Guest post by Senka Neuman Stanivukovi?, researcher at the University of Groningen.
As a part of novelized Enlargement strategy, the Commission has released a set of short videos to communicate the EU’s widening eastwards to the citizens. I suggest that the campaign not only prejudices against the Eastern members and to-be-members by portraying these as a derivative of the West, but it also verifies the East/West dichotomy as inherent to the EU’s political structure. In view of that, the article speaks up against the Westernization of European identity and the EU’s political order.
La révolution dévore ses enfants. Provided that the post-communist transition and subsequent 2004/2007 EU enlargement in conjunction with the pending accession of the Western Balkans was revolutionary, then the ten Central European and the seven Balkan countries are a textbook example of the above-cited Danton’s claim that the revolution devours its own children. In an era when discourses of the PVV, the Front National, and the Lega Nord are becoming part of the mainstream public narrative vis-à-vis the EU’s Ostpolitik, to argue that the Central and Balkan Europeans are victims of the Europeanization process is certainly not without controversy. The enlargement fatigue discourse, de facto euphemism for Western Europeans’ uneasy relationship with their Eastern counterparts, is unfit to grasp that the biggest weight of the accession process has been and continues to be carried by the acceding countries. The West can never be as tired from expanding as the East is tired from transitioning towards the West.
I argue that, notwithstanding the political rhetoric, in the context of the EU’s widening eastwards, the act of accession comes closer to Anschluss than to integration with the EU. Semiotics aside, for Central Europe integrating with the EU meant becoming more westernized than the West. Thus, in the same manner as Europeanization qua accession has reproduced the power relationship between Western Europe as certified Europe and Central Europe as its copie conforme, the newest Commission’s video clips on Southeast Europe, as a part of the pro-EU Enlargement campaign, portray this region as a derivative of old Europe and thus worth of EU membership.
But is this so problematic? Faced with an institutional vacuum subsequent to the fall of communism, these countries were provided with a brand new set of political and economic institutions and were additionally given the very much needed financial and administrative support for putting these institutions into practice. The role the EU has played and still plays in helping membership candidates in swapping communism for capitalism is undeniable. More importantly, the impetus for joining the EU always comes from the candidate state. Nobody has forced Central Europe to join the EU and nobody has forced these countries to comply with EU rules and norms. Yet now, almost a decade after the 2004 enlargement, while witnessing continuous economic growth and consolidation of democracy in most of the new member states, I dare to call out the EU for victimizing these countries.
The trick is that while being the engine behind the Europeanization process, the EU has simultaneously occupied this very process. It claims monopoly over democracy and capitalism, and, more importantly, it claims monopoly over Europe. In 1984, Kundera argued that Western Europe has kidnapped Europe. In the 1990s, by coupling the infamous Return to Europe with EU accession, the political nomenclatura of Central Europe and later of the former Yugoslav republics plus Albania has confirmed the EU’s hegemony over Europe. Put differently, in the same fashion as the West has stolen Europe during the Cold War, it has also stolen Europeanization in the post-Cold War period. In this context, the conformist non-members and to-be-members are labeled as good Europeans, whereas the recidivists are singled out as bad Europeans and, where geographical and cultural variables allow, as non-Europeans.
Again, this is still not problematic per se. If the West is the EU and the EU is Europe, by joining the EU, Central Europe and the Balkans confirm their place within Europe and break away from their troubled past. At the same time, for Western Europeans, this means ultimate confirmation of the supremacy of their system, which is no longer vulnerable to internal or external contestation. It seems as a win-win situation, or, to quote Fukuyama, the end of history. But it is not.
