Ivan Krastev: “Because of the Crisis, the EU Will Become a More Polit­i­cal Union”

The EU as we knew it does not exist anymore. This is Ivan Krastev’s point of depar­ture. The opti­mistic belief in the idea of progress that was widely held during the post-cold war era has faded away. The lib­er­al­iza­tion of society is over­shad­owed by an antilib­eral back­lash. Con­cepts of hard power and sov­er­eignty that seemed to have been over­come  are back on the agenda. But after Europe comes Europe. The EU will be more polit­i­cal. The his­tor­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural dif­fer­ences are moving higher up on the agenda. These chal­lenges need flex­i­ble responses. – Ivan Krastev’s voice has weight. He is Pres­i­dent of the Centre for Liberal Strate­gies in Sofia, works with numer­ous inter­na­tional insti­tu­tions and is rec­og­nized as one of the most well-known con­tem­po­rary Euro­pean intel­lec­tu­als.


Ralf Fücks: Ivan, great to have you here.

Ivan Krastev: My plea­sure.

Ralf Fücks: Your last book, “After Europe”, had been rec­og­nized quite inten­sively. Why “After Europe”? This sounds quite pes­simistic. You are drawing even some lines to the dis­so­lu­tion of the Hab­s­burg Empire. Do you think we are in such a crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion with the Euro­pean Union now?

Ivan Krastev: No, I am not one of those who are basi­cally fatal­is­tic. But I do believe, that trying to triv­i­al­ize the problem the Euro­pean Union is facing, is going to be a mistake. Par­tic­u­larly after Brexit, the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Euro­pean Union is not unthink­able.

And what is even more impor­tant, we don’t have a clear idea, of what dis­in­te­gra­tion the Euro­pean Union is going to be. How many coun­tries should leave in order for us to fear, that we get dis­in­te­grated? What is going to happen if some of the liberal democ­ra­cies in the Euro­pean Union, are going to turn into kind of author­i­tar­ian style regimes?

So, from this point of view my idea was to go slightly beyond banal­ity, and trying to see that Euro­pean Union as we knew it, is not here anymore.

I do believe, that after Europe comes Europe. But its quite impor­tant to see what kind of Europe and how it can came up.

Ralf Fücks: So you are giving up the Euro­pean Union in its current struc­ture? This com­bi­na­tion of a union of states and a cit­i­zen’s union.

Ivan Krastev: I do believe, I am giving up some­thing totally dif­fer­ent. Euro­pean Union was very much a kind of an elitist project, thought in terms of insti­tu­tional inte­gra­tion. Which was very much flour­ish­ing because of the indif­fer­ence of the publics.

This is not in the cards anymore, for good or for bad. The publics entered Euro­pean pol­i­tics. And, as a result of it we are going to get a dif­fer­ent Union, much more polit­i­cal.

Para­dox­i­cally, after this crisis, the two major con­cepts that have been shaping Euro­pean debates before — clas­si­cal fed­er­al­ism and clas­si­cal sov­er­eignism — both of them are dead. They are dead because on one level, this time for an unprob­lem­atic sov­er­eignism with Euro­pean iden­tity, where national iden­ti­ties don’t matter, are not very much in the cards. But on the other side, par­tic­u­larly, seeing what is hap­pen­ing in Britain after Brexit, the fact that nation-states are going to leave the Euro­pean Union and we are going to be back, where we were before joining, is an illu­sion that I don’t believe anybody should have anymore.

Ralf Fücks: What do you think are the basic root causes for the crisis of the current model? Is it the tension between national sov­er­eignty and glob­al­iza­tion? Is it the democ­racy deficit of Euro­pean policy making? Is it the social polar­iza­tion we see in a lot of Euro­pean soci­eties? What do you think are the main drivers for this unrest?

Ivan Krastev: I do believe that there was more than one cause, and this is part of the story.

I simply do believe that the post-cold war world, because, the Euro­pean Union was very much a project based first on the cold war reality and than on the post-cold war world, it has dis­ap­peared. Because of glob­al­iza­tion, which, some years ago has been per­ceived as ben­e­fi­cial by the major­ity of people. And than sud­denly, people got fright­ened by it.

