Connect with us

Europe

Return of the Wir wussten nicht: The equation of Communism with Nazism

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Published

on

“He who does not wish to speak of capitalism should remain forever silent about Nazism” –I quoted West Germany’s Max Horkheimer just few months ago discussing the disastrous, cynical and absolutely unnecessary attempts towards the equation of communism with Nazism, of fascism and anti-fascism.

Right than – in that text – I also borrowed from yet another Frankfurter, Herbert Marcuse on the self-entrapment of Western society. Back in 1960s, it was him labelling as “repressive tolerance” if someone in future ever considers a dangerous and a historical equitation between Nazism and anything else, least with Communism. Regrettably enough, that future of de-evolution started pouring in by 1990s – culminating with the current Covid-19 iron fist.

Umberto Eco – in his ur-fascism of 1995 – of course, didn’t see the entire world arrested on one pathogen, one narrative about it, one solution mandated for all, along with suppression of any debate about it. Back then in mid-1990’s, Eco didn’t visualise it but he well sensed where it might but should never go: Trivialisation of our important contents will brutally hit us back. (Immunisation of herd – as tirelessly agitated via media, inevitable ends up in herd loyalty: From pandemia to plundermia. 1930s are powerful reminder: From Reichstags Fire to Kristallnacht and on, and on, and on.)

Here we are today; 75 years after the glorious Victory Day, fighting (again) invisible enemy within. Therefore, the antifascist fundaments of modern Europe are today relevant more than ever. This is not our (political) choice, it is the only way to survive. Surely, any equitation attempt is a beginning of infection. And immuno-fascism, be it of 1930’s or of 2020’s always starts with silence, which is both an acceptance and accomplice. In vain a self-comforting excuse; Wir wussten nicht (it was others, not us).

To prevent it, revisiting the most relevant chapters of our near history is worth of doing:

No llores porque ya se terminó, sonríe porque sucedió[1]

In fact, the 1930s were full of public admirations of and frequent official visits to an Austrian-born Hitler. It was not only reserved for the British royal family (e.g. Edward VIII), but for many more prominent from both sides of the Atlantic (e.g. Henry Ford). By 1938 in Munich, this ‘spirit of Locarno’ has been confirmed in practice when French President Daladier and British PM Chamberlain (Atlantic Europe) jointly paid a visit to Germany and gave concessions – practically a free hand – to Hitler and Mussolini (Central Europe) on gains in Eastern Europe (Istria, Czechoslovakia and beyond). Neither Atlantic Europe objected to the pre-Munich solidification of Central Europe: Hitler–Mussolini pact and absorption of Austria, following a massive domestic Austrian support to Nazism of its well-educated and well-informed 719,000 members of the Nazi party (nearly a third of a that-time total Austrian electorate), as well as a huge ring of sympathizers. In a referendum organised by the Austro-Nazis a month after the Anschluss, 99.7% of Austrians voted ‘Yes’ to annexation.[2]

By brokering the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression deal between Berlin and Moscow, but only a year after the Munich-shame – in 1939 (incl. the stipulations on Finland, Baltic states and Poland), Stalin desperately tried to preempt the imminent. That was a horror of an uncontrolled expansion of Central onto Eastern Europe and closer to Russia – something already largely blessed and encouraged by Atlantic Europe.[3]

This chapter would be definitely one of the possible spots for a thorough examination, if we only wish to diligently elaborate why Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe scored so much of Nazi-collaboration while Eastern and Russophone Europe opposed and fiercely resisted.[4]

For some 300 years, Russia and the Ottomans – like no other European belligerents – have fought series of bitter wars over the control of the Black Sea plateau and Caucasus – sectors, which both sides (especially the Ottomans) have considered as geopolitically pivotal for their posture. Still, neither party has ever progressed at the battlefield as to seriously jeopardize the existence of the other. However, Russia has experienced such moves several times from within Europe. Three of them were critical for the very survival of Russia, and the forth was rather instructive: the Napoleonic wars, Hitler’s Drangnach Osten, the so-called ‘contra-revolutionary’ intervention,[5] and finally the brief but deeply humiliating war with Poland (1919-21).

In absence of acceptance, quest for the strategic depth

Small wonder, that in 1945, when Russians– suffering over 20 millions of mostly civilian casualties (practically, an extermination of the entire population in many parts of the western Soviet Union), and by far the heaviest continental burden of the war against Nazism – arrived on wings of their tanks and ideology to Central Europe, they decided to stay.[6] Extending their strategic depth westwards–southwestwards, and fortifying their presence in the heart of Europe,[7] was morally an occupation. Still, it was geopolitically the single option left, which Stalin as a ruthless person but an excellent geo-strategist perfectly understood.

Just a quick look at the geographic map of Europe would show that the low-laying areas of western Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe are practically non-fortifiable and indefensible. Their topography exposes the metropolitan area and city of Moscow to an extreme vulnerability. So, the geostrategic dictatum is that in absence of any deep canyon, serious ridge or mountain chain, the only protection is either a huge standing army (expensive and badly needed in other corners of this vast country) and/or an extension of the strategic depth.

