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

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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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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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Without roots, no future. Germans and Russians – Decoupling ideologies

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Source: Wikipedia

Krieg ist das Ergebnis einer falschen Politik und sein Erbe Not und Elend.1 (From Gestrüpp meines Lebens, a diary kept by my grandfather, Helmuth Banik)

…next – Prussia, family roots and identity of heart

Cultural diversity or universal uniformity? Peaceful co-existence of nation-states or institutional global governance with international organizations and their sphere of influence gaining more and more ground, even in everyone’s private life? Which future will be ours?

Roots, earth and homeland—while unearthing the deepest parts of my family history and, at the same time, German history, my uninhibited view of my Prussian roots continues to pave my way towards a new future. Our world today is on the verge of a new beginning. It is up to us to decide which way humanity will go in the future. An individual’s identity is complex and has many layers that need to be uncovered. So, too, is our world: complexly composed of many layers that need to be uncovered for its roots to be revealed—as there is no future without roots.

Thus, it is necessary to decouple from all ideas and ideologies that have long determined political activity around the world. Let us start with Russia and Germany, since their destinies are forever linked; historically, culturally and geopolitically.

“I have sympathy toward the German people; my ancestors came to Russia from Westphalia under Peter the Great. Great nations can stay dormant for some time, but they always wake up!” Quote from a Russian friend

Sapere aude! In the spirit of Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher of Königsberg, let us reinvent and imagine the world in which we want to live!

Without Russia, not a better world in sight

The world, but especially the European Union (EU), is at a crossroads. The old structures and beliefs of the current governance seem to be collapsing before our very eyes. How simple was yesterday’s world. The enemy, namely Russia, was in the East. A bipolar world vision, divided between “the good” and “the bad.”

In the West, the EU with its main ally, the United States, represents the good world, an ideal world—in short, the world of the G7. Countries with a democratic system under the rule of law in which freedom is one of the fundamental values: All other countries in the world are measured and judged according to this ideal, especially if they want to enter this “club of the free world.”

And now? What has become of this G7 world? The measures taken to fight the pandemic were lockdown and other more or less draconian actions that deprived a large part of the world’s population of their fundamental rights, whatever the political regime or national culture. This is the cruel reality of a uniform crisis management policy that is visibly shared by democracies and authoritarian regimes. The main characteristics of this policy are the intransigence of clinging to the rule of the political-economic elites and, with that, the absolute will to remain in power and control communications and, as such, the population. The boundaries separating democracies and authoritarian regimes are disappearing, and a uniform technocratic world without identity is emerging. Propaganda—in this case, the massive communication of fear and hatred—is getting a second wind, this time not on a national level but on a global institutional scale. Moreover, it seems to be accompanied by a new Cold War strategy: According to an EU strategy paper, China is classified as a “systemic rival” (ecfr.eu 2020) and, together with Russia, is considered a new challenge to NATO by the Biden administration (Le Figaro 2021).

And the Russian president? Vladimir Putin always keeps the door for cooperation wide open, as he makes clear in “Offen sein, trotz Vergangenheit,”2 the recent article published in Die Zeit in which he states: “Ich möchte noch einmal betonen: Russland plädiert für die Wiederherstellung einer umfassenden Partnerschaft zu Europa.”3

Moreover, the opportunities offered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) do not seem to be taken into consideration. On the contrary, the G7 initiative to “Build Back a Better World” (B3W) is an alternative to the BRI. Conflict instead of cooperation. Yet, we should keep in mind: It is not possible to have a better world without integrating Russia.

The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski in Between Two Ages: America’s role in the technotronic era)

Humanity’s ultimate battle

There is an urgent need to continue questioning the sustainability of a power, political system and governance that are global—values and mercantilism, democracy and dictatorship, free market economy and planned market economy, diverse identities and universal uniformity, nation states and institutional global governance.

What future awaits us?

