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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