“Europe’s existence depends on America alone, and that is why Europe hates America, and America hates Europeans.” – Imre Kertész
It is interesting and also important to think about what Europe will be, or more precisely, what it should be by 2030; but even more importantly to ask: what will happen to us in the meantime? What will happen to the European Union?
The elite of the European Union has for years now been lacking in vision. It has an obligation to plan a common future, yet it has no answers to the issues that must be solved. That is why it refrains from open debates. Brussels has grown distant from European citizens; it has become a landscape for the self-realization and self-justification of a narrow stratum of eurocrats.
The EU bureaucracy, acting on its own, has now divided member states into two, opposing camps. On one side are those who say that the European Union must remain a Europe of nation states, and on the other we have the proponents of the United States of Europe. In 2004, Hungary joined the European Union of nation states, a diverse, multi-faceted alliance that found the least common denominator and a compromise acceptable to all in each case. This resulted in slow decision-making and cumbersome operations, with all the accompanying pros and cons.
The United States of Europe, recently imposed by the EU bureaucracy, wants to now put the Union at the service of German economic interests. It wants to move to single-minded, centralized decision-making, which would obviously be more efficient, but at the same time result in far more harm to various interests. The policy of isolationism of the United States and its disintegrating national unity are met with disinterest from Europe. The combined effect of this and Brexit is the unchecked will of the already overbearing Germans, who recognized that the time has come to reorganize the Union into a federal state, into an empire under their leadership, like the Federal Republic of Germany.
This unmistakably purposeful movement divides Europe. Because it is clear to everyone that there is a single, old-new intention behind the policy of ousting nation states, and that is the removing of all obstacles to the realization of German economic interests. They want us to have our backs against the wall by creating a ready-made situation, as is the custom of European bureaucracy. Once again, we are confronted with that bureaucratic independence disguised as a technique that we have experienced many times, that technique by which Eurocrats create, on their own and on the sly, conditions from which, they hope, there is no going back. This is completely consistent with the type of decision-making mechanism by which Angela Merkel has run Germany for more than a decade and a half. Backroom deals, backroom agreements, the use of rhetoric to distract attention from the real intentions, and so on. This is also the direction of the multi-generational, common debt that the Union’s successive German leadership is currently preparing. As well as the exaggeration of rule of law issues and strained gender and green policies, which they also assert globally, even across borders, when defining obligations. And behind this also we find the self-interest of the German economy. Meanwhile, there is not a single word about the answers to the geopolitical challenges facing Europe, neither in terms of strategy nor defense.
Let us not forget that Germany has twice wanted to unite Europe under its own leadership. That’s why it fought the First and Second World Wars, which it lost. Germany has not changed much since 1914. Its economic and demographic strength and central location make it still the most important country in Europe. But just as before, it is at the same time too big and too small. It is too big to not overwhelm its neighbors and resist the temptation to try again to take control of the continent. But it is also too small, in fact, to achieve this because it is still dominated by opposing forces. To this, is added the now new pair of opposites that characterize today’s Germany: it is at the same time too strong and too weak.
Germany is a strong economy, that is, a rich country, but it has no defense capability, so it is weak and defenseless. Complicating its situation is that the German elite are pacifists, arrogant and moralizing, an incomparably disagreeable mixture. The level of technology and innovation in Germany at the beginning of the 21st century cannot compete with the challengers of Asia; and its schools, which were among the best in the world at the end of the 19th century, are weak today. The Germans have not excelled in soft politics for a century now, the absence of which, now coupled with their cultural emptiness, has made them completely weightless. Their money-centric thinking breeds envy and irritation instead of authority.
