktor Orbán and his FIDESZ party have made significant changes in the Hungarian foreign policy. The Atlantist or Westernizer approach was supplemented by the doctrine of Global Opening which diversified Hungary’s previously EU-, US- and NATO-based foreign policy and aimed to reduce unilateral dependence on the West. The original framework of this new foreign policy direction first redirected Hungary’s attention towards the global East (2010) and then the global South (2015). The often-criticized approach, according to the official explanation, was meant to respond to the new global trends and intended to channel the Hungarian economy into the seemingly skyrocketing developing markets. The new strategy made efforts to establish cooperation with globally (Russia, China) and regionally (Turkey) significant countries and also resulted in a more active and sometimes more confrontational foreign policy towards neighbouring countries.

Though the original, economy-oriented idea of Global Opening did not aim to divert the country from its traditional Euro-Atlantic direction, domestic illiberal measures, friendly relations with Russia and the anti-EU rhetoric automatically generated antagonistic feelings among Hungary’s Western allies. The growing Western criticism and the FIDESZ’s harsh responses to it further deepened the disputes, and, by 2016-2018, pushed the increasingly isolated Hungarian government towards Moscow and Ankara. While Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became frequent guests in Budapest, the Sargentini report condemned the Hungarian government over the violation of basic European values and the European People’s Party suspended FIDESZ’s membership. Relations reached the lowest point during the campaign of the 2019 European Parliamentary election when many from the EU centre labelled the FIDESZ as a far-right and even a fascist party, and when the Hungarian government accelerated its anti-EU, Stop Brussels campaign.

Damage control and rebalancing

The European Parliamentary elections in May and the Hungarian local elections in October 2019 turned out to be crucial milestones as the FIDESZ suffered serious, though not fatal, setbacks. On the European level, the assumed breakthrough of the populist parties remained to be an illusion, while on the local level, the Hungarian opposition parties gained majorities in ten major cities, including Budapest. On one hand, these developments pushed FIDESZ towards a more cooperative attitude and altered both domestic and external strategies. On the other hand, certain members of the EU and NATO have also begun to change their tone and seemed to realize the potential danger of Hungary’s isolation. As part of the correction process, Donald Trump briefly hosted Viktor Orbán at the White House in May and Angela Merkel travelled to Hungary in August. The chancellor’s visit soon was followed by the reciprocated visits of Hungarian and German foreign ministers and high-level consultations with EU officials. By the summer of 2019, the domestic communication of the Hungarian government has also begun to change and started to cease the anti-EU campaigns.

While the above-mentioned visits and meetings are signalling a new willingness to engage in a dialogue, Hungary and its Western allies are still divided by significant differences. In this sense, Budapest seems to publicly acknowledge the improvement of bilateral, state-to-state relations but shows reluctance to admit Hungary’s dependence on the EU. At the same time, the vast framework of EU itself hinders the rapprochement process. Although Angela Merkel’s realpolitik recognized the need for normalization, others from the various commissions and parliament fractions still consider the FIDESZ as a traitor or a Trojan horse. These controversial responses significantly influence the Hungarian domestic and foreign policy rhetoric which rejects harsh criticism with even harsher reactions. Even though the already difficult situation is further complicated by political and ideological differences on issues such as migration and asylum-seeking, Ursula von der Leyen seems to be ready to move on and begin with a fresh start. The incoming president of the European Commission showed her determination by nominating the FIDESZ delegated Olivér Várhelyi to the post of Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner, a position which was highly appreciated by the Hungarian government and was eventually approved by the European Parliament.

Geographic pragmatism

The Hungarian prime minister has a reputation of adopting theoretical interpretations for the legitimization of his practical policies. In recent years, he quoted Hungarian authors (e.g. Sándor Karácsony) when explaining his governance techniques or recalled Fareed Zakaria’s concept when outlining frameworks of illiberal democracy. Like the previous examples, the new foreign policy rhetoric also seems to resemble authors of international politics, mainly from the fields of geopolitics. Coincidence or not, especially Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (2016) has interesting similarities with the recent rhetoric Mr. Orbán has used. As in Marshall’s book, emphasizing the importance of physical realities, indicating the determining effects of geography or stressing the geopolitical laws of power all became part of the recent interpretations and defined Mr. Orbán’s speeches at bilateral press conferences. The new rhetoric justified the Hungarian developments through geographic pragmatism and by the recognition of geopolitical realities that position Hungary in the overlapping area of German, Russian and Turkish sphere of influences. As the prime minister put it, “…the reality is that to the left of us there’s the land of the German iron chancellors, to the right the Slavic military peoples, and down south the vast population masses of Islam. Hungary lives its life within this triangle, and within this geographical region it has been the task of governments down the centuries to create balance, to create peace and security, and for us to build relations in all three directions, so that the three capital cities and the three powers which are so much larger than us have an interest in the success of Hungary.”

