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A Schizophrenic Europe: More Musings on Brexit and the EU
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2016-07-04 09:28:02
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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


 The 27 countries of the European Union, now 26 after Brexit

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 today, we may be witnessing, subsequent to Brexit and the far right extraordinary gains in the latest EU parliamentary elections, the beginning of the end of the EU as originally envisioned by its founding fathers. Indeed, their vision or aspiration was that the new Europe, the EU so called, would be an example of democracy for the rest of the world; a shining example to be admired and emulated, as exemplified by an eventual Constitution transcending mere economic or geo-political considerations and spelling out the reasons for its cultural union and how it would hold it together and guarantee a solid identity.


That 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 Euro-skeptics, out to subvert the very political entity to which they have been elected, the founding fathers’ dream not only may never come to pass but it may be fast becoming a nightmare. The founding fathers must be turning in their graves.


As the above quote by Adams, one of the founding fathers of American democracy, hints at, eventually even an old democracy begins to decay and decline. Vico asserts 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 right within the citadel of government, the Congress, to subvert the government and the oldest existing modern democracy.


Some in the EU, those discouraged and skeptical of an 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 in order to be faithful to what he believed and the laws of Athens, 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 himself put it: the issue gentlemen is not whether I live or die but whether corruption, which is faster than death, catches up with you, and once she has caught up, she may leery to let you go. In effect, Socrates is saying that the real issue to be considered carefully is corruption and injustice and knowing oneself both individually and collectively.


Which brings us to the current deficit of Democracy in the EU. There are presently 26 member states left in the EU. There used to be 27. One, the UK, has just decided to leave and is about to ask for a divorce. The rest of the EU wants a quick divorce.  Some of those are founding members and have been part of the union from the beginning; others. Like Greece and the UK have been admitted at various later stages. The latest-comers are the Eastern European countries, formerly part of the Communist Soviet bloc but now democratic, independent, sovereign countries. Those eastern EU countries are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria; 9 countries: more than one third of the 26 remaining member countries; they were all admitted after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989. These are the countries that Putin would like to reclaim to Russia’s sphere of influence.


One such 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; a noncommunist government, the first since World War II, came to power. In effect democracy had triumphantly 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 remain nostalgic for the good old days of Soviet influence and domination, when the country was 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” as Vladimir Putin seems to suggest in some of his pronouncements.


That is not the case for the Western countries, the original members of the EU: France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc. Those countries are infested with Euro-skeptics and right-wing parties, bordering on fascism, who would get out of the EU tomorrow if they could. One has already. The motivation may vary but they all seem to be tinged by an ultra-nationalism and exceptionalism, banded about as “patriotism” but redolent of xenophobia, hatred of immigrants and refugees, 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 kind of “patriotism.” UKIP’s Farage has in the past 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 regional sovereignty, and even corruption, to wit the latest doping scandals in the field of sport. Little to admire there for those who prefer democracy and solidarity.


One hears little of that kind of uncritical admiration for Putin in the Eastern EU nations, not even in the Ukraine which has a minority of vocal 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 what democracy is all about? 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 countries) and those who have had it for more than half a century now, but no longer seem to be very appreciative of it. It’s almost as if they were tired of it or as if they were having an indigestion from it and are about to vomit it out of their system. One even begins to wonder if those right-wingers even understand what World War II was all about, and whether or not it was worth fighting, that is to say, what was the point of it all?


This is a puzzling conundrum. To solve it 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 have voted for National Front, a party with anti-Semitic roots; millions of Brits have opted for what they brand the UK Independence Party, another vitriolic anti-European organization. The results were predictable and in fact were clearly predicted in my book A New Europe in Search of its Soul some ten years ago where some of the political problems afflicting the EU were analyzed.

What you have in those parties, just to mention two here (but there are others in Italy, Holland, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria), is a bizarre coalition of malcontents, racists, xenophobes, cheats, bullies, authoritarian personalities a la Putin, ready to participate in the EU parliament to subvert it while conveniently cashing in on the fat salaries earned there. This subversion has already party succeeded and will continue to grow under the umbrella of a parliamentary coalition which I like to call the coalition of the malcontents.


To be sure, this coalition of malcontent, or unhappy campers, has been around in the EU since globalization began some thirty years ago; a phenomenon this usually hailed at an harbinger of progress and prosperity but which has left many in the middle class poorer and powerless, while the rich keep doubling and tripling their wealth, not even paying the taxes paid by ordinary law-abiding citizens. Thus, an initially ideal, democratic, polity aspiring to peace, justice and solidarity has lately become the union of greedy bankers and myopic politicians parading as great statesmen.


All this is indisputable, but it can become an excuse in the hands of a Grillo or a La Pen or a Farage, who has in fact managed to promise to the middle class of England what he knows full well he cannot deliver and thus has tricked them into leaving the EU. Something like that is just about to happen in the US where we have a Trump who is taking advantage of a deep popular discontent. Consummate opportunists always take advantage of others’ misery.


So here we have a 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 opportunistically taking full advantage to destabilize the EU and re-establish Russian influence all over Europe. That Machiavellian strategy, simply put, is one of “divide and conquer.” On the other hand you have countries like Poland which 25 years ago embraced democratic values, and the Ukraine aspiring to them now, which have escaped authoritarianism and ideological fanaticism and now loath them and do not wish to return to them.


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 of the establishment parties, 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? Tragically, while the EU needs a higher dose of solidarity and distributive justice, it seems instead ready to ingest the hemlock of fascism and despotism.


Even more pointedly the question arises: will the center hold in the long run? History will of course render the final verdict. For the moment one thing remains sure; William Butler Yeats had it on target when he said in The Second Coming that in a brave new world of greedy entrepreneurs and opportunistic villains, “The best lack all conviction/while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Indeed, all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing or perhaps shout “revolution” as a distraction from doing nothing; nothing but a mindless activism devoid of wisdom and purpose. Ultimately, those who are about to commit political suicide, out of sheer despair, usually go quietly into the night; they exit not with a shout but with a whimper. It has happened before, and it is incumbent on us, at least those of us who envision a better world, to be able to distinguish real from counterfeit gold.

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