German aspirations are met with fierce resistance outside and inside the Union, as well as from the United States, the Russians and others. This is not helped by the fact that they want to achieve their dominance surreptitiously, with their exhausting “still waters run deep” technique.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the foundations on which Europe had built its identity since the second half of the 20th century were shaken. It is the transatlantic relationship that has guaranteed Europe’s security and its foreign policy. Since 1945, the US has protected the western half of Europe from communist danger because one of the main battle lines of the Cold War stretched along the Iron Curtain that divided Europe. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, in a mono-polar world, the US guaranteed the security of all of Europe, and even the entire world. By now, however, new players have emerged in world politics, with the result that the US is no longer the monopoly power. The new geopolitical lineup multiplied America’s responsibilities, diminished Europe’s role, and relocated the main conflict zone to the Pacific. All of this could result in the disappearance of the American umbrella over Europe within a decade.
From this, important questions clearly follow: Could there be, should there be, will there be an independent defense policy for the European Union? If so, who does what, and when?
The western European elite were uncertain about the future of the transatlantic alliance at the time Trump took office in 2016 and the Brexit referendum that took place that same year. If the US no longer guarantees Europe’s security, the primacy of the transatlantic relationship may also be called into question. The transatlantic relationship will either remain or it will be replaced by a Eurasian alliance, about which the US is apprehensive, but sooner or later, Europe will have to talk about and decide upon the advantages, disadvantages, dangers, and consequences of such an alliance.
In this close connection, what is the Union’s relationship with Russia? Does the EU see Russia as part of Europe? If the answer is no, it could easily lead to a Sino-Russian alliance, or even to the Russians joining forces with the US, in which case we will remain alone. Don’t be fooled by the fact that polishing the German-Russian axis tops the agenda (Nord Stream 2), because if stronger, more prestigious courters appear on the horizon, the Germans could easily get the boot.
Is the European Union going to pursue enlargement? Will it take in the Balkans, Ukraine, or even Russia? In other words, will it cover the whole of Europe? Or, that was it? The doors are closed, and there will be no further expansion? Both decisions have serious consequences and cannot be postponed indefinitely. There is also a need to start something with Turkey, but there is neither the courage nor the will to do so. Does Europe want to work with or against Russia? Does Europe want to work with or against Turkey? Sooner or later, the EU will have to make these strategic decisions.
On internal division
Since 2008, there have been serious differences between the northern and southern halves of Europe, mainly for economic reasons. The euro has trapped southern states in debt: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and even France. And their situation has worsened dramatically with the 2020 pandemic.
These states now operate premature welfare states, which is what we — the countries of the Central and Eastern European region — were called in the 1990s when international organizations, like the IMF and the World Bank, demanded “structural reforms” from us to completely dismantle our welfare system inherited from socialism. In the case of the southern states, of course, no one uses such disparaging terms. Despite the fact that they do not have – as we once did in the 1970s and 1980s – the economic potential for a steady rise in living standards and a cohesive social network. Both have been and continue to be covered by loans and external grants, which was guaranteed until recently only by a cheap euro. The financial and credit crisis that began in 2008 exacerbated the conflict between debtors and creditors, which was made even more unbearable by the collapse of tourism in 2020, paralyzing the economy. The lack of revenue from this sector has only made the situation even more unbearable. However, a solution can be found to this north-south confrontation because it is all simply about money.
There is a much more serious contrast between the eastern and western parts of Europe, because it is not about money, but about values, culture, emancipation – that is, identity. It is not possible to reach compromise or strike agreement here, because it is a struggle between life and death.
The emancipation of Central and Eastern Europe
The history of eastern and western Europe is different, which gives both a different worldview.
It is no longer just about fifty years of communism. Nor is it about the fact that western Europe let our region down with its policy of détente in the 1970s and 1980s and its continual effort to be in good graces with the Soviets. We have also gotten over the fact that our left-liberal elite cozied themselves up to the elite of other communist party states and exploited those networks to recruit their comrades-in-arms after 1990. The result of that, in Hungary, was that they were able to prevent until 2010 the emergence of a new elite that was not part of the communist elite.