While Orbán’s new interpretation seems to realize how the normalization of German-Hungarian relations could support this vision of success, it maintained the original ideas of Global Opening and aims to keep solid relations with Russia and Turkey. Though the prime minister marked the line by including Berlin to the triangle of regional powers, he also stated that not dreams or philosophies will determine “who in the world we like the most” rather the geographical realities. According to Mr. Orbán, besides Germany, Russia and Turkey are also parts of the greater geographical environment of Hungary, consequently, the country’s foreign policy should acknowledge their decisive role and must maintain pragmatic relations with them. In terms of security, the pragmatic relations mean closer ties and cooperation with NATO members such as Germany and Turkey, while it also comprises a policy of conflict prevention which helps to avoid bilateral disputes between Hungary and Russia. According to Mr. Orbán, the decisive role of regional powers also includes dominant economic performance that has to be respected and exploited by Hungary. On one hand, as a small Central European state with limited material resources, Hungary needs the energy supplies, the financial and industrial investments, or the high-technology and military equipment that these regional centres could offer. On the other hand, Hungary may offer various benefits in return. The country’s strategic location with valuable memberships positions, the relatively cheap but skilled labour, or the increasing purchasing power are just a few examples to prove the possible benefits of foreign investors. The recently announced military modernization of the Hungarian Armed Forces is another major example: beyond Germany, Turkey and Russia, Trump’s transactional diplomacy also seeks to get a piece from the large military tenders.

The limits of balancing

Besides benefits, geographic pragmatism and balancing foreign policy have their limits too. It is highly questionable, for instance, what members of the Berlin–Moscow–Ankara triangle think about each other and, maybe more importantly, how they see the Hungarian peacock dance in the middle of the triangle. In this sense, Mr. Orbán’s recent foreign policy statements were directed not only towards the domestic audience but to the regional partners as well. Though the statements presented Hungary as a country that maintains strategic partnerships with both the West and the East, in reality, conflicting interests significantly constrain the options of balancing. Germany, for example, is highly concerned about the growing Russian influence in Hungary and considers it as a security breach and a politicoeconomic mistake. According to this view, the relocation of previously Moscow-based International Investment Bank, the construction of Paks 2 nuclear power plant or the recently signed long-term gas contract with GAZPROM could be labelled as perfect examples of such mistakes. Besides Russia, Budapest has also troubles to explain friendly relations with Turkey who is condemned by the EU for launching the contradictory Operation of Peace Spring. In this case too, Hungary pursued a contrasting strategy: it conditionally supported Turkey’s actions and even vetoed the EU’s draft resolution that was jointly prepared to condemn Ankara. Although the veto was re-evaluated later, it showed how difficult is to play in two teams at the same time. 

The Hungarian behaviour during the days of Operation Peace Spring also demonstrates those ideological differences that further constrain Mr. Orbán’s geographic pragmatism. While the Hungarian government has no ethical dilemmas to oppose the implementation of illiberal models, the country’s Western allies feel moral obligations to condemn domestic developments in Russia, Turkey or Hungary. These Western allies consider Hungarian domestic developments as being incompatible with the basic principles of European values and regard Hungary’s close ties with Russia and Turkey as a partnership that could undermine the unity of EU or NATO. The Hungarian government, however, has different interpretations. In the case of Russia, it considers Moscow as part of the wider European geopolitical environment, as a Great Power who influence the Central European matters either Hungary likes it or not. As the indispensable Russian influence may be exploited by balancing foreign policy, the regional impacts of Turkey can be also utilized. In this regard, the Hungarian government views Ankara as a key actor in migration and urges the EU to open closer cooperation with Turkey to prevent new influxes of asylum-seekers. 

A unique example or the victim of circumstances?

