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A Plea for a Federation of European States/2

HangingAt the time of religious and murderous sectarian upheavals, in sixteenth century France, Michel de Montaigne retired to his estate in the Aquitaine to write his Essays. His reflections would take him on a personal journey of introspection, rather than an exploration of the historical reasons for the events of his time. In many ways we can be grateful for his decision: Montaigne legated to us a monument of European literature, and there were others, perhaps better placed, to chronicle the turmoil of his time.

Listening to some inept “bavardage” from French fashionably conservative commentators, on one of France main TV news channels, who were describing Russian concerns with the apparent take-over by fascists in the capital of the Ukraine, as “anachronism“, I wondered who was in fact living in the real world: them, evidently convinced of the justification of their statement (“fascism? Where? What?”), or myself, and no doubt thousands of other Europeans trying to make sense of the tragedy in Kiev and its consequences for the people of the Ukraine, and the whole of Europe.

I was also reminded of Robert Gates’ scathing observations on the posturing of the British and French governments during the bombings of Libya. Germany, who refused to participate in the bombings, saved the day nonetheless and procured the missing ordnance!

“The blunt reality,” Mr. Gates said, “is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

The British and French media conveniently chose to forget those remarks, as, today, the mainstream, inclusive of Le Monde and the liberal press (Guardian etc.), and the same governments, hide behind the John Kerry’s creed about those “brave democrats in the Ukraine”, at no risk to themselves. Should the present crisis degenerate into a bloody conflict in Central Europe who will be paying the price?

That there are, of course, good reasons for Russian anxiety – meaning both for the government of the Russian Federation, and the large Russian minorities, and majority in the Crimean autonomous region, is beyond doubts. Those reasons, far from being anachronisms, are rooted in the painful memory of recent history, the realities of the last decades, the role of successive US administrations in fostering violent régime changes in countries deemed to be of strategic interest, from Chile in the 70’s to Afghanistan and Syria, and the betrayal of promises made to Russia and her reformist government at the time of the implosion of the USSR.

On the events that led to the ousting of the elected administration of the Ukraine, the tug of war between factions in favour of and against EU influence, and the nefarious consequences of IMF/ECB – driven austerity policies as experienced in many European countries, was a decisive confrontation. Some of us, in “old Europe”, are troubled as to why the “opposition” now in power in Kiev appears to consist solely of right-wing groups and a party whose claimed European aspirations are weirdly mixed with a nostalgia for an ignoble fascist past.

For sure, this is a complex situation, and that very complexity, may drive some of us toward retiring and writing fiction, if not “essays”, rather than trying to unravel the complexity. This would be a mistake. Many times in history, Europe, that is the community of people, and since the sixteenth century, states, had to pull back from the brink of annihilation. This was the case after the Thirty Years’ War that destroyed half the population of the German speaking lands. It was the case after WWII, when the USSR’s heroic sacrifices and US power rescued Europe from nazi madness.

Charles de Gaulle called for the formation of a “Europe of nations, from the Atlantic to the Urals”. His vision had the merit to recognise Russia as a European nation.

A plea for a Federation of European States/1

Europe The dilemma now facing European Union’s leaders, regarding the Ukraine crisis, is less than enviable. While it is relatively easy, and so far free of risks, for the Washington administration to turn a blind eye on the disturbing evidence of the true nature of some of the components of the ‘régime’ now seemingly in control in Kiev – after all, the régime change has been/is generously funded, supported and encouraged by the nexus State Department/CIA/American ultra-right billionaires – the position of the Union, and above all, of Germany, can only be more nuanced.

Western Europe needs Russia, even more than Russia needs Europe; which is not to say that the current crisis is not damaging to Russian interests, now and possibly in the longer term as well. The fragile economic recovery in Europe, German-led and founded on the neo-liberal principles adopted by the EU and its institutions, most notably the European Central Bank, and the quasi totality of member states governments, could receive a death blow should the present confrontation turned into a ‘new’ Cold War.

Confronting the Russian Federation, for example in a futile show of unconditional support for what is effectively a right-wing, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist pronunciamento, in the Western Ukraine, maybe ‘business as usual’ for the Cold Warriors of Washington, it cannot be to Europe’s interests, and certainly not to the interests of its peace-loving citizens.

