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Thursday, 16 August 2012 00:05

Ties stronger than Realpolitik?

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Ties stronger than Realpolitik? That's the question that followed me during the whole Visegrad Summer School (VSS) which ended in Kraków a few weeks ago. Throughout no less than 25 lectures and 6 workshops that concerned tough political issues, as well as subjects like cultural modernisation, urban art and eco-design, this was an issue which I simply could not put aside.

Discussing a common European interest, European identity and the emergence of a European public sphere is always a nice intellectual Erasmus pastime or at least a good occasion to show off your erudite complaints about the current European rulers. Those politicians who have no idea about the transnational agenda, etc. It's sad but true - the relevance of those discussions still seems to be safely speculative.

Nevertheless, in Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) such considerations aren't just hypothetical disputes. Not only because we, the Easterners, Central-Easterners, post-Mitteleuropeans may feel some strange phenomenon of community but also because without asserting some "Central-Eastern European solidarity" we are simply lost.

Is the Central-Eastern European cooperation really just some sentiment, a sense of the "aggrieved by history" community?

Most of the problems and challenges that were discussed during the VSS are common to all Eastern European states. Moreover it seems hardly any of them can be solved individually. Let's take Roma issue as an example. Whilst in Poland it's limited to a few regions, in Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and the Balkan states it's one of the key social issues that is not going to be solved without some more general, transnational approach. Fortunately, there have been already some initiatives, such as the Decade of Roma inclusion 2005-2015 launched jointly by 12 states of the region. Nevertheless, as Robert Kiss, a former Hungarian ambassador and Minister claimed in his lecture at the VSS, the problem of Roma inclusion still needs fresh incentives.

The central problems do exist in Western Europe, but this seems to be ignored by the EU. Not to mention that during the Hungarian Presidency, the vast majority of the European media preferred to look for shocking metaphors to describe what an extremely authoritarian regime Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was trying to establish on the Danube, rather than to look at the innovative Hungarian proposal for the EU Roma integration roadmap.

The Roma issue is only one of many that could be mentioned here. Energy policy (with the two infamous North and South Streams as symbols), enlargement, and neighbourhood policy, the shape of the EU 2014-20 budget all demonstrate a common Eastern character and some key Western misunderstanding. Talking with different participants and lecturers, I find myself asking, is Central-Eastern European cooperation really just some sentiment, a sense of a community "aggrieved by history," a futile whim?

I'd rather say it's a necessity. You don't even need to mention the 'two-speed Europe' (which is already an optimistic simplification) or the Frankfurt Group to understand that 'the real Realpolitik' in the region must now be based on close cooperation and mutual support within European forums. Opposition to that isn't based on the ties, sentiments, cultural community and tough politics here, but on concerns over the current CEE elites' awareness of the coming challenges.

As a specific post-colonial area, Eastern Europe has a tendency to imitate the former empire rather than try to establish its own worldview. This is the real problem. Let me give an example from the VSS. You do not need to be a political scientist to know that the current Hungarian government isn't formed by a coalition of cherubim and seraphim, but if you are a Hungarian lecturer you are also supposed to know that it's not simply a fascist junta whose main goal is to destroy democracy and revise the state's borders.

 

I always find it quite funny (not to go too deeply into the actual political/personal divisions) listening to Eastern European public intellectuals quoting the Western European press to describe their own countries. Even though it's clear that the vivid adjectives and flamboyant metaphors there tend to mask a lack of knowledge and sensitivity.

Hence, the real Eastern European challenge is to face the reality. The reality which is much more complex than the clichés, sentiments and slogans offered by the media. Each state here is different, has its own problems and interests. However most of those predicaments share some common basis. Be it Ukraine or Poland, Romania or the Czech Republic - those states are the young, post-totalitarian democracies with feeble civil societies and incoherent economies which were harmed both by communism and by the capitalist shock therapy of the 90s. Eastern Europe needs solidarity - both internally and externally. Nevertheless, it cannot be surprised by Western ignorance if instead of "telling its own stories" it tries to follow the false, prejudiced narratives that are so often found in Western media.

We, Eastern Europeans, badly need decent dialogue and cooperation. And we should articulate our needs in a way understandable to the others.

We, Eastern Europeans, badly need decent dialogue and cooperation. The real "mutual understanding" between East and West, both in terms of politics and people's lives, can only be reached if we face the truth and articulate our needs in a way understandable to the others.

These are the reflections that I got during all those lectures, workshops and first of all conversations with the brilliant participants of the last VSS. It was an inspiring and stimulating period that enhanced my hope that the coming CEE generation is far more broad-minded than the current elites.

If you asked me what I remember of this summer, I'd say it was the moon subtly reflecting in the eyes of one girl from Szeged. But it would definitely also be the unique atmosphere here. There's really some phenomenon, not only in the historical closeness between Hungarians and Poles but throughout the New Eastern Europe. What is it? Well, see the video made by the VSS participants above.

Last modified on Friday, 17 August 2012 02:50
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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