Indeed, if we truly want to elaborate on why Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe bred so much obedience and Nazi-collaboration (with Central Europe) and largely passively stood by, while Eastern and Russophone Europe (solely) fiercely resisted and fought, we should advisably examine the financial, moral, demographic and politico-military cost-benefit ratio of the WWII, too. The subsequent, sudden and lasting Cold War era has prevented any comprehensive scientific consensus. The unbiased, de-ideologized and objective view on the WWII was systematically discouraged. Soviets consistently equated Nazism and imperialism while the US, for its part, equated fascism and communism. Until this very day, we do not have a full accord on causes and consequences of events in years before, during and after the WWII.[8] Therefore the paradox – the holocaust denial is a criminal offense, but all other important things surrounding Nazism and its principal European victims; Slavs and their states, are tentative and negotiable, elastic and eligible for a periodic political re-engineering.

The same applies to the comparative analysis of the economic performance of East and West.[9] E.g. was the much-celebrated Truman’s Marshall aid to the post-WWII western Europe, originally meant to be the US reimbursement to the Soviets for the enormous burden they took throughout the WWII – the financial assistance that was repeatedly promised by Roosevelt to Stalin, but never delivered past his death in spring 1945? Saturated by the Nazi Germany beyond comprehension, the Soviet Union was rebuilding alone itself and Eastern Europe, while the moderately damaged Western Europe got – including Germany – a massive, ideologically conditioned, financial help. 

In a nutshell; if we disaggregate Europe into its compounding historical components, it is safe to say the following: The very epilogue of both WWs in Europe was a defeat of the Central (status quo challenger) against Atlantic Europe (status quo defender). All this with the relatively absent, neutral Scandinavian Europe, of Eastern Europe being more an object than a subject of these mega-confrontations, and finally with a variable success of Russophone Europe.

Finally, back to Franco-German post-WWII re-rapprochement.

Obviously, that was far more than just a story about the two countries signing d’accord. It truly marked a final decisive reconciliation of two Europes, the Atlantic and Central one. The status quo Europe has won on the continent but has soon lost its overseas colonies. Once realizing it, the road for ‘unification’ of the equally weakened protagonists in a close proximity was wide open. This is the full meaning of the 1961Elysée.


[1] Much quoted line of Gabriel García Márquez; from Spanish: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’.

[2] In his luminary piece, Rolf Soderlind states: “…unlike other countries occupied by the Nazis in the ensuing WWII, Austria embraced the March 12, 1938 invasion with an enthusiasm that surprised the Germans and which still affects the country. The role as victim-turned-accomplice in Hitler’s crimes against humanity was a taboo for decades after the war in Austria… After all, Hitler was born in Austria, which historians say was the cradle of Nazism at the start of the century. Hitler merely took the ideas with him to Munich and, later, Berlin.” No wonder that a disproportionately high number of Austrians, including war criminals such as (Adolf) Eichmann and (Ernst) Kaltenbrunner, took active part in the systematic exterminations of Slavic peoples, Jews, Romas and other racially or politically ‘impure’ segments, manly from the Europe’s East. “Austrian Nazis, quickly proving to be even more brutal than their ruthless German masters, hit the streets after the invasion to intimidate, beat up and rob mainly Jews but also to settle the account with Social Democrats and Communists — their political opponents.” – describes Soderlind. “This was not on Hitler’s orders. It was a spontaneous pogrom. It was popular among Austrians to go after the Jews,” says Gerhard Botz, professor of contemporary history at the University of Vienna. On the account, American journalist Shirer reported: “For the first few weeks the behaviour of the Vienna Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany,” and concludes: “there was an orgy of sadism.” A day after, already by March 13, 1938, Jews and other racial or political ‘inappropriates’ were forced to scrub the pavements and clean the gutters of the Austrian capital, the elegant cafe society that was world-wide admired as a stage for classical music, wise humanity and a shining example of Baroque architecture. “As they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them,” Shirer wrote. While the Nazi Party was banned in post-war Austria, most veteran Nazis were highly educated people who found a new career in politics and government. Professor Wolfgang Neugebauer says: “They could not remove the entire leadership, because then the state would no longer be able to function. Even in the first government of Social Democratic Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in 1970s, four ministers were former Nazis… Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in a speech to parliament in 1991 became the first Austrian leader to admit that his country was a servant of Nazism.” Interestingly, German and Austrian leaders apologized to Israel (or generally to Jews) repeatedly, but not really to the peoples of Eastern Europe who were by far the largest Nazi victim. Illuminating the origins of wealth of Central Europe, Neugebauer admits: ”It was not until 1995 (time when all three Slavic multinational states have undergone the dissolution, and disappeared from the map, rem. aut.) that Austria started paying compensation to surviving victims of Austrian Nazi aggression.” In the same fashion, Germany – considered as the Europe’s economic miracle – in essence an overbearing Mitteleuropear that dragged world into the two devastating world wars, is a serial defaulter which received debt relief four times in the 20th century (1924, 1929, 1932 and 1953). E.g. by the letter of London Agreement on German External Debts (Londoner Schuldenabkommen) over 60% of German reparations for the colossal atrocities committed in both WW were forgiven (or generously reprogramed) by their former European victims.