Either:

a political system of “universal digital governance,” of total and totalitarian surveillance with a capitalist state economy, that is, a system in which humanity serves the system by constantly adapting to its different benchmarks, a technocratic world order according to Brzezinski,

or:

new political structures that are very much at the service of humankind and that ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone in the spirit of Immanuel Kant’s sapere aude, that is, global governance that ensures a peaceful return to the primacy of humanity, relations and nations, deeply rooted in its own history, a return to cultural diversities and identities, to creation and, thus, a return to the roots.

The geographer and geopolitician Jacques Ancel set the vision of French geopolitics. According to Ancel, man is the creator of global governance, of identities and, subsequently, also the borders of civilizations, where “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is “a nation of the heart in itself, not rational” (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021).

Neither Germany, nor China, nor the U.S., nor Russia is an isolated paradise. No country can claim to know the absolute truth. Violence, increased global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.) and international terrorism are forcing us to face up to the current realities, to abandon any ideology driving ideas such as the European project, socialism with Chinese or even Russian characteristics, or the ideology prevalent in the United States, which styles itself leader of the free world (Banik, 2016, 2019).

Ultimately, it is up to us to decide which path humanity will take.

“Kultur hat nie Grenzen gekannt. Kultur war immer unser gemeinsames Gut und hat die Völker verbunden.”4 Vladimir Putin, 25.9.2001

The big European house

According to Jacques Ancel, “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is thus important to encourage community spirit and to create human bonds—instead of strategic alliances—of geographical proximity and to overcome ideologies. The only way is to integrate Russia by creating a great pan-European house and, at the same time, taking advantage of the BRI as a link that encompasses the Eurasian region.

Russia and Germany have a common memory and their destiny is forever linked. It is up to Germany to finally assume its responsibility and play the key role in creating this space of peace and security. Integrating Russia is crucial if we are to create new political visions which serve humankind and which ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone.

Geographically, Russia is the largest country in Europe. Geographically, Europe is much larger than the territory of the EU. The EU, and subsequently Germany, must at all costs avoid being caught up in the tension that seems to be developing between China, Russia and the U.S. In case of a military conflict, the major nations will win while the EU will be the main loser. The current danger is the image of the resurgent enemy resulting from the aggressive policy of the Biden administration and the EU towards China and towards Russia. Two almost “military” fronts have thus been created. In fact, the Cold War has never ended but merely changed its guise.

Rise in military spending

According to the Sipri press release of April 26, 2021: “The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Military spending by China grew for the 26th consecutive year.” China has focused on its navy. It is the second largest military spender after the United States. In 2020, “China’s military expenditure is estimated at $252 billion in 2020, representing an increase of 1.9 per cent since 2019 and 76 per cent since 2011.” (Sipri 2021). “Russia’s military expenditure increased by 2.5 per cent in 2020 to reach $61.7 billion. This was the second consecutive year of growth. Nevertheless, Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6 per cent lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

From the perspective of the two fronts—“The Chinese Enemy” and “The Russian Enemy”—one must also consider U.S. military spending in 2020, “[which] reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019. As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

In view of the world’s ever-increasing military outlays, it is urgent that we revitalize and reform the instruments already in place, such as the NATO-Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU-Russia dialogue and the various regional formats such as the Arctic Council. It is worth noting the bilateral agreements of strategic importance between China and Russia in the field of nuclear energy and within the framework of the Polar Silk Road, as well as the importance of the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Serbia, for one, has a free trade agreement.

Towards a uniform, faceless, controlled world?

China’s withdrawal or Chinese deglobalization

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan is the continuation of the country’s efforts to reform and modernize, but the “dual circulation” model also marks an important step towards China’s deglobalization. This “dual circulation” strategy welcomes foreign investment, but only in those products and services that are not (yet) available in China. Therefore, China aims to reduce its economic dependence on foreign countries and focus on building its own capacity. Nevertheless, it also wants to boost bilateral agreements, and is pursuing the BRI. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) follows the same logic, pursuing reinforcement on the geographical and geopolitical level in Eurasia. With the implementation of the RCEP, the largest free trade area in the world is being established. On the other hand,

China’s FDI in Europe continued to fall, to a 10-year low: Shrinking M&A activity meant the EU-27 and the United Kingdom saw a 45 percent decline in completed Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) last year,…” (Merics 2021).

“Keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”

The United States is pursuing a strategy, particularly in the area of foreign policy, that was initiated by Donald Trump, meaning “America first” when it comes to economic, military and geopolitical issues. American foreign policy is, above all, marked by the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Note that, contrary to what Trump decided in 2020, Biden has reversed the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany (Politico 2021). Lord Ismay’s narrative seeking to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” is still relevant today.

The EU: a theater of conflict between China and the United States

Europeans have an increasingly critical view of China. China is seen as a systemic rival for the EU. The pandemic has exposed problems, including strategic dependence on imports from China. Therefore, the EU wants to remain credible at the international level and is seeking closer cooperation with the West, especially the United States, rather than an adjustment of its economic relations with China independent of the Americans.

Germany uprooted and war trauma

Germany seems to be stuck in a kind of “time loop.” Even though the Berlin Wall has long disappeared, there is still no uninhibited view of an open perspective towards the East, towards Germany’s historical East, especially towards Russia and the chances for cooperation that the country offers. German public opinion is still manipulated. As a result, it remains frozen in distrust of Russia. Further, the experienced war trauma—destruction, displacement and loss of homeland—has disconnected a whole generation from its own history, leading to a partial loss of its own identity. This disconnection has been unconscious, inherited by the descendants.

Towards total surveillance?

Basically, the conflict between the different ideologies and the omnipresence of the “pandemic” in the mainstream media strongly distract our attention from the real battle that has been going on in the background for a very long time.

The battle for world domination is not the conflict between different nation-states, e.g. the U.S., China or Russia, or between different political systems, democracy or dictatorship, but it is the struggle for supremacy by the lobbyists and by international institutions and organizations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the EU institutions, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by the various interest groups and industrial associations that seem to be striving for a uniform, controlled world made of public-private partnerships, without nation-states, without cultural diversity, without a past, without a history, without roots and without identity.

“Smart government” and total surveillance

The advance of artificial intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution are visibly shifting geopolitics to geoeconomics. The need for control of international markets prevails over military conflicts. Large technological communication companies, such as social media giants (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), search engines like Google and Baidu, platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, cooperate more and more closely with their respective governments, thus creating public-private partnerships (PPPs). Back when geopolitics prevailed, the state’s sovereignty was ensured by the military control of the country and its borders. Now we see an increasing interdependence and cooperation between different governments, technology companies and large enterprises—“global players,” such as Big Data and Big Pharma. We are clearly heading towards a political system based on the “state economy,” as is already the case in China. In China, the state-owned enterprises, the “national champions,” are playing a predominant role not only in China but also on the international markets. In order to better face the Chinese competition, the EU has also launched a new industrial strategy to support and finance the creation of industrial alliances, a kind of “European industrial champions” (touteleurope.eu 2021)—even if the approach is not uniformly supported within the EU.

With an increasing number of PPPs, the establishment of state capitalism blurs the boundaries between business and government. In China, Russia and the United States, this issue is played out at the national level, while on the European continent it is advanced by the EU institutions. What is insidious is that, thanks to the cooperation between politics and technology companies, the media propaganda effectively supports and feeds this structural change. Thus, fundamental rights and identities are slowly being extinguished in favor of the uniformity of the corporate market.