The key question at this point is whether balancing Hungarian foreign policy will produce positive results or fail to find the middle ground between the conflicting interests of regional powers. Hungary seems to be an exceptional example, yet other countries in the region face similar dilemmas. Their responses usually follow two not too distinct path: either trying to serve the needs of all regional powers or limiting the interests of one by using the influence of another. The choice between these two options is further complicated by the wider geopolitical transformations. From the Central European perspective, especially the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts are problematic as these globally defining struggles have increased disagreements among regional powers and boosted their external activities. With such developments, Central European states have found themselves in a difficult position of contradictory expectations. On one side of the region, there is Moscow and Ankara, both have begun to look for weak links and been practising hardly refusable policies to influence smaller members of the EU. On the other side, there is the EU and Washington, both expect a much clearer stand on democratic values, Western principles and generally a much stronger commitment to maintaining the alliance unity.

In these kinds of circumstances, it is quite difficult to find a win-win situation. As Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography put it, “Geography has always been a prison of sorts – one that defines what a nation is or can be, and one from which our world leaders have often struggled to break free.” Nevertheless, Central European states have always found their limited yet flexible ways to navigate between regional powers and their contradictory interests. It seems Hungary has also developed a path which we may call by various names – geographic pragmatism, Global Opening or balancing foreign policy – at the end all mean a survival strategy between the West, the East and the South. One should wonder, however, is it the survival strategy of Hungary or just those who lead it?

Peter Kacziba, PhD, is an assistant professor of international relations at the Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Pécs, Hungary.

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UK-US relations: Challenges ahead

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The past few days have been witness, to some important statements made in the context of the Joint Comprehensive Program for Action (JCPOA) — also referred to as the Iran Nuclear deal. US allies, including the UK and some EU member states do not seem to be in agreement with the US President’s Iran policy in general, and his inclination towards scrapping JCPOA altogether.

Boris Johnson’s interviews and his comments on the JCPOA

In an interview to the BBC on January 14, 2020, British PM, Boris Johnson stated, that the JCPOA, could be renegotiated, and seemed to be accommodative towards Trump. Said Johnson:

‘Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead’.

Johnson’s remarks came a day after UK, Germany and France had issued a joint statement, stating that all three countries were totally in favor of keeping the JCPOA alive.UK Germany and France had also said, that they were keen to ensure, that the nuclear non -proliferation regime is kept intact, and Iran is prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

Earlier, in a telephonic conversation, last week, with the UK PM, US President Donald Trump, had told Johnson, that the deal was ‘foolish’, and other signatories should also walk out of it.

During the course of his interview with the BBC, which happened to be the first interview with the media, after the victory of the Conservative Party in the recent general elections. Johnson, while having a dig at Trump, said that the US President thought himself of as a good negotiator, as did many others.

Johnson also made the point, that the current deal, had been negotiated by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and alluded to the point, that this was one of the key reasons, why Trump wanted to renegotiate the JCPOA.

Members of Johnson’s cabinet and their comments on the Iran deal

UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, while criticizing Iran for failing to meet with the compliances related to the JCPOA, also stated, that the UK is keen to keep the deal intact.

Before Raab, another member of Johnson’s cabinet, the British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace had also indulged in some straight talk, lambasting the Trump administration for its increasingly isolationist approach towards global issues, and Trump’s tendency of taking Washington’s allies for granted. Wallace had also stated, that US support for UK’s coalition should not be taken for granted.

Responses of Trump and Rouhani to Johnson’s remarks

US President, Donald Trump’s response, to Johnson’s suggestion, regarding a fresh JCPOA was predictable, and welcomed the British PM’s proposal.

In the meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an aggressive address, on January 15, 2020,  where he lashed out at the EU and UK, said, that all Trump knew, was violation of contracts, so there was no question of a new Iran deal.

UK-US relations

Interestingly, Johnson in his interview to the BBC, had also said, that there was no real need for the UK to have been informed in advance by the US, with regard to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. It would be pertinent to point out, that not just members of the Labor Party, but even a senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, also a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the US for not consulting the UK.

This brings us, to another important point. While Johnson’s main challenge is perceived to be the withdrawal of UK, from the EU by January 31, 2020. There are likely to be important differences between Washington and London over dealing with Iran. A close advisor of US President Donald Trump, has already stated, that if Johnson wants a UK-US Free Trade deal, UK should immediately pull out of the Iran deal. Richard Goldberg, who until recently was a member of the White House national security council (NSC) expressed these views while speaking to BBC.

US-UK FTA and Trump’s support for the same

Trump has been in favor of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with UK (which happens to be the 5th largest trading partner of the US) for some time. In fact, in his congratulatory tweet to Boris Johnson after his victory in December 2019, Trump had said that Britain and the U.S. will now be able to forge a significant new Trade Deal after Brexit.