[3] It should be kept in mind that for the very objective of lebensraum policy (character and size of space needed for Germanophones to unhindered, live and prosper), the Jews, Roma and behavioristic minorities were the non-territorial obstacle. However, Slavs and their respective Slavic states in Eastern Europe were the prime territorial target of Hitler-led Central Europe’s ‘final solution’. Therefore, no wonder why so much fifth column crop among Slavs. For the speeding and smoothening of the lebensraum objective, Quisling was needed as PM in Norway, but Slavic quisling-elites were cattled in each and every of that time major Slavic states – useful idiots in Poland, in Ukraine, in Czechoslovakia, in Yugoslavia, in Bulgaria, etc.). 

[4] One of the possible reasons was a fact that the Atlanstist nobility, wealth-clans and dynasties were mingled and intermarried with those same from Central and Scandinavian Europe. That was only sporadic in case of Eastern Europe, and totally absent in case of Russophone Europe.  

[5] The 6-year-long insurgencies was largely financed and inspired by Western Europe as an overt ‘regime change’ intervention. It came at the time of the young Bolshevik Russia, and it subsequently saturated the country, bringing the unbearable levels of starvation and hunger up to cases of cannibalism. It took away 5 million mostly civilian lives, and eventually set the stage for a ‘red terror’.

[6] The same applies to the Atlantic (Anglo-French and American) lasting occupation of Central Europe, which along with the Soviet one was the only guaranty for the full and decisive de-Nazification of the core sectors of continental Europe.

[7] With the politico-military settlement of the Teheran and Yalta Conference (1943), and finally by the accord of the Potsdam Conference (1945), the US, UK and the SU unanimously agreed to reduce the size of Germany by 25% (comparable to its size of 1937), to recreate Austria, and to divide both of them on four occupation zones. The European sections of the Soviet borders were extended westwards (as far as to Kaliningrad), and Poland was compensated by territorial gains in former Eastern Prussia/Germany. The Americans and Britons in Potsdam unanimously confirmed the pre-WWII inclusion of the three Baltic republics into the Soviet Union, too. Practically, Russians managed to eliminate Germany from Eastern Europe (and of its access to central and eastern portions of Baltic, too), and to place it closer to the Atlantic Europe’s proper.

[8] Sadly enough, most of the popular Atlantist literature or movies elaborating on topics of the WWII are biased and misleading on the role of the Red Army,and are generally disrespectful towards the enormous suffering of the Soviet and Yugoslav peoples at that time.  

[9] Comparing and contrasting the economic performance of East and West, many western scholars in 1950s and 1960s argued that the Soviet socio-economic model is superior to that of its western archrival. The superpower’s space-race was usually the most quoted argument for this claim. Indeed, some dozens of Soviet space-race victories were so magnificent that it was impossible to hide them, as the ideological dictum would suggested. E.g. the first orbiting satellite (Sputnik 1, 1957); the first animal, the first man, and the first women in orbit (Laika 1957, Gagarin 1961, Tereshkova 1963); the first over-24 hours stay in space (Titov, 1961); first images of the dark side of moon (1959); the first man-made device to enter the atmosphere of another planet, and to achieve the soft landing on Venus and images sent from there (Venera 4, 1967; Venera 7, 1970); the first space-walk (Leonov,1965); the first space station (Salyut, 1971); the first probe to ever land on Mars (Mars 3, 1971); the first permanently manned space station including the longest stays in space (Mir, 1989-99), etc.  

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

A New Wave of Euroscepticism in the Heart of Europe?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

Published

on

As we are about to enter a new decade, the European Union seems to be facing one of its worst existential crises since its conception. Euroscepticism is not something new; ever since the efforts to achieve the European integration started in the 1950s political parties that made of anti-integration their main platform started to mushroom throughout the continent. the current pandemic, lockdown measures, an economic crisis that looms seem to be exacerbating divisive trends in Europe.

Most recently, the 2008 and 2009 financial crises that brought radicalism, populism, and fringe politics to the forefront of the political agenda again, especially in southern Europe which felt the worst effects of the economic downturn: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. six years later, in 2015, the migrant crisis further deepened the already existing fractures among member states, and particularly throughout Eastern Europe, the continent witnessed can you surge in populist narratives, however this was also the case in countries that had been traditionally immune to such rhetoric such as the Scandinavian countries, and  Sweden in particular.

