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Is Democracy in Danger in a Schizophrenic Europe?: a Revisiting Is Democracy in Danger in a Schizophrenic Europe?: a Revisiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-06-06 10:51:54
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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; …
       The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
                                  --William Butler Yeats (The Second Coming)

 “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”
                                --John Adams

 europe01_400

The 27 countries of the European Union

History is never deterministic; it is in fact full of unexpected surprises, but if the above ominous warning by John Adams has any kind of validity, we may be witnessing, subsequent to the far right extraordinary gains in the last EU parliamentary elections, the beginning of the end of the EU as we know it, and as its founding fathers envisioned it. Indeed, their vision or aspiration was that the new Europe, the EU, would be an example of democracy for the rest of the world to admire and emulate. An example exemplified by a Constitution which would transcend mere economic or geo-political considerations and spell out the cultural identity of this new Europe and what were the reasons that brought all Europeans together.

That  indeed seemed to be the case at the beginning of the EU in the early 50s. Is it still the case today?  With 30% of the EU parliament now controlled by right-wing ideologues, mostly ultra-nationalists and Euroskeptics, out to subvert the very political entity to which they have been elected, the founding fathers’ dream seem to be fast becoming a nightmare. They must be turning in their graves.

As the above quote by Adams, one of the fathers of American democracy, hints at, eventually even an old democracy begins to decay and decline. Vico declares as much in The New Science. We may be seeing that prediction realized in the current US congress infested nowadays by so called “tea party” members who are within the citadel of government, the Congress, to subvert the government and in the process the oldest existing modern democracy.

Some in the EU, those discouraged and skeptical of a EU capable of reforming itself seem ready and willing to reach out for the hemlock and commit suicide. That of course conjures up the image of Socrates committing suicide, which come to think of it, was in a way the beginning of the end of a vibrant Athenian democracy. Once a democracy allows a good man like Socrates to be prosecuted and condemned unjustly, it probably means that it is already rotten to the core and its days may be numbered. As Socrates put: the issue gentlemen is not whether I live or die but whether corruption, which is faster than death, catches up with you, and she is leery to let you go. In effect, Socrates is saying that the real issue is  corruption and injustice and knowing oneself individually and collectively.

Which brings us to the current malaise of Democracy in the EU. There are presently 27 member states. Some are founding members and have been part of the union from the beginning; others have been admitted at various later stages. The late-comers are the Eastern European countries, formerly part of the Communist Soviet block but now democratic, independent, sovereign countries. Those eastern EU countries are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria; 9 countries: one third of the 27 member countries; they were all admitted after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989..

One such exemplary country is Poland. Some 25 years ago, On June 4 1989 to be precise, it began the journey toward admittance to the EU. Every one of the openly contested parliamentary seats was won by a candidate from the democratic opposition and a noncommunist government, the first since World War II came to power. In effect democracy had won over despotism. In 1991 Poland becomes part of NATO, then in 2004 (after a referendum in 2003) the country became part of the EU. It is now one of the EU countries pushing for greater economic and military integration and less military dependence on NATO.

Since its entrance into the union, Poland has been hailed as a great victory for democracy in Europe. A country this that went from Soviet oppression and financial crisis, to normalcy and even a modicum of economic prosperity. This was accomplished not by suggesting a third way between East and West or joining spheres of influences, but by simply embracing European values, a democratic political orientation being a sine qua non for membership in the EU, to begin with.

By and large there are precious few Poles that nowadays are nostalgic for the good old days of Soviet influence and domination, shipwrecked in the post-Soviet geopolitical space, as the Ukraine is presently.  None of those countries feel trapped by democracy or are eager to get out of the EU influence to rejoin “mother Russia.” That is not the case for the Western countries, the original members of the EU: France, England, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc.

Those countries are infested with Euroskeptics and right-wing parties who would get out of the EU tomorrow if they could. The motivation may vary but they all seem to be tinged by ultra-nationalism, branded about as “patriotism,” xenophobia, hatred of immigrants, skepticism and even dislike for democratic modes of political conduct.  Marine Le Pen, who won 27% of the EU parliamentary votes in France has declared her admiration for Vladimir Putin’s “patriotism.” UKIP’s Farage has declared Putin the world leader he “most admires.” Putin, we should point out, is a man who while paying lip service to democracy, in effect engages in authoritarianism, media manipulation, disregard for the international rule of law, for borders and sovereignty, and corruption.

One does not hear that kind of uncritical admiration for Putin in the Eastern EU nations, not even in the Ukraine with a minority of Russian sympathizers. The majority presently seems to wish to embrace European values, as Poland did some 25 years ago. This is puzzling: do we have a tale of two Europes  on our hands, with opposite views of democracy? It appears that what the Ukraine is desperate to escape, the EU’s far-right is eager to become. We have those who long for more democracy (the one third of the eastern contries) and those who have had it for more than half a century now, but no longer seem to appreciate it. One even begins to wonder if those right-winger even understand what World War II was all about.

To solve this conundrum we may need to look at present day Ukraine and then compare it to Poland. It is intriguing to reflect upon the fact that a quarter of a century after the Poles voted for democracy and European values, there has been another landslide that has propelled a group of anti-Europeans into parliamentary prominence. Millions of French voted for National Front, a party with anti-Semitic roots; millions of Brits chose the UK Independence Party, another anti-European organization. What you have in those parties, just to mention two here, but there are others in Italy, Holland, Danemark, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, is a bizarre coalition of malcontents, racists, xenophobes, cheats, bullies, authoritarian personalities a la Putin, all ready to go to the EU parliament to subvert it. The subversion will suceed, should those extremist parties decide to form a parliamentary coalition, the coalition of the malcontents, so called.

So here we have the tale of two Europes on full display: on one hand there is the Europe which rejects “European values” from inside the citadel of democracy, a sort of Trojan horse of which Putin is taking full advantage to destabilize the EU and re-establish Russian influence in Europe. On the other hand you have countries like Poland 25 years ago embracing democratic values, and the Ukraine aspiring to them now, who wish to escape authoritarianism and ideological fanaticism.

At this point the question arises: is this democracy named EU ready to commit suicide under the guise of protest and a clamor for reforms on the part of the establishment parties and the need for the EU to stop making bad decisions, such as the devastation of poor countries’ economies for the sake of a common currency benefitting the more prosperous countries? The EU needs a higher dose of solidarity and distributive justice but instead it seems to be ready to take the hemlock.

Even more pointedly the question arises: will the center hold? History will render the final verdict. For the moment one thing is sure; William Butler Yeats had it on target when he said in The Second Coming that in our brave new world of entrepreneurs and assorted opportunists “The best lack all conviction/while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

 


   
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James Woodbury2014-06-07 20:46:32
A footnote to the above, which is on the whole well written indeed. While the Poles certainly seem to grasp the meaning and value of democracy, the Hungarians among former Warsaw Pact countries have strong nationalist, anti-Semitic, and what we might call "tea-party"
values prevalent nowadays even on the governmental level. But your general picture of Eastern versus Western Europe today holds true.
James W.


Leah Sellers2014-06-08 18:32:56
Dear Brother Emanuel,
You hit many a nail upon the head. sir. Thank you, for your Insights.


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