The ignorance of recent history and geography, a constant and alarming feature of US foreign policy and ambitions, from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and part of the sinister inheritance from the ‘Raygun era’, does not wash in countries, including those countries issued from the implosion of the USSR in the 90’s,  that were directly affected by WWII in Eastern and Central Europe. The grim statistics of casualties in the Ukraine and the whole USSR speak for themselves, and have never been forgotten, except by the hapless and US (mainly) Republican politicians. Anti-Russian and anti-semite pronouncements by the ‘democrats’, the proud fighters against ‘tyranny’, praised by Mr Kerry in Kiev, cannot over-impress those citizens of the Union, who do know some geography, and have a reasonably good understanding and memory of historical facts.

Since the country’s reunification – Einheit – Germany has been looking increasingly toward the Esat, and to those countries, Poland, the Tcheque Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic nations, that have sought and embraced Union membership. This has been concomitant with a growing and healthy cooperation with Russia, which is not limited to natural gas and oil. It will take more than a few bellicose statements from Washington DC to reverse that position.

It remains that a diplomatic and long-lasting solution must be found. Futile threats of sanctions won’t help, and may just prolong the crisis. The neo-nazis in Kiev must be dealt with, the genuine democrats supported. Peace and civil society must be reasserted, and an agreement sought and negotiated that respects the European aspirations of the western majority, while preserving the sensitivities of the Russian and Russian speaking Southern and Eastern regions.

One could dream that a Federal European Union, doted of truly democratic institutions, and freed from undue US interference, would be better equipped to achieve this.

The New Old World

 MagnoliaEurope

I have just received my copy of Perry Anderson‘s The New Old World and I look forward to this week-end read. The book is the subject of a symposium in the last issue of the New Left Review (NLR73). After reading the four articles in the review I felt a compulsion to read the book. The Union’s current crisis – and its monetary collateral – is the most significant issue for Europe, understood to include both Union’s members and non-members, such as Turkey. Of course there are other issues of at least equal importance, such the Arab counter-revolution, or the continuing saga of capital markets vs democratically elected governments. All of those are essentially components of what Wolfgang Streeck described  as “The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism” in NLR 71.

The Markets vs Voters question has of course been typified by developments in Greece and Italy, where elected administrations – however fragile or controversial – have been displaced by decree by the massed ranks of the European Central Bank, the IMF and the (unelected) European Commission, under active supervision from the Federal Government of Germany. Those developments fall clearly within Streeck’s definition of “democratic capitalism” as “a political economy ruled by two conflicting principles, or regimes, of resource allocation: one operating according to marginal productivity, or what is revealed as merit by a “free play of market forces”, and the other based on social needs or entitlement, as certified by the collective choices of democratic politics.”

A writer in the symposium, Alain Supiot in Under Eastern Eyes, comments that “it was not until the fall of Communism that ultra-liberal ideology, despite its political successes in the US and UK and its adoption by international financial institutions, began to have a significant impact on the social systems of solidarity established after the War in Western Europe”. Supiot blames a “revolt of the elites” for the damage, and particularly for the ascent of the “communist market economy”. According to this interpreattion “the elites of all countries can now get astronomically rich – which was impossible under communism – without a thought  for the fate of the middle and working classes, which was impossible under the political  or social democracy of welfare states.”

Jan-Werner Müller – in Beyond Militant Democracy – disagrees, pointing out that “rather than contrasting those glory days (the  30-year “golden-age” of post-war capitalism) with our (supposed) sordid post-democratic condition, we ought to understand that European elites in the late 1940s and 1950s opted for a highly restrictive understanding of democracy – and that the EU, from the start, operated on this basis.”

A Final Victory

I was very moved by reading Jennifer A. Homans’ account of her husband Tony Judt’s last days in the NYRB. I will read Thinking the Twentieth Century. There are several reasons, all personal rather than intellectual, first Tony and I were of the same generation, and I shared his understanding of the issues of the post-war period (our half century), Palestine, Europe, growing social inequity, Europe, the rise of Hayekian tyrannies… Second, I do not share the views of writers such as Dylan Riley (A Cooler Look) as far as their “assessment” of Tony’s work and intellectual courage is concerned.

To Write or Not to Write

I have to admit that fictional endeavours, as well as other social activities, such as marriage, have kept me away from this “travel and political” blog. However this is Spring, and I will renew with this corner of my garden. For those readers so inclined my writing blog is here.

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