We decided to dedicate the 2nd issue of 2016 Aspen Review Central Europe to the erosion of mutual trust and a re-emergence of old stereotypes in current public discourse in Europe.
Central European states became members of the European Union more than a decade ago. Because of their negative attitude towards suggested measures to tackle the refugee crisis they are suddenly portrayed as irresponsible free riders who never internalized the axioms of European integration and do not understand the value of solidarity in European community. At least in the eyes of “old” member states they are not seen as full-fledged members of the club. Some view their behavior as a proof that the enlargement of the European Union was premature. In her article in this issue, Ulrike Guérot notes a growing disappointment of too early enlargement in old member states and growing gap of misunderstanding between Germany and its Eastern neighbors. Who has lost whom? Did Germany lose Central Europe or vice versa?
Others even question the ability of European integration model to overcome deep cultural or civilizational cleavages between European nations. For example, Prof. György Schöpflin questions the assumption that only Hungary under Fidesz has changed by claiming that EU has undergone a major change as well. From another angle, Anna Sosnowska reminds us about a shadow of Mitteleuropa looming over Central Europe as it aspired to join the Western Europe in the 90s.
Did we overstep the mark by using the term “barbarians?” We simply intend to provoke a debate whether it is acceptable and appropriate in nowadays Europe to think about fellow Europeans as barbarians. In his article, Roman Joch explores four features of Central European societies that are deemed to constitute a “barbarian status.”
Is it justifiable to denote a nation as inferior or immature based on the result of its choice in free election? Martin M. Šimečka reflects the situation in Slovakia after parliamentary election – Slovakia being a test of liberal vs. illiberal cleavage. Anton Shekhovtsov debates whether the Czech Republic and Slovakia have succumbed to illiberal tendencies. However, a growing support for nationalist and illiberal forces does not seem to be a problem of Visegrad countries only. As we may see in Austria, France and other countries, it is a general phenomenon not limited to “new members.” One of the main reasons of this shift seems to be a failure of mainstream politicians across Europe to convince the public about their ability to lead through troubled waters of current challenges.
Finally, Aleksander Kaczorowski, the editor of this journal, invites readers to an encounter with authors of seminal works of the region and concludes by underscoring the claim of Andrzej Stasiuk that Central Europe is that part of “Europe that has no wish to catch up with the West because it is happy to stay where it is.” And indeed, the catching-up paradigm in the realm of political, institutional, social, and economic rapprochement has not been questioned until recently. Nevertheless, to keep Central Europe within the institutional and intellectual framework of the West remains one of the key goals of Aspen Institute Prague. We rely on your support!
Executive Director, Aspen Institute Prague
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