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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