Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Europe, the active volcano.

Europeans who still have some sense of history are smelling a whiff of old toxic vapors.

For thousands of years, great migrations have emerged from the Eastern plains to fight their way into the crowded peninsular on the Western edge of Asia since known as Europe. As Slavs, Celts, Goths, Magyars, Longobards, Saxons, Christians and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, clashed for generations, the outcome has often been like the shifting of tectonic plates. In Europe's history of striking ferocity  nations were born or abolished, religions exiled or established. The siege of Sarajevo in our time may have been shocking, but that is largely due to our naive belief in the end of history and the politically correct self-delusion that all races and creeds should naturally get on with each other in what is now surely an age of reason. If you think it is, go and talk to the mothers and widows in Srebrenica. That happened in 1995. You can get there in an easy day's drive from any number of EU capitals.

The Greek crisis for its part has (re)awakened a distasteful superiority complex in swathes of northern European populations, about work-shy southerners who have only themselves to blame for squandering hard-earned cash, hard-earned that is by Germans, Dutchmen, etc. Little is said in the North European popular press about the fact that much of the money the Greeks owe was lent eagerly by German  banks for instance, not least to buy German-made capital goods which the Greeks clearly couldn't afford, such as German Type 214 submarines. (Where is American surplus equipment when you need it?). Even normally respected politicians and observers in these North European countries seem to have lost the EU plot, their  moralising and hectoring rivaling the Tea Party in moronic platitudes about complex issues. Immigration - and the integration of immigrants - is such an issue. It has been shockingly mismanaged and is coming to haunt a street or school near you. Manuel Barroso, the  EU Commission's president - and hardly a firebrand -  has even spoken out against irrational soundbites by European leaders who take one decision in Brussels and say the opposite as soon as they get back home.

Xenophobic stereotyping is rife in Europe. It is an essential part for its historic addiction to suicidal wars. The EU was designed to change all that, and to a large extent it has succeeded. It all began to wobble though,  when Europe embraced economic/financial deregulation along with the rest of the West. It got worse when Europe failed before the eyes of the world to deal with the Yugoslav problem. Then it blundered into one of those "March of Folly" moments with a hasty and bungled absorption of former Communist block countries, and when it launched a common currency without a solid political or fiscal authority behind it. The poorer nations went off shopping with mummy's new Euro credit card. I would have done the same.

Bringing Romania and Bulgaria into the EU (against the advice of Commission experts, who said they weren't ready but were told to shut up) has changed the nature of Europe. These countries, and Hungary is no better, were and are nowhere near the standards of law abiding democracies (the EU has recently made that official). We have no answer in Brussels to the semi-criminal classes that run much of the Balkans, nor against the old Hungarian spectre of hard-handed authoritarianism, racism, and unbridled nationalism. And so, with the Roma, we now have political refugees from within the EU, but we are legally unable to treat them as such because they come from EU Member States, countries that have signed up to the EU Treaties, and who must therefore be deemed to be democracies.

The reality of our European history is that some deep cultural/religious/ethnic fault lines run through our nation states. The Balkans, Switzerland, Belgium, the Baltic States, Ireland, etc. They all have in common that they  have dominant and dominated cultures, religions, or languages within their borders. We exported the problem to Canada centuries ago, but as in the case of Switzerland, it is one of the rare countries to have found a workable and civilised solution to multilingualism. In Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, a long history of repression of minorities, the struggle against the Ottomans, and arbitrary border tracing by the great powers in the past are proving more than a match for the civilising influence of EU membership.

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