Saturday, December 10, 2016

Europe’s Coming of Age

Yesterday the New York Times published a front page article on growing European opposition to the US hegemony that Washington thought was forever.  It has apparently taken the daily of record several months to realize that there is more to the growing new right movement than France’s Marine LePen or Germany’s Frauke Petry of ‘Alternative for Germany (AFD). In typical US media fashion, it says nothing about the philosophical underpinnings of the European New Right, leaving Americans to assume it is a carbon copy — or the inspiration for — the American Alt Right.  To appreciate the extent of the Times’ misleading, see my then read on.

As someone who lived in both Eastern and Western Europe for half a lifetime, I’d long ago given up hope that Europe would ever grow up. In a book published in the nineteen eighties, I urged France to take the lead in weaning Europe away from the US and its Cold War that, had it turned hot, would have been fought on European soil. Francois Mitterand, President at the time, didn’t even want to see Germany reunited, much less welcome the countries of Eastern Europe into the EU (at that time still the European Economic Community). It pains me to say that regarding these countries that had never managed to be part of the ‘West’, Mitterand was right - although for the wrong reasons. Since becoming part of the EU, Eastern Europe has led the rejection of Muslim immigrants, partly, perhaps, because it had been occupied by the Ottoman Turks for several centuries — proud to have been a bulwark between Islam and Western Europe.

The situation to which the Times article merely alludes, is now is the following: Hungary, a country whose origins hark back to vaguely defined areas of Asia, has led the erection of new walls against Muslims, initiating the turn of the entire ‘continent’ (actually the Eurasian peninsula), toward Russia, which under Vladimir Putin, is inventing a new type of nationalism that is more left than right. (  

A few months ago, after the US had twisted the EU’s arm to enact sanctions against Russia for ‘annexing Crimea’ and ‘invading Ukraine’, its monolithic adherence to ‘Atlanticism’ began to crack for the first time since World War II. French and Italian parliamentary delegations actually dared to visit Crimea, ascertaining that reattachment to Russia was indeed the will of the overwhelming majority, as expressed in a hastily organized referendum; but at the time, Europe’s ingrained obedience still dictated official policies, however much the sanctions hurt.

As Russia showed that it was a force to be reckoned with in Syria - and an ally that could be trusted by its legally elected president, Bashar al Assad, some rumblings could be heard off-the European stage: Europe should have its own army, and not be dependent on NATO (even as its military was obediently getting into formation for the drive up to Russia’s western borders). Finally, as 2016 draws to a close, the President of the European Commission, the highest body in the complicated EU edifice, Jean-Claude Junker (a former head of the tiny country of Luxembourg, where both French and German are spoken) has dared to say that Europe cannot survive without a strong relationship with Russia. As if on cue, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, has been making ever louder objections to Washington’s heavy handed policies in Europe, proclaiming loudly that the EU is no longer dependent on American foreign policy and should defend its own interests, moving ahead with its own army.  (BTW, the Times article neglects to link President-elect Trump’s attitude toward NATO to the movement developing in Europe.)

Interestingly, Junker’s latest words about Russia, claiming that it is not a ‘regional power’
as President Obama has called it condescendingly, contradict Vladimir Putin’s calls for a ‘multi-polar world whose poles would be the US, Russia, China and India, ending US hegemony. In today’s world, fraught with the danger of the second cold war turning hot, labels are no minor detail. In my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde , which only a small academic house would publish, I pointed out, as the US was installing Pershing missiles in West Germany against the wishes of the European peace movement, that any war with the then Soviet Union would be fought on European — not American — soil. 

Twenty-five years later, although Europe is whole, that war could happen: not because Soviet tanks threaten to come rumbling across the European central plain, but because the US has positioned thousands of soldiers, tanks, and the latest smart weapons, precisely among Eastern European countries that have repeatedly served as the invasion corridor to Russia. NATO encourages the three tiny Baltic nations — about whom I will write in an upcoming post - to clamor relentlessly that they are in danger of being taken over again by their immense neighbor, while Russia, in reality, is busy strengthening its relations across the Eurasian ‘continent of giants’.  My book made the point that Europe had nothing to fear from the Soviet Union because it too, was among those several giants that constitute Eurasia, rather than the potential victim of one of them.

It has taken three decades for the Europeans to realize that their partnership with a giant across the ocean makes no sense, and start thinking about their role among equals. (A quick look at book titles about Russia and its president on shows that most of the titles appear to be pro-Russian, while such books are almost non-existent in the US. Nor are any of President Putin’s speeches published by US media.  ]

His end of year address to the Russian Federal Assembly can be found here in English:

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