Saturday, September 11, 2004
Unfinished Business

One of the predictions trotted out by Eurosceptic pundits is the scenario of civil war, where the European Union plunges into conflict and despair; the reds of Yugoslavia painted on a larger canvas. This scenario is justified by an appeal to history, with a list of historical examples where multinational empires (monarchical or state socialist) have broken apart under the pressures of war and nationalism. Such developments usually require the development of a national ideology resisting a coercive, often monocultural metropole. Except for the Eurosceptics in Britain, the European Union has been seen as an incubator for regional nationalisms, a competing power centre with the national capitals.

The Polish Sjem has recently voted on a non-binding resolution to demand reparations from Germany. This is partially in response to the lobbying of the Prussian Claims Society, an organisation demanding reparations and property for those displaced from East Prussia at the end of the Second World War. One can's help feeling sorry for Schroeder whose presence at the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising cut no ice with the historically minded Poles, who tend to embrace rather than accept the past. The Sudeten question also remains a sore point with the Czech Republic.

All of the post-socialist states reclaimed a national consciousness in the years after 1989, as a cleansing process that provided alternative visions of the nation to the revolutionary internationalism that brooked no civic competition. Their democracies are more diverse than Western Europe, often more ideological and less oligarchical, giving free rein to nationalist and populist groupings. (This is one trend where the West is turning East). However, the demands of entry to the European Union sapped the energies of the political elites and prevented debate on wider issues that could jeopardise this national objective. Now that the post-socialist countries are Member States, they can return to dormant issues that require resolution or reparation. The European Union is not the cause of this nationalism; it is the framework within which these questions will be addressed, with all of Member States reassured that they cannot be threatened by anything stronger than non-cooperation. In Europe, "pariah" equals "Austria".

(21.50, 11th September 2004)


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