Pre-1989, some among the western intelligentsia pretended from time to time as if they were interested in us, as if they were curious about our experience behind the Iron Curtain. Since 1990, they have merely lectured to us and preached about accountability. It should be noted that the overthrow of communism was forced by the desire for freedom and the rebellion of a people under Soviet occupation, and also by the fact that western Europeans did nothing to help. They did not support the unification of Germany and thus of Europe. They tried to prevent the withdrawal of Soviet troops from our region by all means. Only the US stood by us, and that, thank God, proved to be enough.
After 1990, western Europe nevertheless regarded us as spoils of war and immediately began to plunder, to acquire our markets, our goods, our media. After fourteen years of waiting, we were finally admitted to the European Union in 2004. But there was no question of genuine unification, for while we could and should have gained access on their terms, they did not change anything for our sake, and they had no intention to admit us to their inner chambers. So, there could be no question of equality.
They still refer to us as new democracies after thirty years, and after sixteen years of EU membership, we are still new members. This was not done with any other Member State that was admitted later. Regarding the allegations of undermining the rule of law for which we are constantly being criticized, similar measures go completely unnoticed in other Member States or are regarded as sovereign, internal affairs. The series of persecutions of those fighting for Catalan independence, their imprisonment for many years, does not reach the threshold of EU concern; the Spanish Communists’ judicial reform plan is not even commented on, nor is the case of the Slovak citizen who was beaten to death by Belgian police; nor does the rule of law concern the killings of journalists in Cyprus and Slovakia. Seriously, if the Hungarian police were to haul in an opposition activist campaigning against quarantine measures for two hours of interrogation, that would immediately be seen as a danger to European values and the rule of law, and the system of checks and balances would suddenly become important.
Over the past thirty years, neo-Marxism has become mainstream in the West, and they now want to make it mandatory for us again. Same with the issue of race and every new wave of exaggerated and incomprehensibly similar trend. So, we can rightly speak of cultural imperialism, because this time, due to the loss of the former colonial territories, we have become the civilization targeted by the former colonials. These soft political issues, such as the continuous expansion of LGBTQ rights, the strengthening of the role of NGOs at the expense of democratically elected authority, the promotion of gender and trans ideology, etc., operate hand in hand to put pressure on the staff of global corporations and western political and diplomatic missions.
There were barely any — not even today — western ambassadors posted to Budapest who did not talk to us in a condescending way, trying to report on or teach us about the civilized, western way. A good example of this is the pride parade, which is also organized annually in Hungary. It was not initiated by domestic, gay organizations but was an imported product of the western embassies and global business leaders who, along with the international LGBTQ organizations, pushed us to parade in the front rows of the marches and force their co-workers to show up as well.
Does the European Union have common values, and if so, what are they? Because without them, we cannot have common goals. Yet common goals are prerequisites for thinking about a common future. The western half of the European Union is in the hands of neo-Marxist elites. They are the ones who run the continent through media and global corporations, as well as through global media companies and their allied NGOs. This is undermining democracy and undermining the sovereignty of European nations. However, we insist on both.
The neo-Marxist elite of western Europe failed to understand the foremost lesson of the 20th century, that the nation is more important than class. Especially after the proletariat as a class ceased to exist and the organization of a society divided into sub-identity groups became the official ideology of the “developed.” They did not understand or pay attention to the message of 1989-90; they were so dismayed that the project of democratic socialism they so cherished and advocated had fallen into disrepair, again. Therefore, it did not occur to them that the last great colonial power, the Soviet empire, had been defeated by the emancipated national movements, which restored the independence of their nations on the periphery of the empire and then tore the Soviet empire to pieces.
For more than one hundred and fifty years, Marxists have argued that the national question is a thing of the past and that the age of nation states is over. During the more than seven decades of its existence, they claimed that the Soviet Union had solved the national question. Therefore, when it became apparent that the nation was alive and well, and had even destroyed the mighty Soviet Union, it dropped a bombshell on the entire western world. They had experienced the same thing not long before. The national awakening of their colonies had put an end to their colonial empires. They seem to have a hard time learning and easily forget.
