Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Is the Idea of Europe Doomed?

On September 11, 1989, the Hungarian socialist government, still under Soviet control,  opened its border with Austria, allowing thousands of Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans to cross the famous Iron Curtain into the West. That unprecedented action was later officially recognized by Germany as creating the conditions that led up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, two months later, on November 9th, 1989.
In September, 2015, Hungary’s right-wing government held thousands of mostly Muslim refugees prisoner in a train station for days, refusing to allow them to travel on to the countries of Western Europe where they wanted to settle. After Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared on television that this was not a European problem, but a German problem, since most refugees want to settle in Germany, the refugees, mainly hardy young men,  but also women carrying children, took to the main highway to Austria on foot, as ordinary citizens turned out to offer food and drink along the way. Facing a wave of opprobrium across the world, Orban finally ordered up busses to carry them to the Austrian frontier where they were taken in charge by the Austrian government.. 
To those of us who were adults when the Berlin Wall that separated the two halves of Europe came down, this spectacle could not be more poignant.  During the Cold War, Austria was a neutral country located geographically between the countries of the NATO Alliance and those of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, and it was this border with Hungary that Eastern Europeans sought desperately to cross.  This very same border that Hungary’s last socialist government opened in September, 1989.
It didn’t do Orban’s reputation any good to meet with the other members of the Visegrad Group, which had been founded in 1991, by Poland, Hungary, Czechslovakia and Slovakia, to “further their European integration as well as advancing military, economic and energy cooperation with one another,” and which has taken a firm stand against refugee quotas ordered by Brussels. (The four countries joined the European Union together in May of 2004, Czechoslovakia having split into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993, and until recently, Poland has been the most vociferous in refusing to go along with certain European Union policies, most recently egging the community on in its clumsy attempt to woo Ukraine, which is on Poland’s border.) 
Europe hasn’t seen refugees taking trains by assault since the end of World War II, when concentration camps were liberated, and the cessation of hostilities under four-nation control (US, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union) allowed prisoners of war and displaced persons to return home. Today’s refugees are armed with cell phones with GPS and maps that allow them to choose the best routes to their destinations, whether through woods or along railroad tracks, and they have adopted the demonstration tactics of the Occupy era for the tv cameras.
For decades after World War II, the Eastern European countries under Soviet control wanted desperately to be considered just as civilized and sophisticated as the rest of Europe, feeling they were being unfairly prevented from joining ‘the West’,. They have now been part of Europe for twenty-five years, but the current crisis shows that while going full-throttle for modernity, they have not internalized the European Union’s humanitarian ethos.
The rules set up by the European Union for immigrants specify that they must request asylum in the first country in which they arrive.  Because neither Italy nor Greece can cope with the numbers, and following Hungary’s refusal to take on the task, knowing few would choose to settle there, the rules have been relaxed to allow refugees from Hungary to be processed either in Austria or in Germany. Tone-deaf to the impression they were making, the leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic went on television last week to declare that theirs were real countries, meaning countries with homogeneous populations, as opposed to those of Western Europe that have been receiving Muslim immigrants for decades. Unspoken was the fact that they are white, Christian countries: their people were frightened by the dark-skinned refugees. They boasted, as if it were a badge of honor, that they didn’t have a single mosque! 
When Hungary was criticized for erecting a fence on its border with Serbia to prevent incoming refugees, right-wing Prime Minister Orban shot back that France was doing the same thing at Calais, creating an existential rift in Europe’s first-ever period as a whole, peaceful continent. But Orban also declared out loud what I have been writing for several years: Muslim immigration will spell the end of (white, Christian) Europe. The Hungarian Prime Minister rejected ‘liberal’ democracy for what he called nonesensically ‘authoritarian democracy’. 
Orban’s declarations abet the transformation of Europe’s far-right parties from isolated extremist organizations to a continent-wide fascist movement, as suggested in today’s New York Times article by a former US ambassador to Hungary
Eastern Europe’s four hundred year domination by the Ottoman Empire is seen as the main reason for its former backwardness with respect to the West, and can partly explain its current failure to welcome Muslim refugees. But as Hungarian police use tear gas against those still trying to enter from non-EU Serbia, it is clear that a quarter of a century after reunification, and eighty years after the rise of Hitler, Europe, whose more than thirty nationalities are crowded into an area one-third the size of the United States, is still not a unified entity. 
The supreme irony is that although the US came to Europe’s rescue twice in the twentieth century, the crisis that once again pits Europeans against each other is the direct result of American policies in the Muslim world. During the Cold War, Western Europe was powerless to prevent NATO, which is dominated by the U.S., from maintaining military bases on its soil, under the pretext of a supposedly ever-imminent Soviet threat. But even after the reunification of Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Europe’s leaders - including those of its new, Eastern half, who tend to be passionately pro-American - mindlessly participated in NATO’s initiatives against the Arab world, failing to anticipate that populations fleeing that violence would gravitate to nearby Europe and its generous welfare system. (On the other hand, given Washington’s recent concerted assault on the European welfare state, perhaps the Middle East campaigns that forced thousands to burden Europe, are just one more tool in its arsenal.)
 In the unlikely event that the Visegrad countries were to lead the rest of the Eastern European countries toward a break with the West, they would inevitably be joined by Greece, that has been treated shamefully by the financial instances of the European Union, and then perhaps by the other economically challenged countries of Europe’s souther rim. But these countries would not be at a loss: they would be welcomed into the economic and security structure put in place across the Eurasian continent by Russia and China. (Skeptical readers should note that Great Britain, which refused to join the Euro, recently renewed its campaign to leave the Union itself when it realized the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement held a lot more promise.) 
The Islamization of Europe is inevitable. The only way it can survive as a united entity is by severing the ties that bind it to a United States intent on using the ANTO aAlliance to impose violent regime change across the Middle East. Europe’s historical right-wing anti-Semitism having been joined by Islamophobia, the alternative is a fascist takeover supported by the well-trained Neo-nazis whom the US allows to call the shots in Ukraine.

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