Endangered European Democracy

Paul Gradvohl · 4 October 2015
The ongoing debate about the generosity or lack of generosity of Eastern Europeans, because reality seems to fade away, could remind us of a theological strife with a cunning moral twist inducing “Western” compassion or “Eastern” selfishness.

But the gist of the story is a strange tendency to mirror a poorer and less democratic East onto the shadow of a richer and more democratic West. By doing so, inevitably, historical comparisons immediately surge. Odd ones. The Holocaust would have supposedly drawn a clear West/East line. Communism would have shown the generosity of the West towards successive waves of refugees. So, notwithstanding Paweł Śpiewak’s apt remarks about the lack of direct causal relation between various behaviors towards repressed Jews under Nazi rule and what is happening today, it seems necessary to get back to mental geographies and poor democratic performance all over Europe.

The presence of Holocaust in the debates could be an occasion to go recall a disturbing fact. Before World War Two [1], all major powers and others discussed the fate of refugees and got to a stalemate. No one really accepted to take in more Jews, including the USA. Paul Shapiro, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, recently stressed the need to “explore the failures of our own country [USA] to respond effectively to the persecution and murder of European Jewry” [2]. So historiography now underlines at least two disturbing dimensions. The Nazis were the main actors promoting Holocaust, but they acted in an international environment, which was not void of anti-Semitism and cowardice. Second, the black/white divide in relation to Holocaust is not viable. Human behaviors are contradictory and instable. Therefore using moral arguments should exclude resorting to essentialism, mostly referring to countries, people, ethnic or political groupings.

Reverting to the line separating the European West and East, as Larry Wolf drew it already in 1994, going back to the Enlightenment [3], it’s maybe time to confront the results of Jobbik in Hungary and Front National in France, just to mention obvious and well known examples. Nadine Morano, from Nicolas Sarkozy’s French Les Républicains party and former Estonian foreign minister, Kristiina Ojuland both said that migrants are a threat to “the white race” [4].

On the other side thousands of solidarity acts towards migrants could be seen all over the Continent, and the difference seems to depend largely on the position of the various governments. And this leads us to EU global internal politics. When letting Mr. Orbán endangering the internal democratic order, the stake is not about quota of migrants or exiles. Brussels and the head of states and government simply send a message saying: first, let’s deny around 7.5 million people could come to Europe [5], and instead of taking it as a reality to be tackled, prepare the implosion of Europe rather than the downgrading of national governments, and, second, the richer do not want to pay for the poorer (Greece), democracy is not an essential value in the EU, and Mr. Putin is right, ethno-politics is the future of his Western neighbors. The past delivers no lesson, claimed Patrick Boucheron [6], because history is not about identity. France is more a migration goal for the last century than a safe haven for refugees [7]; Poland is friendlier than the Polish politicians.

So time is ripe to make decisions looking towards the common or separate future of Europe instead of reinstating Eastern Europe, erasing Central European specifics, blurring the complexities of Europe and forgetting about the possible futures, out of mere fear and lack of existential faith in ourselves.


[1] To read the “Decisions Taken at the Evian Conference On Jewish Refugees” (July 14th 1938): www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/evian.html

[2] Paul Shapiro (Director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC), “Facing the facts of the Holocasust: The Challenges and the Cost of Failure”, in Andrea Pető and Helga Thorson (ed.), The Future of Holocaust Memorialization: Confronting Racism, Antisemitism, and Homophobia through Memory Work, Budapest, Tom Lantos Institute, 2015, see tomlantosinstitute.hu/files/publications/hm_final.pdf

[3] Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Englightenment, Stanford, Stanford University Press).

[4] See news.err.ee/v/politics/society/d9be1eba-8bed-4969-91f7-e90fa17e9a67, and www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2015/09/27/nadine-morano-evoque-la-race-blanche-de-la-france_4773927_823448.html. Her party did not sanction her.

[5] As the Austrian Chancelor Faymann said it to Der Spiegel two weeks ago: www.spiegel.de/international/europe/austrian-chancellor-slams-hungary-over-refugee-crisis-a-1052567.html

[6] See “La recherché de l’identité est contaire à l’idée même d’histoire” in Le Monde, September 24th, 2015, www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/2015/09/24/patrick-boucheron-la-recherche-de-l-identite-est-contraire-a-l-idee-meme-d-histoire_4769834_3246.html; P. Boucheron i P. Gradvohl (ed.), Spotkanie ze światem II. Dialog polsko-francuski [Encounters with the World II. Polish-French Dialog], Wydawnictwo UW, 2015.

[7] Laurent Greilsamer, “Nous sommes un grand pays d’immigration, pas un pays d’asile.