Nevertheless, the western elite continue to stand opposed to the nation state, more recently arguing that since the Union is a peace project, it has a duty not only to repress but also to eradicate the “guilty” nation states that caused the World Wars. A total lie. The World Wars were caused by both empires and nation states, taking the burden off the shoulders of the former is a ridiculous and futile undertaking.
Until 1968, there was a common European consciousness. The happy years of peace of the early 20th century and the two devastating world wars were also a common experience that connected generations. But the generation of ‘68 grew up in a divided Europe; they accepted that there was them and then there was us; they thus turned away from us and did not care. This age group, in addition to the academic and media positions it acquired decades ago, also grabbed political power in the 1990s and has not let anyone out of its grasp. It sees us, central Europeans, not as brothers but as strangers, targets to be civilized.
The part of a divided Europe that lived under forced Soviet occupation in the east is held together by the common experience of communism, just as the western half is held together by what they have experienced. This causes communication difficulties between us. A different set of values, a different cultural orientation, a different system of prioritization determines our thinking. We have experienced the lack of democracy, the desolation of a life without freedom, which they now taste, even voluntarily. But we know how devastating the lack of freedom of speech is, how depressing political censorship is, whether as external coercion or self-censorship. Therefore, we are vigilant and quick to grumble when we experience it. The West dictating what are taboos and what are politically correct labels is no better than what was once forced upon us from the East. We value democracy and freedom, and we have paid for it with our blood, with serious sacrifices.
The burden of the colonizing past
However, since 2015, we have been separated not only by more than forty years under opposing systems, but also by different historical experiences. During the migration crisis of 2015-16, it became clear that the roots of the conflict between us go even deeper. The western half of Europe is colonial. We are not. This was a conscious decision of our great queen, Maria Theresa (1740-80). Our ruler refused to allow the Habsburg Empire to wage colonial wars. All of her descendants remained faithful to her decision. So we did not live with people with different skin colors, types, as they say today. So, again, the racial issue is not ours. We did not go to plunder or to civilize peoples of other races. We did not defile our hands with their blood. We did not get rich by them. On the other hand, we Hungarians were colonized by the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, the Nazis and the Soviets. We therefore sympathize with the former colonial countries, but we owe them nothing. We see the influx of illegal migrants as a source of danger. We do not remember fondly the one hundred and fifty years of Muslim rule. And we do not ask for a repeat.
We consider the culture of sacrifice of westerners to be self-sacrificing because we have always been forced to fight for our independence. For us, freedom fighters are heroes; for us, national independence is a value, which we insist on and which we identify as the most important national interest. We understand the remorse of westerners for their history of colonization, but that is their business. Not ours. We have nothing to make amends for. And after regaining our sovereignty thirty years ago, we will not tolerate westerners teaching us lessons on solidarity when they have never shown us solidarity. We also refuse to be educated about multiculturalism by those who destroyed the multicultural Habsburg Empire (1867-1918, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) exactly one hundred years ago, where we lived with our compatriots of other nations for centuries and ordered us to be a homogeneous nation. Now, the same western powers want to order us to be multicultural again. We have no tolerance for this.
Here in central and eastern Europe, we do not speak the politically correct language of the West. The racial issue that the West has recently focused on is not our concern. We can’t do anything about their feminism either, because we have had the right to vote here since the First World War; we have been fully equal in all respects since 1945. We also know well that we are the true winners of the 20th century. In men, we see not a rival but a partner. Our language is gender-neutral. We consider the gender issue to be a private and not a public matter. We do not tolerate education from the representatives of the nations that chemically castrated or imprisoned homosexuals until the 1960s, which, of course, was never the case in Hungary, or that, for racial reasons, their successive socialist governments imposed sterilization upon tens of thousands of women right up until the ‘80s, including Scandinavian countries that are now making a sport out of lecturing us.