There is a false sense of Swedish exceptionalism for welcoming refugees. it is true that Sweden has been a generous safe haven for migrants, and they have received more refugees than many other European countries. However, one cannot assume such policy truly reflects the sentiments of the population. soon after Sweden started welcoming migrants, political parties started to turn to an ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric blaming massive immigration for a possible collapse of their health, social and welfare systems.

Sweden is not an isolated case, populists have had considerable media exposure and have successfully started to alter the political agenda of the European Union in recent years. they cannot and should not be taken lightly. radical political parties do have realistic chances to become mainstream alternatives and attain power in many European countries such as  France, Italy, Greece, The Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and the UK.

Populism is particularly appealing to those that feel they do not belong in a new ever-changing reality because of its reactive nature. populism reminds voters of glorious pastthat is long gone because of the actions of those currently in power. populism thrives on the division  of “us” vs “them”, and on the need to protect national institutions and inherent values that are being eroded and attacked.

While Euroscepticism trends started to subside ask the European economies started to grow and the migrant inflow started to stabilise , there was a widely spread false sentiment of stability and the assumption that Euroscepticism would wither away. Brexit and the domestic and international chaos it caused in the UK and in Europe reinforced this perception. soon after the failure in negotiations and the never-ending extensions of the process did translate into a drop in the demands for a membership referendum in most European countries. However, the current development may as well reverse that trend  

Populist leaders across the continent have already started to use the pandemic to legitimise many of their prior ideological stances: protectionism; anti- globalization; anti-immigration policies; closure of borders; nationalism and tougher law and order policies. Italy so country that could dictate where European politics will head to in coming months or years. Italy has been hit particularly hard in this pandemic, not only by the high human cost, but also by the dark economic prospects for the country. Italy will be stricken by the worst economic contractions in Europe and its debt  is expected to rise two over 150% of their GDP. Italy is therefore set for one of the longest recoveries in Europe. with all this into account, the idea that Italy could follow the UK in its anti-European mode  is something that should not be that lightly put away.

Italy has been suffering from a wave of European anti integration sentiment since the 2008 crisis, according to a survey by the Tecné Agency, 42% of Italians are in favour of withdrawal from the EU, by December last year, only 26% of them supported the idea. This percentage could increase if Italians are not happy with post-pandemic measures and could further enflame North and South existing tensions. the pandemic has struck pre-existing weaknesses and frailties and has played on a sense of abandonment. populists in Italy are not an exception amidst this pandemic: they are returning to their very familiar core book: they are portraying themselves as the only answer to protect the people.

Italians feel they were abandoned by the rest of the European Union to fend for themselves; even now when the European Union has decided on a massive asset-purchase scheme of Eurobonds or coronabonds, the Union is blind to the fact that economies among their member states will be affected differently. these has also reinforced the belief that this measure is contrary to the solidarity principle the union is based upon. Ideally, to prevent widespread feelings of inaction a lack of solidarity, Germany and France should possibly toy with the idea of a shared debt, especially when there are already apparent cases of serious insolvency from southern member states. this can also potentially limit the support for populism across the continent.

Italy in particular he’s a worrying case, unlike the UK with Brexit, Italy is a founding member of the European Union and if they were to hold a referendum on European Union membership with the same result as the 2016 one in the UK it would be catastrophic for the European Union’s credibility and legitimacy. this is a very realistic result as the post pandemic continues to impact on the continents social, economic, and political cohesion; and especially in countries, like Italy, which have been flirting on and off with populism, and they seem to be a crisis away from becoming the next Brexit or the next debt disaster in Europe.

Continue Reading

Europe

Kosovo between USA and EU

Published

on

The issue of Kosovo is yet again becoming one of the hottest on the international agenda. While the US administration is set on the early (before the presidential elections in November) signing of an agreement on normalizing relations through territorial exchanges,  the European Union leadership, under pressure from Germany, is pursuing their own agenda: a settlement of political crisis in the region and prevention of a new territorial carve-up in the Balkans. These differences can well result in a buildup of tension on both coasts of the Atlantic not only regarding the Balkan but also in relation to other burning international issues.

So far, the United States is somewhat outplaying the EU on this issue. The Trump administration, after securing solidarity with Kosovo’s President Hashim Taci in his confrontation with radical Prime Minister Albin Kurti, has de facto forced the latter to resign. It is the leader of the Self-Determination Radical Movement who is strongly opposed to an agreement with Belgrade and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts in exchange for the lifting of Serbia’s objections to Pristina’s membership in international organizations. Considering that Serbia’s position is backed by Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, there are grounds to assume that Serbia’s refusal to counteract efforts by Kosovo diplomacy will mean Kosovo’s admission to the UN as an independent state – even in the absence of a legal acknowledgment of independence on the part of Belgrade and a number of EU members (Spain Greece, Cyprus, Rumania and  Slovakia).