I am always using this simple com­par­i­son: Ten years ago, the symbol of glob­al­iza­tion was a tourist. He comes, he smiles, he spends.

Ralf Fücks: And now the migrant, the refugee.

Ivan Krastev: Exactly. This is the same person, but now the first one was very much wel­comed. The second one is very prob­lem­atic.

Ralf Fücks: Or the busi­ness­man.

Ivan Krastev: So, from this point of view, it’s a dif­fer­ent world. And in the dif­fer­ent world, what hap­pened to Europe, par­tic­u­larly are three things:

We tended to believe, that we are the author­ity for the world to come. Our post-moder­nity with states, post-sov­er­eignty with pol­i­tics. And than we dis­cover, that what we believed was uni­ver­sal about Euro­pean Union, is very excep­tional. Its not simply the Rus­sians or the Chinese, but also the Indians, Brazil­ians and Amer­i­cans. Sov­er­eignism is back.

Sec­ondly, we believed that hard power doesn’t matter. Every­thing is about soft power. And then Crimea came, and it appeared that hard power matters.

And thirdly, ten years ago, the ques­tion that Euro­peans were asking them­selves was, how we can trans­form the world around us. And now the ques­tion that we are facing is much more, how not to allow the world around us to trans­form us.

From this point of view, I always believe that the major radical change in pol­i­tics comes, not when you come with a dif­fer­ent answer to the old ques­tion, but when the ques­tion changes.

Ralf Fücks: Let’s have a look at the devel­op­ments in Central and Eastern Europe. Do you think they are dif­fer­ent from what’s going on in Western Europe? How much do we have in common? Where is the dif­fer­ence in the dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence, the dif­fer­ent stage of social eco­nomic devel­op­ment?

Ivan Krastev: There are dif­fer­ences and I am going to touch on them. But, it is going to be wrong to see what is hap­pen­ing in Central Eastern Europe simply as a legacy from the past. The illib­eral regimes in Central and Eastern Europe are strangers that come from the future, not from the past. Mr. Orban gave a talk this July. He was saying: “25 years ago, we, Central Europe, believed, that Europe is the model. Now we are the model.”

This is quite inter­est­ing, because the dif­fer­ence is exist­ing in four dimen­sions, and they’re impor­tant dimen­sions.

One is ethnic homo­gene­ity. Central and Eastern Europe are incred­i­bly eth­ni­cally homo­ge­neous coun­tries. This was the result of post-World War II.

Ralf Fücks: Ethnic cleans­ing.

Ivan Krastev: As a result of it, basi­cally, places like Poland, were 1939 one third of the pop­u­la­tion had been non-Poles, but Germans, Ukraini­ans, Jews — now more than 96 percent of the pop­u­la­tion are Poles. This kind of a stress of sol­i­dar­ity — under­stood as ethnic sol­i­dar­ity — is much stronger in Eastern Europe, than in Western Europe.

Sec­ondly, the legacy of 1968 is very dif­fer­ent. In Western Europe, 1968 was very much about iden­ti­fy­ing with people who are not like us. It was very much about the colo­nial guilt of the West. This was about sol­i­dar­ity with the Third World.

In Central and Eastern Europe 1968 was about a national awak­en­ing. It was very much about sov­er­eignty, resist­ing the soviet pres­ence. So, even very cos­mopoli­tan types of intel­lec­tu­als, like...

Ralf Fücks: Democ­racy was about national sov­er­eignty.

Ivan Krastev: Exactly. Democ­racy was about national sov­er­eignty. Democ­racy was about sov­er­eignty in general. Resist­ing, it was this from our side.

In general, basi­cally, the idea of national iden­tity in these Central Euro­pean coun­tries, is very much based on resist­ing certain types of cos­mopoli­tan ideas. Be it the catholic church, be it the Hab­s­burg Empire, be it inter­na­tional com­mu­nism coming from Moscow. From this point of view we have a dif­fer­ent nation­al­is­tic tra­di­tion, that is shaping all these coun­tries.

And the fourth dif­fer­ence, which is a very impor­tant dif­fer­ence, to which people are not paying atten­tion. You can see this even on the last German elec­tions and how East Germany voted.