At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump had spoken about how the US would sign a path breaking trade deal with the UK, post Brexit. It has been argued, that while the Conservative lobby, in the US-UK, which has been in favor of  bilateral FTA, there are lobbies in both countries, which are fervently opposed to such an idea.

It also remains to be seen, whether the Trump Administration is serious, about imposing conditionalities on UK regarding the FTA — such as, supporting the US stance vis-à-vis Iran. Given the reactions by some members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet (to Trump’s handling of the Iran issue), it is tough to really predict the UK’s reaction.

Not just Iran, US-UK also differ over Huawei

Apart from the Iran issue, one issue which could act as an impediment to further consolidating economic and strategic relations between US and UK could be use of equipment of Chinese tech giant, Huawei, by UK for the development of next-generation 5G wireless networks. 

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May had stated, that non-core technology of 5G were acceptable, while core parts would be banned. At a meeting of the National Security council (NSC) in 2019, some of May’s colleagues including — Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign secretary, Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary (now treasury secretary), Gavin Williamson, then Defense Secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, then international development secretary — had opposed May’s decision. Interestingly, Williamson had been sacked for allegedly leaking the proceedings of the meeting.

Johnson’s approach towards Huawei

In the interview to BBC, Johnson stated, that he did not want to jeopardize cooperation with any of the other “5 Eyes Intelligence alliance partners” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are the other members of this network, apart from the US). While hinting at the US stand on Huawei, Johnson said, that those criticizing one technology also needed to provide an alternative.

Differences between US and other allies over other crucial economic and strategic issues

It is not just UK, but other allies like India which would be closely watching Trumps approach on crucial geo-political issues. For instance, while earlier US had stated, that it would get a waiver from CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), even if it went ahead with the purchase of S400 Missiles from Russia (India and Russia had signed an agreement in October 2018 during Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s . Only recently, a State Department Spokesman while commenting on the waiver to India stated that there was no blanket waiver from the side of the US Administration. Of course later, the State Department Spokesperson did clarify, that US views these issues on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

If one were to look at the scenario for bilateral relations between UK and US (defined as a ‘special relationship’ first by Winston Churchill in 1946) there are numerous challenges.

There is a tendency, to oversimplify bilateral relationships to personal chemistry of leaders, and ideological inclinations as in the case of Johnson and Trump. There are likely, to be a number of obstacles which may come in the way of the bilateral relationship (differences over crucial geo-political and economic issues as discussed above). In addition to this, there is a note of caution for other allies like EU member states (especially Germany and France), Canada, Japan which have already born the brunt of Trump’s insular economic policies, and his myopic and transaction approach towards complex geo-political issues.

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Why Warsaw denies historical facts about World War II

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Polish boy in the ruins of Warsaw September 1939. Julien Bryan caption of the image from 1958. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The painful and conflicting reaction on the part of Warsaw following President Vladimir Putin’s statement that Poland bears partial responsibility for inciting the Second World War can be explained not only by following the policy adopted by post-Socialist Poland as an ideological weapon.

The practical implementation of historical policy is the responsibility of the Polish Institute of National Memory (PINM), which followed the Polish Foreign Ministry in voicing a protest against the well-grounded accusations against Poland. What is behind Warsaw’s denial of historical facts?

In recent years PINM has built a weighty and largely unrealistic ideology of Poland making numerous sacrifices in the years of the Second World War. This ideology is currently used to shape Warsaw’s foreign policy. The geographical and historical position of Poland, located between Germany and the Russian Empire / Soviet Union / Russian Federation, is the subject of many works by the founders  of “Polish geopolitics” and political publicists (Adolf Bochensky, Vladislav Gizbert-Studnitsky, Stanislav Tsat-Matskevich, etc.).

Warsaw uses the idea of its special relations with Berlin and Moscow to secure the intransient unilateral right to represent the interests of collective West, thereby  remaining in the diplomatic game. Relying on the fictional cult of its sacrifice, Poland sort of emphasizes what it sees as the political insight in its relations with Germany and Russia. What for?

The role of a World War II victim makes it easier for Poland to claim its share of influence in the post-Soviet space than if it was a culprit. Poland’s debate about the causes and circumstances of World War II has nothing to do with official statements compared to historical facts – it’s a kind of struggle for its international status, which Poland can strengthen only by narrowing the world-wide tragedy of World War II to the level of its own national tragedy the blame for which is put on the Soviet Union in connection with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And the political game does not end here.

