Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev spoke at De Balie on the disintegration of Europe. ‘There is a great sense of anxiety in Europe’, Krastev says. But what should we be afraid of? Taking lessons from previous collapsing unions, he shows us the problems of today.
Lesson 1: ‘Disintegration always comes unintended’
There’s never a party of Disintegration that collapses a union. It is always governments and people acting and overreacting, ending in an outcome ‘no one really wanted’.
Lesson 2: ‘Don’t listen to the economists’
Economists always point to the costliness of a disintegrating union. In 1990, Pentagon experts believed the chance of the Soviet Union dissolving, was less than 30%. Why were they wrong? ‘People unfortunately often do things that are very costly.’ The more people believe something is unthinkable, the higher the risk it’s going to happen.
Lesson 3: ‘Disintegration never happens at the peripheries’
The Baltic States never wanted to be in the Soviet Union. It was only when Russia decided the Union didn’t work anymore, that it was disintegrated. In today’s world we should watch what Germany does, not the Eastern borders.
Lesson 4: ‘It’s always a clash of two parties’
Unions disintegrate because we make a choice: do we go for the party of rigidity, or the party of flexibility? The outcome decides the fate of the union.
So what are the problems we face today, coming from these lessons?
Problem 1: ‘We don’t know what disintegration means’
When the Habsburg Empire collapsed, the consequence was clear: fifteen new states appeared on the map. We won’t know what the end is. Is it the end of the common currency, the closing of borders? ‘The definition of European disintegration is very much like the definition of pornography: you’ll know it after you see it.’
Problem 2: ‘You cannot have a union of creditors and debtors’
During the Eurozone crisis, a sharp distinction was made: between the north and the south. A union of rich and poor is possible, but here a new separation came into existence: northern creditors and southern debtors. That is not a union: ‘that is a power relationship’.
Problem 3: ‘When interdependence becomes a source of insecurity, it is the end of the European project’
The whole idea of the European Union is based on the benevolence of interdependence. It should be a strength and a security, not a risk.
Problem 4: ‘In the 21st century, immigration could be the new revolution’
‘Many people believe that it is easier to change countries than to change governments.’ When we see the world as a village, we only compare ourselves to the ones with the most chances, not our neighbours. That gives us a ‘dictatorship of comparisons’.
Krastev concludes by saying that Europe doesn’t suffer from a lack of solidarity; it has a clash of solidarities. Between those who think they owe something to the world and those who put their own community first. ‘That border, between what is good and bad in Europe, is the least protected border of Europe.’
Photo: Jan Boeve