Understandably, the EU leadership is categorically against such a prospect as undermining the unity of the organization and fraught with new changes of the Balkan borders. Brussels has been doing its utmost to consolidate Kosovo’s political landscape and at the same time isolate the chief “negotiator” with Belgrade – President Hashim Taci. The EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said openly on May 7 that Kosovo needed a strong and stable government. Commenting on the situation following the vote of no confidence in the Albin Kurti Cabinet pronounced by the Kosovo Parliament on March 25, the Commissioner pointed out that ‘time is too valuable to be lost’: “If we do want to overcome the crisis, if we do mean to put Kosovo on the European track, we must do everything we can to come to an early solution in order to set up a sustainable government”.

Pristina should have no doubts which side Brussels is on in matters relative to Kosovo’s government and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts. To this end, the next day, on May 8th, spokesperson for Kosovo in European Parliament Viola von Cramon said that Germany is against changing the borders between Serbia and Kosovo. In her words, any carve-up of borders in Western Balkans requires public approval at the referendum. «A solution is not in the hands of the presidents of two countries since an agreement they sign is to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries and be acceptable for all», – she said in an interview on the Kosovo TV Channel RTK.

Simultaneously, she de facto acknowledged the presence in the EU of grave differences on a further development of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. When answering a question by a Kosovo journalist as to when we can expect liberalization of visa regime between Serbia and Kosovo, Viola von Cramon said that along with the current difficulties it looks like within the EU there is no political will to take such a decision.

Spain is among countries which refuse to acknowledge self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo and which speak against a carve-up of Balkan borders. Spanish media and public opinion have been following closely all the possible scenarios of the development of the situation in the Balkans through the prism of the country’s own problems that have to do with separatism on the part of Basques and Catalonians. However, they are fairly skeptical about EU efforts.

The Spanish El Mundo writes in this regard that «in the heat of coronavirus epidemic the heads of state and government of 27 EU members and six Balkan countries held a video conference. «It is not a summit on EU expansion», – Spain keeps repeating. For if it were different, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez would have never agreed to take part in a high-level event, which was also attended by Kosovo’s president. This summit is designed to bring the sides concerned closer and bridge the differences. Citing Brussels’ sources El Mundo admits that the EU will not be able to offer the Balkan partners the prospect of early membership in the alliance , despite reports about the start of preliminary talks with Albania and North Macedonia. «Practically everybody came to the conclusion that the European Union would not expand for at least another ten years. What happened in 2004, when 10 countries joined the EU at a time, will not take place again. No appetite, no desire. And in the light of disagreements with Hungary and Poland in recent years, nobody wants more experiments», – El Mundo reports.

Mass media in Turkey – a country that found itself locked out of the EU – are as frank in their comments on the crisis in the EU’s Balkan policy. «The decision to start talks with Albania and North Macedonia about a full membership in the European Union means that the EU’s influence in Western Balkans will increase. However, this does not mean that the region will fully fall under the influence of the EU. For nearly 20 years the Balkans have been a buffer zone between big powers. Western Balkan countries where the US influence is strong include Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia», – the Turkish Anadolu Ajansı news agency.

Meanwhile, it is essential to remember that a mere idea – even if hypothetical – of granting Kosovo and other Balkan territories membership in the EU comes instrumental in confrontation with the USA. The latter can use financial and military-technical support but cannot promise membership in regional blocs or multilateral trade agreements. «The battle for influence in Western Balkans is currently in full swing. Given the circumstances, it is possible to say that the EU, which chose to start talks with Albanian and North Macedonia on full membership in the European Union, outflanked its competitors and has hit the top», – the Turkish news agency reports: «Besides, the EU considers it an advantage that countries such as Greece, Slovenia and Croatia are members of the EU, while Serbia and Montenegro continue talks on membership in the EU».

Given the situation, Russia is set on close coordination of effort with Serbian leaders and support of negotiating process in a format that makes it possible to take into account the interests of Serbs and ensures the possibility of a compromise. Simultaneously, Moscow underscores the priority of the UN mechanisms over any other formats of negotiations (including under the patronage of the EU) and the importance of taking any decisions that could be reached between Belgrade and Pristina to the UN Security Council. 

From our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading

Europe

A Sad Anniversary: Ten Years of the Partnership for Modernization

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

Published

on

One approaching anniversary seems almost entirely lost in this spring’s torrent of different celebrations and commemorative dates. Ten years ago, the “Partnership for Modernization” Russia-EU Initiative was launched. Let us recap: at the 25th Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don on May 31—June 1, 2010, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and President of the European Commission Jose Barroso announced that the Partnership marked a new stage and level in the cooperation between Moscow and Brussels.

Back then, the parties also outlined the priorities for their joint efforts. These included expanding opportunities for investment in the key sectors driving growth and innovations, bolstering and deepening bilateral trade and economic collaboration, and promoting small- and medium-sized enterprises. The parties noted they would prioritize the alignment of technical regulations and standards and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights. Transportation earned special mention.