“… Polish attempts to strike at the foundations of the national and historical identity of the Russian Federation are an element of aggression in the symbolic sphere – this is how Moscow can interpret them. Tolerance and stamina demonstrated by the Russian Federation in the face of provocative moves taken by the incumbent Polish leadership are truly impressive,” – said Andrzej Walicki, a leading Polish expert on Russia.

Not long ago, there appeared US Congress Resolution No. 447, which is relative to the role of Poland in World War II. This draft law empowers victims of the Holocaust to claim compensation for property they lost during the war on the territory of Poland and enables the U.S. State Department to support non-governmental organizations involved in the restitution of lost Jewish property. Naturally, Warsaw is not happy about the decision, which it sees as a precedent that will require the Poles to compensate the Jews for property damage. In addition to financial problems (the total value of property subject to Resolution   No. 447 is $ 230 billion), this measure by the US Congress, if implemented, will entail the same ideological problems making Poland one of the culprits of World War II. The amendments to the PINM law adopted in Poland on January 26, 2018 envisage punishment for claiming that the Poles assisted in the Holocaust. They thus aim to suppress a possible wave of accusations and prohibit any attempts to compare the past acts of Poland with crimes of the Third Reich.

Both Res. No. 447 and the amendments to the PINM Law have a moral aspect to reckon with. Warsaw is fully aware that the position of Poland in Central and Eastern Europe and its image in the world depend on this issue. Despite Poland’s long-standing pro-American policy in Europe, the ruling Law and Justice Party (LJP) has pronounced Res. 447 a mechanism of political pressure from Washington to secure certain concessions from Warsaw.

The law had a certain impact on domestic politics, triggering criticism of the LJP from opposition parties. The rating of the Law and Justice Party was saved thanks to a powerful informational counterattack performed by the PINM, which was aimed at the Polish consumer in the first place.

What Warsaw fears most is that random discussions about Poland’s involvement in the fueling of World War II will turn into a systematic long-term information campaign in which Res. No. 447 and facts from the past, so unwelcome for Poland, will complement each other.

Ideologically, the Polish political history is far from flawless and is in an active phase due to lack of information influence from the outside. Under certain circumstances, it can be assumed that the discourse over the Second World War may form an ideological configuration disadvantageous for Warsaw. And this is what causes such a controversial and cynical reaction from Warsaw.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova says that by adopting a resolution on Germany and the USSR sharing responsibility for the outbreak of the war, the Polish Sejm demonstrates how ideology is put above the truth. Zakharova also made it clear that the truth was recorded in the documents of the Nuremberg Tribunal. If the Polish Sejm doubts the decisions of the tribunal, she said, they must make a statement to this effect. In this case, it will be considered an attempt to review the results of the Second World War.

From our partner International Affairs

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De-evolution of Europe: The equation of Communism with Nazism

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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It was indeed cynical and out-of-touch for the EU (Parliament) to suddenly blame, after 80 years, the Soviet Union for triggering WWII. It is unwise (to say least) to resurrect the arguments surrounding the circumstances of the start of World War II. The historians have agreed, the history has been written and well documented, and is in our books already for many decades.

There is no point in contemporary politicians of eastern flank of the EU (with a striking but complicit silence from the central Europe) pushing up the facts regarding who was to blame. There are neither mandated, nor qualified or even expected to do so.

Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Mussolini ‘s Italy and its satellites (helped by the ring of Useful Idiots, then called Quislings) were the culprits and that is universally accepted with no exception. It is now all in the past. Let us leave it there and not in the 21st century which has severe multiplying challenges, especially for the EU, that are still waiting to be tackled. 

Enveloped in its own myopia of economic egoism and überfremdung phobia, Europeans are in fact digging and perpetuating defensive self-isolation. While falling short to constructively engage its neighborhood (but not conveniently protected by oceans for it like some other emigrant-receiving countries), Europeans constantly attract unskilled migrants from that way destabilized near abroad. The US, GCC, Far East, Australia, Singapore, lately even Brazil, India, or Angola – all have enormously profited from the skilled newcomers. Europe is unable to recognize, preserve, protect and promote its skilled migrants.

Simply, European history of tolerance of otherness is far too short for it, while the legacies of residual fears are deep, lasting and wide. Destructive efforts towards neighbors and accelatered hatreds for at home are perpetually reinforcing themselves. That turns Europe into a cluster of sharply polarized and fragmented societies, seemingly over history and identity, but essentially over the generational and technological gap, vision and forward esteem.