The problem is: Migra­tion is not simply the fear and the resis­tance of those who are going to come. This is also the trauma of those, who have left in the last 25 years.

After the opening of the borders, a lot of East Euro­peans went to Western Europe or the United States. And this hap­pened in soci­eties, which are aging, and which are demo­graph­i­cally shrink­ing. In the next 30 years, accord­ing to UN pro­jec­tions, a small society like the Bul­gar­ian one, is going to lose 27% of its pop­u­la­tion. Imagine what’s hap­pen­ing in the Baltic’s, where for the last ten years ten percent of the pop­u­la­tion left.

Sud­denly, as a result of the fear of migrants, and under­stand­ing the impact of those who have left, Central and East Euro­peans soci­eties dis­cov­ered their mor­tal­ity. This is why you have this incred­i­bly hostile reac­tion to refugees in soci­eties, in which you do not have refugees. Simply, there is no one there.

Ralf Fücks: Let’s finally have a look forward. What do you think, should we do and could we do as Euro­peans to over­come this crisis of liberal democ­racy and strengthen again this sense of belong­ing and the need for acting together as Euro­peans?

Ivan Krastev: I do believe that there are also two or three very pos­i­tive out­comes of all these crises that Euro­peans went through.

The first is, for the first time, Euro­peans started to feel Europe as a com­mu­nity of fate. Silently, Germans started to be experts on Greek eco­nom­ics. Poles started to be a spe­cial­ist on the German civil poli­cies. Sud­denly, we dis­cov­ered the other one, and dis­cov­ered it in a con­fronta­tional way. But don’t forget: con­fronta­tional engage­ment with others is much more full. It’s not this type of polit­i­cally correct history, in which we try not to talk about the prob­lems. I think that this is good, because this is how pol­i­tics func­tions.

What hap­pened is also before — and this was typical for the 1990s — iden­tity pol­i­tics was just the realm of minori­ties. And the key word was “recog­ni­tion”. It could be ethnic minori­ties, reli­gious minori­ties, sexual minori­ties. What hap­pened is, that iden­tity pol­i­tics became majori­tar­ian pol­i­tics.

Ralf Fücks: And moves from the left to the right.

Ivan Krastev: Exactly. And strangely enough, what was before “recog­ni­tion”, became “respect”. And respect is also: “be aware of our asym­met­ri­cal power.” It is not by acci­dent, that it was Pres­i­dent Trump, Pres­i­dent Putin, they are going to say: “we are not respected.” Which means, that “we are treated like every­body else, while we are much more pow­er­ful.”

And I do believe this time for the shift, from minor­ity iden­tity pol­i­tics to majori­tar­ian iden­tity pol­i­tics, is going to be the major chal­lenge. This is what we are seeing in Hungary. This is what we are seeing in Poland. And the basic problem is, how we can go beyond this.

But one of the inter­est­ing story is, that the fact, that the Euro­pean Union suffers from several crises, not one, opens the room for polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing.

For example: Finan­cial crisis, and this is of course the German posi­tion: “Be rigid, don’t touch the rules.” But because of the refugees crisis now, the idea is, that the money, that the Greeks or Ital­ians spend on refugees, can be extracted from the budget deficit.

Sud­denly, because of the fact that you get more than one crisis, you have more flex­i­bil­ity in the system. And I do believe we need a flex­i­bil­ity, because what I see is that the crisis which we face, in a way resem­bles the crisis of the 1970s.

But (back) then it was a pro­gres­sive wave coming from the left, that was attack­ing insti­tu­tions. And now it’s a much more con­ser­v­a­tive wave, coming from the right. The success in the 1970s was not simply stop­ping some extreme kind of pol­i­tics, but social­iz­ing some of the ideas and con­cerns of the people protest­ing. And the basic problem is: Can we do now this, with much more con­ser­v­a­tive people coming from the right, which are afraid of glob­al­iza­tion.

Ralf Fücks: Thanks a lot. It’s a huge chal­lenge, but at the same time it’s a huge oppor­tu­nity to rein­vent pol­i­tics. We hope for further exchange and coop­er­a­tion. Thank you very much, Ivan.

Ivan Krastev: Thank you.


Ivan Krastev’s Book “After Europe” has been pub­lished by Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Press.

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