The struggle for cultural hegemony that we are fighting with the West is a life-and-death struggle in which we can give no ground. Our calling is to preserve our national identity, pass on our values, and live according to our own particular ways. The current, cultural struggle is therefore about our identity, our Hungarianness, our survival. We reject the increasingly intense attempts at cultural colonization by western European elite. The aggressiveness of the affronts only increases our resistance. Like the British, who withdrew and left the European Union. Brexit was a strong signal to those who believed in the necessity of history, which manifests itself in constant expansion and ever-closer integration. It would be good to learn from Brexit that it is not worth increasing pressure, for there is a road in the opposite direction as well.
The European Union had not yet found a solution neither to the financial crisis nor the migration crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Once again, the Union’s bureaucracy, like the financial stalemate of 2008-10 and the migration crisis of 2015-16, has proven useless. The coronavirus epidemic of 2020 was thus again about nation-state solutions, nation-state solidarity. The borders were closed and everyone was locked down. Millions of people experienced the quarantine. Exposing their own failure to act, EU institutions engaged even more so than usual in useless activities to cure their quarantine boredom and make it look like they were really doing something – behold, for example, the constant attacks on the Hungarians and Poles. Even the simplest organizational tasks exceeded their capabilities. To date, statistical procedures for COVID-19 victims have not been standardized. They have been unable to develop a common drug or a vaccine-introduction protocol, to highlight just a couple of what would be the most important objectives.
The pandemic has struck man of the 21st century with the realization that he is not the lord of history but vulnerable to it. Exactly one hundred years ago, people with immune systems that had been devastated during World War I were hit by the Spanish flu, the H1N1 flu pandemic, which claimed more victims than those killed from 1914 to 1918. The mortality rates of the current epidemic are much lower. But we don’t know yet if we’re just entering or exiting this epidemic, and where the counter will stop.
For those quarantined, the family is once again appreciated. It has been adamantly proven to be a support in troubled times as well as a companion in joy.
Europe has suddenly been confronted with how vulnerable it has become. We are dependent on China for masks, ventilators, other medical supplies and equipment. By the second decade of the 21st century, Europe was, for weeks, incapable of sewing a small piece of cloth or producing such a technically basic machine as a ventilator.
This is a great lesson. I hope Europe comes to its senses and learns from it. The outsourcing of our industries must be stopped. Europe must realize that former glory means nothing when competing globally with China, India, Africa or South America in the field of global trade, industry and technology. How did the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld put it? Nobody gives credit for last year’s collection! Our competitors are in full swing; well and even better trained, they want a slice from the cake, and they will extend to us no deference. We urgently need to improve, for example, education, which is of an ever-lower quality, with more and more students in humanities and fewer and fewer natural scientists, engineers, computer scientists, etc., because Asian students have overtaken us in all areas.
Less is often more
Let us put an end to the utopian dream of a bureaucratic, western-dominated, German-led empire of the United States of Europe. We can achieve this by applying the principle of the least common denominator, modeled on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, limiting common affairs to joint warfare and foreign policy and the finances that cover these and leaving the rest to sovereign nation states. This, of course, goes against today’s EU practice of biting off more than one can chew, taking on a lot but doing little in practice.
Let us enjoy the economic benefits of the common market but break with cultural and moral imperialism. Otherwise, we will face weaknesses in the next decade as a result of further withdrawals, blockages, disintegrations, etc. If we want to have a European defense capability in ten years’ time, which is a precondition for an independent foreign policy, we must immediately start setting it up. And military development can also give wings to innovation and pull the economy out of the rut. We need to work harder and better; we need to put ourselves on a path of growth, if we want to maintain our current standard of living. But most importantly, we need a vision and a consequent strategy. Without them, there is no common policy, and with no common policy, there is no common political community; and with no common political community, there are no common values, no common interests, that is, no common Europe.
We have important years ahead of us!
Let’s use them wisely.
Dr. Mária Schmidt is the Director-General of the House of Terror Museum in Budapest. This essay was originally published in its Hungarian original at Látószög.