One of the latest episodes comes from a recent political,and highly ahistorical,initiative to make an equation of communism with Nazism. Driven by the obsessive Russophobe notion, this myopic short-term calculusmay bring disastrous long-term consequences – first and most of all for the Slavic Eastern/southeastern Europe, as well as to the absent-minded Scandinavian Europe, or cynically silent Central Europe.

Needleless to say, consensus that today’s Europe firmly rests upon is built on antifascism. This legacy brought about prosperity and tranquility to Europe unprecedented all throughout its history. Sudden equation of communism with Nazism is the best and fastest way to destroy very fundaments of Europe once for good.

One is certain, the EU-led Europe is in a serious moral and political crisis of rapid de-evolution. Let’s have a closer look.

Una hysteria importante

History of Europe is the story of small hysteric/xenophobic nations, traditionally sensitive to the issue of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and behavioristic otherness. If this statement holds the truth, then we refer to events before and after the Thirty Years’ War in general and to the post-Napoleonic Europe in particular. Political landscape of today’s Europe had been actually conceived in the late 14th century, gradually evolving to its present shape.

At first, the unquestioned and unchallenged pre-Westphalian order of Catholicism enabled the consolidation and standardization of the feudal socio-economic and politico-military system all over the Europe. However at its matured stage, such a universalistic world of Holy Roman Empire and Papacy (Caesaropapism) is steadily contested by the explicitly confrontational or implicitly dismissive political entities, be it ideologically (the Thirty Years’ War culminating with the Peace of Westphalia) or geopolitically (Grand Discoveries and the shift of the gravity center westwards). The early round of colonizers, the two Iberian empires of Spain and Portugal, are the first entities that emerged, followed by France, Holland, England and Denmark. (Belgium too, although it appeared as a buffer zone at first – being a strategic depth, a continental prolongation of England for containment of Central Europeans, of Dutch and Scandinavians from the open sea, while later on also becoming a strategic depth of France for balancing Britain and containment of Denmark and Prussia.)

Engulfed with the quest of the brewing French revolution for the creation of a nation state, these colonizers, all of them situated on the Atlantic flank of Europe, have successfully adjusted to the nation-state concept. Importantly, the very process of creation/formation of the nation-state has been conducted primarily on linguistic grounds since religious grounds were historically defeated once and for all by the Westphalia.[1] All peoples talking the Portugophone dialects in one state, all Hispanophone dialects in another state, all Francophone dialects in the third state, etc.[2] This was an easy cut for peripheral Europe, the so-called old colonizers on the Atlantic flank of Europe, notably for Portugal, Spain, France, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

Although geopolitically defeated at home, in France, and ideologically contained by the Vienna Congress and its instrument – the Holy Alliance of Eastern Conservative Courts, the very idea of a nation-state remained appealing. Both of that-time federations of theocracies (the non-territorial principle-based Habsburg and the Ottoman empires) were inevitably corroding by two ‘chemical’ precursors: secularism (enlightenment) and territoriality. Once the revolutionary 1848 ousted the principal guardian of feudalism and Rimo-Christian orthodoxy in Europe, Metternich, the suppressed concept got further impetus. And, the revolutionary romance went on…

Interestingly, the very creation of Central Europe’s nation-states was actually enhanced by Napoleon III. The unification of Italophones was his, nearly obsessive, intentional deed (as he grew up in Nice with Italian Carbonari revolutionaries who were fighting papal and Habsburg’s control over the northern portions of today’s Italy). Conversely, the very unification of Germanophones under the Greater Prussia was his non-intentional mis-chief, with the two subsequently emerging ‘by-products’; modern Austria (German-speaking core assembled on the ruins of mighty multinational and multi-lingual empire) and modern Turkey (Turkophone core on the ruins of mighty multiracial and multi-linguistic empire).

Despite being geographically in the heart of Europe, Switzerland remained a remarkably stable buffer zone: Highly militarized but defensive and obsessively neutral, economically omnipresent yet financially secretive, it represents one confederated state of two confronting versions of western Christianity, of three ethnicities and of four languages. Absent from most of the modern European politico-military events – Switzerland, in short – is terra incognita.

