EU2016 SK

Can Eastern Europeans Develop a Sense of Agency?

The eastern states of Europe have eluded the “Bear” only to be ensnared by the seductive lure of Europa. And the “nymph” is intent on keeping them in her grasp.

The “Wall” was torn down 35 years ago; for the sake of Eastern Europe and its future, it needs to be reassembled, on its western border.

Eastern Europe faces numerous challenges, many of which are external, driven by powerful political forces with their own agendas—primarily control, both economic and political.

The attempted assassination of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico may not be an isolated incident. It may signify instability in the political regimes of Eastern Europe, indicating that stable democratic institutions have not been fully achieved in the region. This undermines the central goal of the West after the Cold War: to stabilize (meaning democratize) the countries formerly under Soviet influence. Dissatisfaction with political decisions should not lead to assassinations if democratic institutions are stable. In Slovakia, this does not bode well for its future.

The Fico incident could also reflect something more sinister at work, especially when external forces desire a political regime in power that is more amenable to Western designs.

Certainly, the assassination attempt is not unique to one region or state; similar incidents have occurred in various European cities in recent years—from the former Yugoslav republics to northern countries like Sweden and Holland. History shows that the West is not immune to political violence, with U.S. Presidents McKinley, Lincoln, and Kennedy falling to such malevolence, and Reagan barely surviving.

However, the efforts to subvert the U.S. were the product of specific domestic circumstances and were of little import to the broad sweep of history. In contrast, attacks on leaders in Eastern Europe can, and have, led to serious regional and potentially international crises.

But, as has been alluded to, the troubles in these countries are not all internal; they have become a battleground for powerful external forces seeking to exert a measure of control over them. This occurs because East European countries are not sufficiently stable, historically, to keep in check foreign economic and political influence. They have not yet achieved a critical mass in the experience and expertise required of “nation-state building.” The latter requires acceptance by the vast majority of the populace as to the importance of creating and respecting democratic institutions. For a state, without the latter, protecting itself and its citizens is impossible.

There is something striking about the reaction to the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Fico. In the European press and other Western centers of power the first comments made were not over local or even regional concerns; rather, they were about history–the history of an empire and the summer of 1914. Western political pundits immediately correlated the incident with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which triggered a series of reciprocal agreements precipitating the outbreak of the First World War. But it could also reveal something deeper, perhaps a signal that Eastern Europe itself is viewed from a historical perspective, with its roots being grounded within empires.

Perhaps, history is where politicians in the West turned to first, because they know that what happens in these states is not strictly an internal matter. And history illustrates what can happen when foreign elements are at work fomenting unrest. Powerful external forces, as was the case historically, are forever busy. Thus what happens in these states is often beyond their control. Their destiny is often influenced, if not controlled or even determined, by other more powerful nation-states with their own political agendas. And the latter is about control.

Prime Minister Fico has survived the attack and will hopefully resume his duties as health permits. However, resuming his responsibilities could be perilous when foreign elements view East European states merely as means to further their own global agendas. This is particularly true for the United States and its British allies, whose concerns with Russia and China take precedence. Their foreign policy views Eastern European countries as pawns in a global chess game that has little to do with the interests of these politically vulnerable states.

Eastern nations experience a political divide, with elitist politicians (as opposed to the balance of the populace) making decisions that affect a country’s future. The problem is that these decisions depend on the devise of a foreign power. The verbal and written expression of this caprice is manifest through Western media. The latter is always willing to exercise its access to the public to manufacture consent in the minds of the populace. The Guardian recently labeled Prime Minister Fico on its front-page as a “Putin ally.”

It should also be noted that one way or another, finance and economics play major roles in the foreign power dynamics brought to bear on East European countries. The IMF, World Bank, and other Western institutions are utilized as instruments to effect economic and, therefore, political decisions to their own advantage. Western actors–individual, corporate, and government–are simply buying the loyalty of a sector of the regional elite, which, when it comes to foreign policy, view the wishes of the population as irrelevant.

There is considerable hypocrisy, especially from the West. Georgia’s efforts to adopt a law on the disclosure of foreign agent funding sources have faced significant pushback, even threats, from the West. This law would make influence peddling through corruption more difficult for those with money to spread around, primarily the West.

The geopolitical position of Eastern European countries contributes to their struggles. When former provinces or territories became states, the great powers of international politics—Russia, Germany, France, and Britain—were already established empires. The young United States addressed its lack of history and traditions through Enlightenment ideals and its relatively secure position in world politics. In contrast, Eastern Europe developed without a significant political culture or national tradition. The tumultuous events of the 20th century further hindered progress.

After World War II, the region experienced “organized” chaos. Supporters of the Third Reich and former officials fled to the West and engaged in subversive activities. From Stalin’s era until the fall of the “Wall,” Eastern Europe lacked democratic institutions and processes.

The post-1989 period brought neither healing nor unity. It merely brought disenchanted individuals to power. Eastern European countries found themselves psychologically transported from one sphere of influence to another, without meaningful internal change. They remained dependent and incomplete, relying on external promises of prosperity and security that delivered little.

Given this history, leaders like Robert Fico and Viktor Orban challenge external control from Washington or London and the political status quo in the region. Nationalistic leaders are crucial for Eastern Europe, even if they are historically an anomaly. Eastern European nations are at a turning point: they must choose to either maintain the status quo or reclaim their identity.

To do the latter, they must embrace their historical courage and rid themselves of dependency on others. George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Salvation…what price salvation?” Eastern Europeans must decide whether to be masters of their own consciousness or slaves to another’s.