Roots, identities, nations

Russians, Poles and Germans not only have a common history but shared cultural footprints. This history is a strength and not a weakness. According to Ancel’s vision, these three countries are at the crossroads of arbitrary borders and of borders of civilization. There are, on the one hand, the so-called arbitrary borders, which are more fraught, more strategic borders that have resulted from military pretensions. The borders of civilization, on the other hand, are more permanent as these are based on a common memory, common history and common language arising from a group of humans in equilibrium. The borders of civilization are “nevertheless more complicated because they are the object of numerous political and commercial interpretations”—even if the commercial justifications aim at “clearing a path” and not “enclosing” as the military justifications do (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021). For Russia, Poland and Germany, reconciling the past means “making a path in harmony,” our path back to our shared roots.

According to Ancel, the frontier is “a political isobar that fixes, for a certain time, the equilibrium between two pressures: the equilibrium of mass and the equilibrium of forces” (Ancel 1938). The real problem is not the question of borders. Borders will always exist, even in a globalized world. “There are no problems of borders. There are only problems of Nation” (Ancel 1938). Jacques Ancel argues for mankind as creator. “One does not revise borders, except by force; one modifies minds” (Ancel 1938; Lomnica 1938 foreword).

Quoting Vladimir Putin:

“Und wir können es uns einfach nicht leisten, die Last früherer Missverständnisse, Kränkungen, Konflikte und Fehler mit uns herumzuschleppen. Eine Last, die uns an der Lösung aktueller Probleme hindert.”5 Die Zeit, 2021

Regaining a sense of self

We, the Germans, unfortunately refused to take the hand that Putin extended to us in his speech to the Bundestag on September 25, 2001. The window of opportunity is wide open again. The German people need to reconnect to their entire cultural past. It is up to every German to discover his or her own roots, reconnect to his or her family past, healing the wounds and thus helping Germany to integrate its entire history and become whole again.

Similar to my path back to my Prussian roots, let us take an uninhibited view of our roots and seize this chance in order to create new prospects for German-Russian cooperation.

As Putin said in 2001:

“Ich bin überzeugt: Wir schlagen heute eine neue Seite in der Geschichte unserer bilateralen Beziehungen auf und wir leisten damit unseren gemeinsamen Beitrag zum Aufbau des europäischen Hauses.”6

There will be no better world, especially for Europe, without Russia’s integration into the pan-European house – and no better world if Germany is still cut off from its roots.

…Back to the roots

Katja Banik

www.katjabanik.com

Specialist in geopolitical issues, doctorate from Sorbonne Nouvelle University;

speaker and guest lecturer on geopolitical, economic and political issues, focusing on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision of “the identity of the heart.”

Author of articles published on moderndiplomacy.eu, russiancouncil.ru (RIAC) and worldscientific.com, and author of the book Les relations Chine-Europe à croisées des chemins, published by L’Harmattan, Paris. Katja is the descendant of ancestors who lived in East and West Prussia. Her family on her mother’s side had to flee from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and, on her father’s side, from Schneidemühl in West Prussia. She increasingly connects the topics of identities, roots and borders in her geopolitical views.

Visible roots: Kurort Oybin, Germany 2021 and 1955:

Great-granddaughter and great-grandfather Friedrich Herbst


[1] “War is the result of the wrong policy and its legacy is distress and misery.”

[2] “Being open, despite the past.”

[3] “I would like to emphasize once again: Russia advocates for the restoration of a comprehensive partnership with Europe.”

[4] “Culture has never known borders. Culture has always been our common good and has united peoples.”

[5] “And we simply cannot afford to carry around the burden of past misunderstandings, offenses, conflicts and mistakes. A burden that prevents us from solving current problems.”

[6] “I am convinced that today we are turning a new page in the history of our bilateral relations and that we are making our joint contribution to the construction of the European house.”

