Does the Ukrainian government truly want to join both the EU and the Customs Union? If it is bluffing, then who is the true partner and who is the fake? These are highly relevant questions today. EU leaders have stipulated terms (May and November) and formulated questions on democracy with clear points (judicial reform, a law on elections and freedom of the press) which are much more precise than nebulous talk about “our deep concern about the situation with human rights and selective justice”. All of this is fine, but why raise your voice? Do Europeans realize that Ukraine’s independence is at stake at a time when it may turn into a province of an empire? By using gas blackmail, the Customs Union is working on Ukraine’s future much more seriously than is the considerate European community.
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Such reactions are aggravating the misunderstanding between the European Union and Central and Eastern Europe: the EU perceives East European countries which do not have the experience of post-national political culture less than adequately. Brussels sees evolution beyond national boundaries on the horizon, while Central Europe tends towards democratic national states, which is a natural consequence of its painful history, quite dissimilar from that of the West. I am not discussing the political model for building Europe. More than anything else, I am interested in having the powers of the European Union play a useful role for post-communist nations. The word “border” is an archaism to Paris and Brussels, while it is filled with sense and anxiety in the view of Eastern Europe. One part of the continent is dominated by “post-national” discourse, while in the other, recently established borders are in danger of regressing into an imperial sphere of influence. The problem is not that the two regions have different historical and political experiences. It is quite normal for them to have different views. No, the problem lies in the intellectual inability of Western Europe to grasp that East European countries are different. This limits the impact of the European Union and its ability to act.
European standards and the hastily arranged accession of Poland and the Baltic states to the EU were a factor of stabilization and democratization for them, just like for the entire region, but this game was played more by diplomats from Poland and its neighbours than by Brussels where bureaucrats failed to agree and hesitated at times when various processes stalled, from the unification of Germany to Ukraine’s independence. European standards inspired Poland and its neighbours to peacefully solve the issues of minorities and borders, but it is unlikely that the European Union realizes what is at stake now. In a similar fashion, it failed to predict and understand the fire that erupted in the Balkans.
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In 2000, the EU was outraged that the ultra-right had joined the government coalition in Austria but later reacted much more softly and shyly to the authoritarian, anti-Semitic and xenophobic perversions of the Viktor Orban Administration in Hungary. In early 2012, a firm declaration was issued proclaiming possible sanctions, but faced with a real tragedy, the EU appears to be at a loss. In these circumstances, what can be expected of its political elite in the face of a real Ukrainian crisis, which is more complicated and acute and much broader geopolitically?
Another manifestation of the West’s lacking political culture with regard to the East is that European democracy leans towards something like a constitutional oligarchy in which the ruling elites consider themselves obliged to honour the fundamental rights and the established order but not the will of the people. A disappointed electorate increasingly often votes in defiance of all expectations (as proved by the recent elections in Italy), while political leaders shrug their shoulders and mumble something about “populism”, a word which is little understood but is used when the opinion of the electorate is viewed as an obstacle to “democracy” (which is, in fact, an oligarchy). You want leaders concerned about themselves to take serious interest in the problems of post-communist nations and to help them in their struggle for democracy, i.e., to live like citizens responsible for their own future?
The French were highly sympathetic and supportive of post-communist changes and the Orange Revolution, which was truly a popular revolution. But that sympathy had no consequences. A need exists to restore the sense of solidarity between European nations beyond the passive European Union.
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