Historically speaking, the process of Christianization of Europe that was used as the justification tool to (either intimidate or corrupt, so to say to) pacify the invading tribes, which demolished the Roman Empire and brought to an end the Antique age, was running parallel on two tracks. The Roman Curia/Vatican conducted one of them by its hammer: the Holy Roman Empire. The second was run by the cluster of Rusophone Slavic Kaganates, who receiving (the orthodox or true/authentic, so-called Eastern version of) Christianity from Byzantium, and past its collapse, have taken over a mission of Christianization, while forming its first state of Kiev Russia (and thereafter, its first historic empire). Thus, to the eastern edge of Europe, Russophones have lived in an intact, nearly a hermetic world of universalism for centuries: one empire, one Tsar, one religion and one language.[3]

Everything in between Central Europe and Russia is Eastern Europe, rather a historic novelty on the political map of Europe. Very formation of the Atlantic Europe’s present shape dates back to 14th–15th century, of Central Europe to the mid-late 19th century, while a contemporary Eastern Europe only started emerging between the end of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union – meaning, less than 100 years at best, slightly over two decades in the most cases. No wonder that the dominant political culture of the Eastern Europeans resonates residual fears and reflects deeply insecure small nations. Captive and restive, they are short in territorial depth, in demographic projection, in natural resources and in a direct access to open (warm) seas. After all, these are short in historio-cultural verticals, and in the bigger picture-driven long-term policies. Eastern Europeans are exercising the nationhood and sovereignty from quite a recently, thus, too often uncertain over the side and page of history. Therefore, they are often dismissive, hectic and suspectful, nearly neuralgic and xenophobic, with frequent overtones.

The creation of a nation-state (on linguistic grounds) in the peripheral, Atlantic and Scandinavian, as well as Central Europe was relatively a success-story. However, in Eastern Europe it repeatedly suffered setbacks, culminating in the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East. The same calamity also remained in the central or Baltic part of Eastern Europe.[4]

Keeping the center soft

Ever since Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (early Sweden and Poland to be later replaced by) Prussia and Habsburgs, and finally the Ottomans and Russia have pressed on and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground. At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asian and MENA proper. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany had appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politico-militarily press onto peripheries. This new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma. That dilemma lasted from the 1814 Vienna congress up to Potsdam conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germanies and Italies should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?[5]As the latecomers, the Central Europeans have faced the overseas world out of their reach, as clearly divided into spheres of influence solely among the Atlantic Europeans (and Russians).

In rather simplified terms, one can say that from the perspective of European belligerent parties, both world wars were fought between the forces of status quo and the challengers to this status quo. The final epilogue in both wars was that Atlantic Europe has managed to divert the attention of Central Europeans from itself and its vast overseas possessions onto Eastern Europe, and finally towards Russia.[6]

Just to give the most illustrative of many examples; the Imperial post-Bismarck Germany has carefully planned and ambitiously grouped its troops on the border with France. After the assassination of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo (28 June 1914), Europe was technically having a casus belli – as the subsequent mutually declared war between all parties quickly followed this assassination episode and the immediate Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. However, the first armed engagement was not taking place on the southeastern front, as expected – between the Eastern belligerent parties such as Austria, Serbia, Russia, the Ottomans, Greece, Bulgaria, etc. The first military operations of WWI were actually taking place in the opposite, northwest corner of Europe – something that came only two months past the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. It was German penetration of Belgian Ardennes.

Still, the very epilogue of la Grande Guerra was such that a single significant territorial gain of Germany was achieved only in Eastern Europe. Despite a colossal 4-years long military effort, the German western border remained nearly unchanged.

The end of WWI did not bring much of a difference. The accords de paix – Versailles treaty was an Anglo-French triumph. These principal Treaty powers, meaning: Atlantic Europe, invited Germany to finally join the League of Nations in 1926, based on the 1925 Treaty of Locarno. By the letter of this treaty, Germany obliged itself to fully respect its frontiers with Belgium and France (plus demilitarized zone along Rhine) with the unspecified promise to arbitrate before pursuing any change of its borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland. The same modus operandi applied to the Austrian borders with Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Locarno accord actually instrumentalized two sorts of boundaries around Central Europe (Germany–Austria): strict, inviolable ones towards Atlantic Europe; but semipermeable and soft towards Eastern Europe.[7]

That is how the predominant player from Central Europe, Germany, was accepted to the League, a collective system which the Soviet Russia (meaning: Rusophone Europe) was admitted to only a decade later (1934).

Soon after, this double standard sealed-off a faith of many in Europe and beyond.


