Institutions in Crisis

It seems almost too easy to write about the next big crisis. We can be comfortably assured that it is going to occur and there is certainly no shortage of candidates. What is certain is that the age of hope ushered in by the annus mirabilis of 1989 has ended. It may be necessary to attempt an autopsy of this demise to diagnose the malaise.

The end of history still haunts us. Although Fukuyama’s thesis was disproved with a vengeance by the facts on the ground, the nostalgia still lingers. We may have never expected that things stop happening with the end of Communism, but neither have we expected that the triumph of freedom, individual rights, and free market capitalism would prove so short-lived and so vulnerable.

Nor have we envisaged that the slain beast of totalitarianism and chiliastic ideology would leave such numerous offspring. It is almost as if the need to be enslaved was as much a part of the human evolutionary heritage as the need to be free. This is not only evident from some of the horrific abominations committed by crazed ideologists in the Middle East and parts of Africa, or from attempts to govern authoritatively under the guise of democracy to the east and south of us, but also by our own willingness to compromise on the values we claim to live by and stand for; to continually defer the badly needed European reforms and the ensuing treaty changes for the sake of preserving stability in the EU, to continually allow the shrinkage of room for a free debate in the name of “European values,” “political correctness,” or “social harmony,” to voluntarily abnegate our historical, cultural, and religious heritage for the sake of post-European future, to continually dilute the concept of the West, in the past so important to our security, economy, and—most importantly—way of life, to the point of meaninglessness.

It is this loss of identity, the will to be ourselves, which is the common feature of all our present crises and, in all likelihood, of many of the future ones. Faced with a resurgent Russia, we are never quite sure whether to take a principled stance against its blatant disregard of domestic and international law, and against its obvious contempt for the truth and honesty, or whether to succumb to the feeling of guilt for not having done more to support it on its way to become more like us. We still treat Russia as a petulant child instead of treating it like an adult, as Václav Havel advised a long time ago.

It is the same uncertainty about where Europe begins and where it ends, both geographically and spiritually, that brought us into the quagmire of the migration crisis. Spiritually, Europe, and the world, as some of our ancestors believed, was built, among other things, on acts of kindness to others. To help those fleeing war and starvation is our moral obligation, and we should not compromise about it. Equally, however, this is where our obligations end. The nonsense spewed about all of us being refugees and thus having to open our gates to everybody who wants to come, is hypocritical and offensive: offensive for being hypocritical. To give up on the control of Europe’s external borders is to give up on Europe itself, not just the probably-doomed Schengen zone. To try to subcontract the control over our own borders to a foreign country like Turkey with not necessarily identical interests, in exchange for large sums of money, is a folly of the highest order.

And it is the same ignorance of our own identity that prevents us from putting Europe back on a solid footing. The fact that clearly not all Europeans, and probably not even most Europeans, are in any hurry to consign their national states to the dustbin of history and embark on a rosy pan-European future, should not blind us to the clear practical advantages and shared values of the European integration. Given a chance, most Europeans, including Britons, will support the continuation of the European project. But they have to be given the chance, and it will inevitably comprise opening a debate about what has worked and what has not. Europeans, too, need to be treated as adults.

And finally, it is the waning awareness of being a part of a civilization (the West if you will) that prevents us from using jointly our formidable military and intelligence resources to defeat and destroy the threat coming from Islamic terrorists, whatever names they choose to call themselves. NATO was conceived and built to stop and defeat the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen. For some reason, it is only whispered about when it comes to Daesh and others. It is hard to expect that our will to defend ourselves will be given credibility by others, unless we believe it ourselves.

So, which of the four crises briefly outlined above will be the next big crisis? Almost certainly none, for the next big crisis is always the one we do not expect. Anyway, without reaffirming our identity anew, without basing our actions on who we are and what we believe in, it may not matter much.

Michael Žantovský

Michael Žantovský is the Honorary Board Chairman of the Aspen Institute Central Europe.

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Current issue - 03/2019

Saving Europe?

Judging from the recent election to the EP, Europe seems to be increasingly fragmented. However, Czechs and Slovaks, the two most Eurosceptic nations in Europe, elected the two most pro-European delegations to the European Parliament in the region. Perhaps we should not panic.

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