Is European Division Really Over?

in:

1st November 2004



By Boris Kagarlitsky

When countries from East and Central Europe joined the European Union, it was celebrated with honours. The official ideology of the East as well as of the West called it the end of European division. Actually, even a superficial knowledge of geography will demonstrate it is not true. Several European countries were left waiting their turn for entrance (in the best traditions of the Soviet bloc). Turkey, Ukraine and Serbia can expect to be invited only theoretically. Norway has firmly rejected joining the EU though it has been politely invited. And Russia stands apart, having not been invited and asserting it can remain the Great Power without the EU.

Divisions between those who come as a part of the European Union and those who stand temporarily or permanently outside its borders have replaced the continent’s old division into East and West. But this is only one of the divisions of modern Europe. There is also the differentiation between those who entered the Euro zone and those who were excluded or declined to join, between citizens of the Schengen zone and those who remain visitors of the second type, even where they legally cross the borders; and then, of course, there is the division between rich and poor countries.

After EU enlargement , Europe’s division into East and West is reproduced inside this bloc rather than disappearing altogether. George W. Bush picked up on this controversy when he spoke about "Old" and "New" Europe. "Old" Europe is trying to unite around France and Germany in resisting the United States or, at least, to secure maximum independence from the American superpower. "New" Europe, on the contrary, follows Washington. The levels of anti-American sentiment in this part of the world could never reach those of Canada. Bush was too fast to enlist the Poles, Slovaks and Lithuanians in the ranks of his followers.

Nevertheless, it is not that the citizens of Eastern Europe idealise the US as "the centre of the free world", after living so many years under communist ideology. Considerable parts of societies in Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Estonia view the war in Iraq with criticism. The point is that politicians and elite circles in East Europe are less willing to listen to public sentiments than their counterparts in the West. Formally, all EU countries are democratic. The degrees of democracy in "Old" and "New" Europe, however, are very different.

The ideologues of the ruling class explain that the differences will be smoothed over in time, referring to the experience of the EU enlargement to encompass Spain, Portugal and Greece more or less successfully. At that time, however, the European Union was a different formation from what it is today. The US was interested in successful results of the expansion, rather than seeing it as a threat. The West was united in its confrontation with the East. Most importantly, Western Europe of that time was in favour of keeping social-democratic institutions to a major extent, both nationally and international levels. The modern neo-liberal European Union, however, is gradually and successfully dismantling these institutions. The core idea of the modern "continental integration" project lies precisely in the final demolition of social democratic institutions and the Americanisation of society.

Under the market economy, the gaps and controversies among countries can only increase. The ruling classes of "New" Europe are looking to the US, not because of sentimental memories of the assistance that American imperialism provided opponents of communism, but because co-operation with Washington allows them to compensate for economic weaknesses by political means.

The process of entering the single market has already started to negatively affect the economies of new members. Third league teams ordered to compete equally with the World Champions are relegated to the role of scapegoats. They are objects of economic colonisation, sources of cheap labour and new markets. Even their financial resources will serve capital accumulation in the west, instead of being gathered for the benefit of their own countries. But rich westerners will also be disappointed; not only because they have to carry the burden of the Union’s expansion, but also because their neo-liberal system hits absolutely everyone. Some shots turn out to be more painful than others, but everybody hurts.

Finally, it is social division, not territorial division which is most important. These are the divisions between rich and poor, between citizens and non –citizens, between "native populations" more or less protected by law, and immigrants who are not. But these divisions also give us hope for unification. The ruling elites of "Old" and "New" Europe are less able to consolidate their power than they had hoped a few years ago. The dominant classes of Russia and Ukraine are torn by internal controversies. At the same time, the masses of subject and working people of the continent have common interests in rejecting neo-liberalism and authoritarianism through mutual efforts.

The European Social Forum could become the embodiment of this unity. Until now, it has been the meeting place of left activists, representatives of social movements and non-governmental organisations. The future needs unified actions. Solidarity requires not only ideology, but also action.This is the way we will find real unification of the continent.

Boris Kagarlitsky works as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Comparative Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of The Thinking Reed, The Dialectic of Hope, and The Mirage of Modernisation. When in 1987-88 non-Communist Party political activities became legal, he was among the first leaders of the so-called "informal groups" – the Federation of Socialist Public Clubs and later a coordinator of the Moscow People's Front. In 1990 he was elected to the Moscow Soviet (provincial parliament) where he served until the coup in 1993 when local Soviets were dissolved. Boris has also been arrested twice for his activism, once in 1982 under Brezhnev, and in 1993 under Yeltsin. This article was first published in the booklet Eurotopia, 11 October 2004, distributed at the ESF. It is also available online at http://www.tni.org/archives/kagarlitsky/division.htm