[1]To be more accurate: Westphalia went beyond pure truce, peace and reconciliation. It re-confirmed existence of western Christianity’s Ummah. Simply, it only outlawed meddling into the intra-western religious affairs by restricting that-time absolute Papal (interpretative) powers. From that point of view, Westphalia was not the first international instrument on religious freedoms, but a triumph of western evangelic unity. This very unity later led to the strengthening of western Christianity and its supremacy intercontinentally.

[2] All modern European languages that are taught in schools today, were once upon a time, actually a political and geographic compromise of the leading linguists, who – through adopted conventions – created a standard language by compiling different dialects, spoken on the territory of particular emerging nation-state.

[3]Early Russian state has ever since expanded north/northeast and eastward, reaching the physical limits of its outreach by crossing the Bering straits (and the sale of Russian Alaska to the USA in 1867). By the late 17th and early 18th century, Russia had begun to draw systematically into European politico-military theatre. (…) In the meantime, Europe’s universalistic empire dissolved. It was contested by the challengers (like the Richelieu’s France and others–geopolitical, or the Lutheran/Protestant – ideological challengers), and fragmented into the cluster of confronted monarchies, desperately trying to achieve an equilibrium through dynamic balancing. Similar political process will affect Russian universal empire only by late 20th century, following the Soviet dissolution. (…) Not fully accepted into the European collective system before the Metternich’s Holy Alliance, even had its access into the post-Versailles system denied, Russia was still not ignored like other peripheral European power. The Ottomans, conversely, were negated from all of the security systems until the very creation of the NATO (Republic of Turkey). Through the pre-emptive partition of Poland in the eve of WWII, and successful campaigns elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Bolshevik Russia expanded both its territory and its influence westwards. (…) An early Soviet period of Russia was characterized by isolated bilateral security arrangements, e.g. with Germans, Fins, Japanese, etc. The post WWII days have brought the regional collective system of Warsaw Pact into existence, as to maintain the communist gains in Europe and to effectively oppose geopolitically and ideologically the similar, earlier formed, US-led block. Besides Nixon’s rapprochement towards China, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the final stage in the progressive fragmentation of the vast Sino-Soviet Communist block (that dominated the Eurasian land mass with its massive size and centrality), letting Russia emerge as the successor. The sudden ideological and territorial Soviet break-up, however, was followed by the cultural shock and civil disorder, painful economic and demographic crisis and rapidly widening disparities. All this coupled with the humiliating wars in Caucasus and elsewhere, since the centripetal and centrifugal forces of integration or fragmentations came into the oscillatory play. Between 1989 and 1991, communist rule ended in country after country and the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved. Subsequently, the Gorbachev-Jeltsin Russia experienced the greatest geopolitical contraction of any major power in the modern era and one of the fastest ever in history. Still, Gorbachev-Jeltsin tandem managed to (re-)brand themselves domestically and internationally – each got its own label of vodka.

[4] Many would say that, past the peak Ottoman times, the aggressive intrusion of Atlantic Europe with its nation-state concept, coupled with Central Europe’s obsessive control and lebensraumquest, has turned lands of a mild and tolerant people, these pivotal intellectual exchange-corridors of southeastern Europe and the Near East into a modern day Balkan powder keg. Miroslav Krleza famously remarked: “It was us humans who transformed our good swine to a filthy pig.”

[5] At the time of Vienna Congress, there were nearly a dozen of Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. Potsdam conference concludes with only three Germanophone (+ Lichtenstein + Switzerland) and two Italophone states (+ Vatican).

[6] Why did the US join up Atlantic Europe against Central Europe in both WWs? Simply, siding up with Central Europe would have meant politico-military elimination of Atlantic Europe once and for all. In such an event, the US would have faced a single European, confrontation-potent, block of a formidable strategic-depth to engage with sooner or later. Eventually, Americans would have lost an interfering possibility of remaining the perfect balancer. The very same balancer role, the US inherited from the declining Britain.

[7] Farce or not, history of 1914 nearly repeated itself to its last detail in early 1990s. And, it was not for the first time. 25 and again 75 years after 1914 – meaning that 1939. was nearly copied by the events of 9/11 in 1989. Hence, November 1989 was the third time that the western frontiers of Central Europe remained intact, while the dramatic change took place to its East. Besides Anschluss of Eastern Germany by the Western one, borders there in 1990s nominally remained the same, but many former neighbors to Central Europe have one by one disappeared for good from the political map of Eastern Europe.

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