Promoting a sustainable low-carbon economy and energy efficiency, and support for international talks on fighting climate change were also set as forward-looking areas for sectoral cooperation. The parties agreed to strengthen collaboration in innovation, research and development, as well as space exploration. They noted the need to ensure balanced development by addressing the regional and social consequences of economic restructuring. Additionally, the Partnership envisioned effective functioning of the judiciary and stepping up the fight against corruption, promoting people-to-people links and boosting dialogue with civil society in order to foster participation by individuals and businesses.

Russia and the European Union pinned great hopes on this initiative. On the one hand, both Moscow and Brussels clearly saw that, following the surge in the early 21st century, Russia–EU relations were stalling and becoming bogged down in endless bureaucratic approvals and they were slowed down by many disagreements within the EU itself. Russia–EU biannual summits were gradually losing substance and were becoming less and less productive. The prospects for achieving agreement on such fundamental issues as energy cooperation or a visa-free regime remained vague, while the timeline for signing a new Russia–EU framework agreement to replace the hopelessly outdated 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was moving further and further into the indeterminate future.

On the other hand, the overall political climate at the turn of the first and second decades of the 21st century favoured new initiatives in Russia-Europe relations and prompted the parties to set more ambitious goals. By 2010, the Russia–US “reset” mechanism had already been launched, Moscow’s relations with Central European states, including Poland, were gradually improving; the EU had emerged from another constitutional crisis, and the armed conflict in the South Caucasus was receding into the past. Economic ties between Russia and its western neighbours had passed through the ordeal of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009 and demonstrated steady positive dynamics.

Accordingly, the parties viewed the Partnership for Modernization agreement as summing up a certain intermediate stage in Russia–EU relations and creating an additional positive impetus for endowing these relations with new dynamics. Both Moscow and Brussels had reasons to be optimistic about the future: the second decade of the 21st century promised momentous new achievements, new political and economic breakthroughs in both the West and the East of Europe.

Lost Illusions

Nowadays, the 10th anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization is unlikely to attract much attention either in Russia or in the European Union. European leaders will not arrive at a new Russia–EU summit. Experts, entrepreneurs and journalists will not flock to crowded international conferences and forums marking the anniversary. The participants in the Rostov-on-Don summit will not be looking back and reminiscing to the younger generation about the preparations, discussions, and signing of the historic Partnership announcement. The coronavirus pandemic that has stopped all air travel in a petrified Europe and imposed a strict moratorium on public events is not the only reason for this. The thing is, the Partnership is no longer worth mentioning in either the West or East.

Jose Barroso, Former President of the European Commission, has been working for the USA’s Goldman Sachs for a long time; his move to the private sector was scandalous and prompted a special investigation by the European Union. Dmitry Medvedev left the office of Russian President less than two years after the Partnership was launched and, since January 2020, following his appointment as Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council, he is no longer involved in matters of international economic cooperation. Today, neither of these men apparently sees the Partnership for Modernization as one of their principal political achievements. Quite possibly, many of those who worked in some way on preparing the Partnership today feel a little bit awkward: how naïve and gullible we were ten years ago if we could discuss such a document in earnest!

It is hard to believe today that, just ten years ago, such in-depth cooperation between Brussels and Moscow could have been discussed as a practical matter. It is equally hard to believe that, in November 2010, the President of Russia attended the Russia–EU summit in Lisbon and discussed the practical prospects for partnership relations between Moscow and NATO based on delineating areas of responsibility for maintaining global security.

History has amended the plans of the Rostov-on-Don summit’s participants as it saw fit. The second decade of the 21st century was a time of trial for both Russia and the EU. Both parties are emerging from this decade with a heavy burden of new and unforeseen problems; acutely exacerbated bilateral relations make this burden all the heavier. Neither the East nor the West of Europe is any longer suffused with the cheerful historical optimism of ten years ago.

Given the radically new circumstances, is it worth remembering the events of ten years ago? Apparently it is, at least to understand what went wrong, why great expectations gave way to bitter disappointments, why, instead of an upswing, everything that had been achieved collapsed. These recollections are necessary at least for us to be able to assess the prospect for Russia-EU interactions in the third decade of the 21st century realistically.

Some believe (especially in Europe, but there are also some proponents in Russia) that, as regards implementing the Partnership for Modernization, everything went well between Moscow and Brussels up until the events in Crimea and Donbass in the spring and summer of 2014. Had there been no 2014 crisis, we would have been reaping the rich harvest of a decade of a mutually advantageous partnership and would have been building tremendous plans for the future.

The tragic events of 2014 did, indeed, draw a bold line under a long stretch of Russia–EU relations, as well as nullifying the Partnership’s prospects. Yet it would be a mistake to reduce all the problems to a single, if extremely acute, crisis. Had everything been going well with the Partnership (and the plans envisioned a new framework agreement following hard on the heels of the Partnership), the 2014 crisis is unlikely to have taken place. The parties would have had enough common sense and specific economic stimuli not to cross the line that separated us from a rapid and irreversible exacerbation of relations. And, if the line was, indeed, irreversibly crossed (be it in January, March or July 2014), this would have meant that, by 2014, the parties already had no particular expectations concerning the Partnership for Modernization achieving its full fruition or some positive breakthroughs taking place in bilateral relations in general. In other words, the four years of joint work within the Partnership’s framework did not perform their role of a deterrent that, under other circumstances, the parties might have hoped for.