Scholarship on EU identity teaches us that the idea of Europe is established in opposition to the East. Ergo, Europeanism is not solely constructed in line with a Kantian ideal of a European federation nor does it solely progress towards constitutional patriotism basing itself on a set of commonly shared norms such as democracy, rule of law, solidarity, and respect for human rights. Au contraire, Kant himself sees Western European nation-states as a stepping stone for an emerging cosmopolitan order. European identity is therefore constructed vis-à-vis the Occident/Orient. The 20th century underpinned the West/East frontier awarding the Soviets with the role of the European other. Hereafter, pan-Europeanism was based on liberalism and capitalism and in opposition to an undemocratic and communist East. In 1938, Coudenhove-Kalergi framed the Paneuropa movement as, among others, a response to the emerging threat of Bolshevikization of Europe. This East/West dichotomy was furthe
r fortified against the background of the Cold War and was consequently embedded in the EU’s political order. When the founding fathers talked about the core of Europe, they talked of France, Britain, and Germany. Thus, the récidive of European ethnocentrism was sustained and reinforced by the bipolarity of the Cold War order. In effect, today’s EU exists as an artifact of Western Europe, defined in opposition to Eastern Europe. In this scenario, the former Soviet Block and the Balkans are read as the EU’s other or as the Zwischenland, at best.
To what extent the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent events have made this borderline fussier or have moved the frontier further eastwards is debatable. On the one hand, in 2004, Prodi talked about the unification of the Continent. On the other hand, to many, Vienna still seems much closer than Prague will ever be with the us vs. them mentality continuing to shape the European public and political discourse. Nowadays, we tend to debate the finalité of the European project, but is seems that qua identity, this matter has been settled already with the Peace of Versailles. I argue that by moving the EU’s border eastwards, we have not deconstructed the East-West schism. Rather, we have internalized it. The present debates indicate that the Cold War dichotomies are still very much alive and kicking. While contained by the Iron Curtain, today these divisions have moved into our backyard with the other becoming our first door neighbor.
For the countries that have taken the path of EU membership to establish their place in Europe this is tough luck. With EU membership failing to provide one with an external validation of one’s Europeanness, the enduring process of conforming to EU rules and norms is comparable to Sisyphus rolling the immense boulder uphill only to watch it fall down again. In an effort of becoming more Europeanized than the EU, the only thing these countries managed to establish is that they are more European than their first neighbor to the east. Consequently, the Central Europe of today and the Western Balkans of tomorrow are in a schizophrenic state due to a diametrical difference between the Ego and the Alter. Ultimately, this means that transition is a never-ending process.
With the above-developed discussion in mind, I would like to reflect upon the current enlargement campaign. The EU’s 2005 enlargement strategy, as a summary of the lessons learned from the big-bang enlargement, highlights the need of improved communication of the future accessions to the citizens. Consequently, in 2012, DG enlargement released a set of video clips under the motto of narrowing the existing democratic deficit by advertising the upcoming new members among the common folks. Particularly interesting is the release on Southeast Europe entitled So Similar, So Different, So European.
While escaping the hype of the more notorious Growing Together video, the ad on Southeast Europe is very much representative of the West-centrism in the EU’s order. In short, the add presents sights in Southeastern Europe such as the Lady of the Rock monastery, the Old Bridge of Mostar and the Zagreb National Theater to be identical to sights in Sweden, Italy, and Austria. The campaign is however a backhanded compliment to the essence and the uniqueness of Western Balkan identity. To be blunt, if the enlargement process reproduces the existing power relationships between the superior West and the backwards East writ large, this clip does exactly the same on a small scale. As such, it reinvents the Southeast against the image of the West in the same fashion as Central Europe was manufactured as a western corollary in the East throughout the 1990s. The arising narrative of the Western Balkans being good only if similar/comparable to France, Germany, the Netherlands etc. is st
ereotyping, patronizing and quite offensive. Unfortunately, however, with Western identity as a benchmark of certified Europe being deeply entrenched in the EU accession discourse, we often fail to see this.
The question, however, is to what extent going along is worth it? Already today, the West has monopolized European culture, history, arts, education, the understanding of progress, social order, democracy etc. Now, with the above-discussed clip in mind, we are even witnessing a monopolization of landscape. Sure, it is certainly more rewarding for one to see her country represented as the New France than the villain of European modern history. But, again, I ask, is it worth for the East to become more western than the West, when, in the eyes of those who matter, they will never be good enough?