Author’s Note: The paper was previously published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

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Europe

The End of a Belle Époque: Stability and Risks in Germany’s Elections

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On September 26, 2021, Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure as Federal Chancellor of Germany will end. Protracted periods of stability, even positive stability, as a rule lead to a decrease in domestic political activity: players get used to an adaptive strategy, lose their ability to manoeuvre tenaciously, and at a turning point cannot decide to change. Germany is no exception: the upcoming elections are a fork between the continuation of traditional politics (stability) or an attempt at renewal (risk), primarily for the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Although Merkel announced her intention to leave the post of CDU head, having ruled out her re-election as chancellor, back in 2018, the process of choosing a successor, and therefore determining the future course, was not without difficulties. At first, the stake was placed on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer—then the general secretary of the party, a technocrat even outwardly similar to the chancellor, but she did not gain popularity and after the scandal in the Thuringia state elections in February 2020, she resigned. After a year of hesitation, the place was taken by Armin Laschet—Prime Minister of one of the largest and most developed regions, North Rhine—Westphalia, an experienced politician and traditionalist.

In the struggle, they bypassed not only a stubborn revisionist, the former head of the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag Friedrich Merz, and the ambitious Minister of Health Jens Spahn, but also the leader of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, who has earned great popularity in the fight against COVID-19. At the state level, his Christian Social Union (CSU) operates independently, but at the federal level—it acts in alliance with the CDU. If the bloc won the elections, he could apply for the post of chancellor, but the CDU/CSU board voted against this after behind-the-scenes consultations. This confirms the party’s explainable choice in favour of stability: excessive risks during the transition of power can lose political capital, and continuity will help preserve the main voters.

However, the current ratings and political tradition will not allow the CDU to single-handedly form a government in the event of victory, and in the coalition negotiations, the stake on stability may already play against the party. Since 2013, the “grand coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) has been in power. In the absence of traditional competition, the “crisis of the centre” proved fatal for the Social Democrats, who ceased to be associated with the working class and the centre-left agenda and lost their voters.

It is difficult to count on a third “grand coalition”, even for reasons of continuity in such conditions: support for the CDU/CSU fluctuates at the level of 23–25%, and for the SPD—18-20% of the vote.

The Social Democrats have relied on Olaf Scholz, the most experienced finance minister and vice-chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He surpasses Laschet in popularity, but his ability to further increase the rating is limited. The #laschetlacht scandal related to the incorrect behaviour of the candidate during the floods in Germany in July 2021 may cost the CDU some support.

What can the CDU/CSU count on in this situation at the coalition negotiations? How can a majority be achieved? The big party crisis did not mobilise small parties in the way the CDU would have liked. The radical Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the intractable Greens have gained in popularity: if a coalition with the first is excluded for ideological reasons, then an alliance with the latter contradicts the preservation of stability. Chancellor-candidate Anna-Lena Baerbock and the party’s electoral programme make it clear that they are in favour of changing the course of German policy (for example, for stopping Nord Stream-2). Today the party is supported by about 20% of voters (and in the spring this figure reached 28%)—this is twice as much as 4 years ago, and reflects public demand for innovations. Accordingly, the black-green coalition initially has a potential for conflict.

It turns out that the CDU needs a coalition of three parties. The centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP) claims 10–11% of the vote and could either balance the Greens, or boost the coalition with the CDU/CSU and the SPD to the required majority. The first option was already considered 4 years ago and the negotiations did not lead to success, despite the political weight of Merkel, which Laschet does not have. FDP leader Christian Lindner is not the easiest negotiator and does not have confidence in the Greens. Will he go for another deal?

The coalition of CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP could have a symbolic meaning in the context of transit—the main colours of the parties add up to the German flag. It responds to the CDU’s stake on continuity (at the expense of the SPD), but tolerates moderate innovation (from the FDP). Germans today have no clear coalition preferences, which indicates that the population has no idea of their capabilities. In this situation, the voter may well support the course towards stability.

In other words, we can talk about the firm intention of the ruling party to maintain the leadership and course of the outgoing chancellor. However, it is controversial whether this stake will work in the long term: coalition negotiations will be difficult, and there are few backup options. Laschet will have to manoeuvre between persistence and concessions, and analysts will have a very interesting autumn.

From our partner RIAC

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