The Partnership’s Ambiguity: Contents and Mechanisms

Did the Partnership concept contain some initial flaws, drawbacks or ambiguities that prevented its fully-fledged implementation? Today, looking back at it with the benefit of decade-long hindsight, we have to answer that question positively. From the very outset, the concept had inbuilt contradictions inherent in both the very term “modernization” and in the priority mechanisms chosen for implementing the concept.

Let us begin with the contents. When coordinating the Partnership’s concept and when implementing it, Russia invariably stressed its technological and innovative dimension. President Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly emphasized that the concept applied primarily to deepening cooperation in high tech spheres. These have always been among the most difficult and sensitive for international cooperation in general and between Russia and the West in particular. Implementing the idea of Russia and the EU’s mutual “interpenetration” into each other’s high-tech economic sectors can be likened to the most difficult open-heart surgery, which could only be performed by a top-notch professional. Even with both parties having the political will for it, it was virtually inevitable that they would run into many difficulties in the way of the Russia-EU “modernization alliance’s” functioning.

The EU focused most on Russia’s social and political modernization, on bringing Russia’s institutions and practices up to the European level. The “Partnership for Modernization” was frequently seen as some analogue of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme for Central European states, which mostly emphasized the humanitarian and legal aspects. Naturally, the EU would act as the mentor and Russia was assigned the role of obedient student. That also required Brussels to act with the utmost delicacy and caution (brain surgery?), which, sadly, it did not. Suffice it to recall here the activities of the EU­–Russia Civil Society Forum: Brussels officials assumed the unilateral right to determine who in Russia had the right to represent this civil society and who did not. Since Russia, unlike Central European states, was not aiming to join the European Union, such a pointedly and obtrusively paternalistic attitude on the part of the EU could not but annoy Moscow.

These contradictions in defining “modernization” probably were not irreconcilable and could have been settled somehow. Moscow could have acknowledged that technological modernization is closely linked to social modernization, while it is impossible to attract European investment and technologies without improving state governance, reforming the judiciary, protecting intellectual property and the rights of investors. Brussels could have remembered that the EU had always been rather flexible in applying the principle of “political conditionality” (the requirements that the EU’s partners respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law) and could have used the experience of the EU’s relations with, for instance, China. Brussels could have entertained a broader definition of “civil society” leaders in Russia, adding some politically neutral organizations working on environmental issues, education, socially-orientated business, etc. to politically-engaged NPOs. Unfortunately, both parties preferred to insist on their own interpretations of the Partnership’s priorities, thereby provoking a negative response from their counterpart.

The parties’ different approaches were manifested in their ideas concerning the forward-looking mechanisms for implementing the Partnership. Europe would have liked to emphasize “bottom-up” modernization, meaning modernization originating in the private sector, expert networks and civil society and moving toward major economic projects and sectoral cooperation. Russia, on the contrary, prioritized “top-down” modernization, that is, modernization originating with the government and ministries and moving toward individual enterprises. Moscow had always pinned its principal hopes on sectoral dialogue as the principal mechanism for implementing the Partnership. That is, the parties’ ideas concerning the cooperation drivers were quite different from the outset.

Let us add to the mix such a complicating factor as significant structural differences in the economies in the West and the East of Europe: Moscow had always pinned its principal expectations concerning the Partnership’s implementation on big business, while Brussels invariably emphasized the EU prioritization of development of cooperation at the small- and medium-sized business level. Consequently, Russia calling for the partners in Brussels to launch the development of specific large-scale infrastructure projects and create socially significant manufacturing enterprises did not prompt a particularly enthusiastic response on the part of EU officials.

On the other hand, the EU negotiators never missed an opportunity to say that Russia’s modernization could not be efficient and comprehensive if it did not extend to the so-called “strategic sectors” protected from foreign competition by their special legal and political status and not having real stimuli for technological re-equipment and introduction of up-to-date corporate governance. It is easy to imagine the response these statements must have prompted among influential top managers of Russia’s state corporations!

Under different circumstances, a mutually acceptable balance between these two approaches could probably have been found. Unfortunately, when it came to Russia, the traditional “agency-based” practice of structuring such projects was in the way: the efforts of government officials were rarely supplemented by the requisite mobilization of the expert community. The activities of the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) were an exception as INSOR came to be an important venue for collaboration between officials and independent experts. As for the European Union, it was incapable of implementing the Partnership in the “top-down” format simply because the relevant agencies in Brussels were institutionally weak: the given departments of the European Commission, headed by their Directors General, could only loosely be seen as direct counterparts of Russian ministries and agencies headed by federal ministers.

