Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev argue that illiberal politics in central and eastern Europe should be understood primarily as a reaction to the ‘imperative to imitate’ the West after 1989. But to downplay the ideological substance of the new authoritarianism is reckless in the current situation, responds Aleida Assmann. Recalling the contribution of eastern European dissidents to Europe’s culture of human rights offers a corrective to the damaging myth of the ‘victorious West’.
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Imitation and its discontents
For countries emerging from communism, the post-1989 imperative to ‘be like the West’ has generated discontent and even a ‘return of the repressed’, as the region feels old nationalist stirrings and new demographic pressures. The origins of illiberalism in central and eastern Europe are emotional and pre-ideological, rooted in rebellion at the humiliations that accompany a project requiring acknowledgment of a foreign culture as superior to one’s own.
Netherlands, Austria and Malta after the European elections
The Labour Party’s surprising success in the Netherlands may merely have proven opinion polls wrong but the political earthquake experienced in Austria will clearly have lasting consequences. Both Austria and Malta happened to achieve gender equality among elected MEPs, prefacing a drive to achieve the same among appointments to top EU jobs.
In Romania, the commemoration of ’89 always means remembrance of those who died for freedom. But three decades since the fall of communism, responsibility for the victims has yet to be clearly established. Meanwhile, concerns about the rule of law appear more pressing.
Italy, Germany and Slovenia after the EP election
Editors from the Eurozine network offer initial responses to the outcome of the European elections. First up are views from Bologna, Berlin and Maribor. As the Union itself seems less precarious than before the vote, new coalitions form to safeguard the climate on the one hand and nationalistic interests on the other.
The ‘containment’ argument fails to admit that, in order to reverse the Eurosceptic trend, Europe needs to confront its causes. Homilies about the rule of law will not do the trick. Addressing the rise of the right means reforming the European Union itself.
The erstwhile students of 1989 have recently returned to the streets of Bucharest, Warsaw, Bratislava and Budapest to defend what they achieved three decades ago. But could the tragedy of Central Europe that Milan Kundera wrote about so compellingly in 1983 be repeating itself?
How (un)democratic is the EU?
Democracy is being denied by the EU’s leaders. At fault are not ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ but the member states and their representatives. Lack of transparency makes legislation vulnerable to lobbying and enables national interests to be put before the European common good. Preventing Eurosceptic reaction means democratizing the European legislature.
Neoliberal feminism is criticized for its disregard for structural inequalities and thus for failing women most susceptible to violence. But in a society like Nigeria’s, where lack of financial opportunity has fostered an entrepreneurial mindset, and where distrust of western feminism is culturally entrenched, neoliberal feminism may be women’s best option.
Memory politics in Poland and Hungary
Fidesz actively denies any Hungarian responsibility for WWII and the Holocaust, projecting itself as a healer of imperial wounds from a hundred years ago. In Poland, PiS goes even further by taking credit for all resistance towards both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes. In both cases, the abuse of history for national glorification revives the culture wars of the past.
It is not by lying, but by being caught lying, that the politician of today can claim to be challenging the status quo. Why the modern political lie, as defined by Hannah Arendt, now functions only as a deconstruction of itself.
Regional differences seem to be the common denominator between the players of Project Europe. In an attempt to understand how the European vote is formed, we put some of the underlying issues on the map.
Western Balkans and EEA
Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia are wondering what kind of European Union they will join, if they ever do. Further north, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein remain happy to keep their distance, even if the Brexit discussion has caused discontent with the ‘Norway option’ among the country’s Eurosceptic left.
A Speech to Europe
The European Union was originally the creation of failed or failing European empires, even if it now tends to pose as an assembly of innocent little nation states. Facing up to the responsibility for half a millennium of imperialism is painful, but doing so would allow Europe to recognize its unique and auspicious recovery from empire, argues Timothy Snyder in the speech he delivered for Europe Day 2019 at Judenplatz, Vienna.
Czech transformations after 1989
It is not the case that the move towards populism has spoiled democratic hopes in central and eastern Europe. The hope was part of the problem from the beginning, despite its emancipatory potential, or even because of it. We have to ask two questions: ‘what kind of hope?’ and ‘hope for what?
The UK, Denmark and Malta before the EP elections
In May, the UK will be holding the EU elections that were never meant to be. With the party system in Britain a state of flux, they will provide the first real picture since the start of the Brexit negotiations of the will of the electorate. In Denmark, the elections will be indicative of the mood of the nation before a significant general election, while in Malta they take place amidst a controversial debate about corruption and the rule of law.