For Czechs and Slovaks, the years 1918, 1938, 1948 and 1968 carry deeply mixed memories – an ambivalence reflecting anxieties about the past and the future of the two nations. Historian Jacques Rupnik reads the Czechoslovak ‘eights’ as a seismograph of the European predicament at crucial junctures during the twentieth century.
French political scientist and historian. He is Directeur de recherche at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI), Paris, and Visiting Professor at the Collège d’Europe, Brügge. His publications include Géopolitique de la démocratisation : l’Europe et ses voisinages (ed., 2014); 1989 as a Political World Event : Democracy, Europe and the New International System in the Age of Globalization (ed., 2013); Les Européens face à l’élargissement. Perceptions, acteurs, enjeux (2004); International Perspectives on the Balkans (2003); The Road to the European Union: The Czech and the Slovak Republik (ed. 2003).
Nationalism, anti-liberalism and ultra-conservatism mark the political discourse in Central Europe today. What was once referred to as the ‘kidnapped West’ now seems to imitate its former captor. Jacques Rupnik seeks causes for the decline of the liberal consensus in Central Europe after 1989, following the trajectories of some of its major political thinkers.
Freedom of movement was one of the major achievements of the revolutions of 1989, argues Jacques Rupnik. Now, central and eastern European heads of state refuse to grant this freedom to non-Europeans. But how much longer can they expect to maintain their contrary stance?
Central European responses to the euro crisis have been marked by a total absence of regional solidarity, writes Jacques Rupnik. Differing national situations explain varying perceptions of the crisis’ risks and remedies and can be seen in terms of political lessons learned.
One of the last interviews with Rudi Dutschke
In an interview conducted a year before his premature death, Rudi Dutschke explained to Jacques Rupnik the reasons for the German Left’s failure to understand what was at stake in Czechoslovakia in 1968. “In retrospect, the great event of ’68 in Europe was not Paris, but Prague. But we were unable to see this at the time.”
Parallels between May ’68 and the Prague Spring are largely the result of the simultaneity of the events; in important respects, the political goals of the two movements were antithetical. Nevertheless, central European dissent had a significant impact on the French anti-totalitarian Left after 1968, argues Jacques Rupnik.
Directly after the fall of communism, hopes burgeoned for democracy and capitalism in a “new” Eastern Central Europe. What does the current climate of populism, and in many cases an accompanying extremist nationalism, mean for these hopes? How does it affect these countries’ relations with the EU? The apprehension and opposition towards European integration that populist movements share could make current EU member states even more resistant to extending further east and could erode the political bonds within the EU. Although the EU has experienced populism before without toppling, just how far can its “absorption capacity” stretch?
The referendum and the dilemmas of the enlarged EU
The rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005 evoked fears of dilution and fragmentation of the EU as a result of increasing decentralisation. In the worst-case scenario, Europe would be divided and increasingly unstable, ruled by a wide range of ad hoc coalitions but devoid of any real plan. A more reassuring view holds that the EU has finally got rid of the myth of political union, the age-old chimera for European federalists. Jacques Rupnik analyses the underlying factors and possible consequences of the crisis of the European project.
The French presidential elections 2002
This was no regular presidential election, it was a referendum on basic commitment to democratic values and an open society. Jacques Rupnik takes a look at French politics and discovers a radical shift.
Although Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already joined NATO, a decade has passed and still no Eastern or Central European country has “achieved” membership to the European Union. A serious debate has emerged in the countries awaiting membership as to whether it is so desirable while the EU is still holding back. Jacques Rupnik sees in this reticence the proof that, indeed, “Europe is afraid of itself” and says that Europe’s true challenge is to move beyond integration out of fear.
The Kosovo war should force the European Union to rethink its future. As the new commission, chaired by Romano Prodi, takes over it should seize the opportunity to move the EU from an inward-looking institution consumed with an economic agenda to an all-European political project.