It appears, however, that the fatal blow to implementation of the Partnership was delivered by something other than the differences outlined above. Such an initiative could have been implemented only if it had been constantly kept in sight by the parties’ top leadership unconditionally prioritizing it. In the meantime, over the years since the Partnership was signed, Russia was gradually moving away from the innovative development strategy, at least in the shape and form formulated during Dmitry Medvedev’s Presidency. Jose Barroso’s team, in turn, rapidly lost interest in the Partnership following Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin and switched its attention to other projects on the eastern frontiers of the European Union.

The Virtue of Necessity

We cannot go back to the year 2010. Even if, by some miracle, the conflict within and around Ukraine were to be solved promptly, on mutually acceptable grounds, the contradictions inherent in the Partnership for Modernization would not go away. Additionally, ten years on, the concept has definitely become obsolete. Our world is now different, the relations between its major actors are structured differently, the dominant ideas of the main challenges and threats faced by individual states and by humanity as a whole have changed radically.

Yet it is too early to write off the Partnership for Modernization. Its relevance might increase precisely because the past ten years have proven to be such a trial for both Brussels and Moscow. Although the European Quarter in Brussels and the Kremlin in Moscow still sound triumphant fanfares, the off-key notes in that cheerful music can be heard with increasing clarity. Little is now left of the former triumphant sentiments of both the European and Russian elites and of the European and Russian societies. The European Union faced an unprecedented migration crisis, experienced a sharp upswing in the popularity right-wing populists and Euro-sceptics, went through a painful divorce from the UK and found itself on the receiving end of the USA’s previously unthinkable hostility.

Russia had to face a variety of economic sanctions, withstand the devaluation of its currency and a drop in the population’s real incomes, and acknowledge the essential loss of its energy superpower status. Both parties are among the countries and regions particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Although, over the last ten years, both the European Union and Russia have demonstrated an impressive ability to weather shocks, it must be acknowledged today they have far fewer objective grounds than ten years ago for confidence in a sunny future. Recognizing one’s weakness and vulnerability and realizing one’s common interests with a partner—surely this is a combination that produces readiness to compromise?

Europe found itself squeezed between the US, which still dominates the world and looks on Europe with ever diminishing favour, and China, which is gradually gaining power. Naturally, expanding cooperation with Moscow will not resolve all of Europe’s problems, but it might turn out to be an instrument for buttressing the EU’s current standing in global politics and the global economy and, as such, it clearly should not be neglected.

Having lost a significant chunk of its natural resource rent, Russia is being forced to seek a new socio-economic development model, and it will have to do so under extremely unfavourable external circumstances. Where will it be looking for this model? Perhaps China, India or Singapore? Even given all their advantages, it is doubtful that Asian modernization models would suit the predominantly European society that Russia was in 2010, is in 2020, and will remain in 2030, irrespective of what the many proponents of “Eurasian identity” would like to convince us of.

Is this not an incentive to start working on Partnership for Modernization 2.0? Sceptics are likely to ask: what about the unresolved problems in the east of Ukraine? What about the continuing divergence between the Russian and European political development tracks? What about the unconditional priority both Brussels and Moscow accord their own domestic issues? These questions are reasonable and fair. Yet we will never be able to answer them if we remain unable at least to pencil in a general outline of the desired common future. An attractive image of a desired future should, among other things, become a powerful stimulus for overcoming the negative legacy of the past decade, for resolving the specific issues that stand in the way of a new rapprochement between Russia and the EU.

We would very much hope that the anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization will become not only a reason to mourn the failed hopes of the past decade but also an incentive to think about the opportunities offered by the next ten years.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Newsdesk40 mins ago

ADB Study Maps Supply Chains for Key Products in COVID-19 Response

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a landmark study which maps supply chains for critical products in the global...

South Asia2 hours ago

India may attack Pakistan under false flag operations

Prime Minister Imran Khan once again stressed that India is gearing up for false flag operation to divert the entire...

Africa4 hours ago

Visualising Ethiopia’s Economic Leadership (and Challenges) in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa has historically been one of the world’s most unstable regions, with internal strife, secessionism, interstate war,...

Human Rights6 hours ago

More ‘can and must be done’ to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal

Shocked over the killing last weekend of five men in Nepal, who had planned to escort home one of their...

Energy News8 hours ago

Myanmar: Power System Efficiency Project Brings Country Closer to Universal Electricity Access

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $350 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) to...

Economy10 hours ago

Rohingya Influx and its Economic Significance for Bangladesh

Authors:Shuva Das & Sherajul Mustajib Sharif* It is generally perceived that refugees are curse for host countries though the former...

Newsdesk13 hours ago

The “High 5s”: A strategic vision and results that are transforming Africa

For the past ten years, Africa has recorded some of the world’s strongest rates of economic growth. At the same...

Trending