“At the turn of the millennium political fundamentalism will proliferate everywhere in the world. This political fundamentalism could manifest itself not only in the Islamic world, but also in other cultures, and will, as the 21st-century equivalent of Bolshevism, pose a grave threat to our world.” (Prime Minister József Antall at the Budapest session of the European Democratic Union on 1 September 1993.)
In the 20th century we saw four attempts to create an effective international system for the maintenance of order and the status quo. Three initiatives came from the Presidents of the Unites States, the country which became the strongest power, and one from its first challenger, Soviet Russia. Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations foundered on an imperfect order created by flawed peacemaking following a devastating war, and on the unwillingness of its members to stand up for the principles of the organization. The United States was not even a member of the League, which further weakened the organization. Another wartime American president, Franklin Roosevelt, revived the scheme in the United Nations Organization. That institution, however, was crippled by the Cold War, induced by the aggressive conduct of the Soviet Union. The ideology rivalling nationalism and capitalism, which hoped to establish the utopia called communism, envisaged world government based on Soviets, i.e., elected (or rather hand-picked) councils. The experiment conceived by Lenin and completed by Stalin held that the end justified every means and could only be maintained by violence, terror and dictatorship. This turned out to be a disguise for Russian imperial domination and was bound to fail; its crimes should not be forgotten.
Twenty years ago, when European communism collapsed, the Cold War ended with the victory of Western values, and the solemn principles of the UN Charter came to prevail in the common action taken against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Practically the entire world assumed (happily or unhappily) the onset of the New World Order, as proclaimed by President George Bush in a speech to the Congress on 11 September, 1990: “A new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward a historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times […] a new world order can emerge: A new era-freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony. A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavour, and today that new world is struggling to be born. A world quite different from the one we’ve known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.” Following the liberation of Kuwait President George Bush repeated that vision in another speech to Congress on 6 March, 1991: “Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. […] A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfil the historic vision of its founders. A world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations. […] Even the new world order cannot guarantee an era of perpetual peace. But enduring peace must be our mission…” Some thought it would be a “Pax Americana,” with the United States as a single superpower dominating the world, while others welcomed it as a benevolent, enlightened “Pax Democratica.”
It is now apparent that those were over-optimistic speeches, recalling the unfulfilled promises of the Atlantic Charter of 1941. Many, including this writer, shared that optimism. Hungary under Prime Minister Antall, a staunch opponent of communism and a committed Atlanticist, did its best to anchor the formerly communist-dominated countries, “the new Europe,” to the Euro-Atlantic community. He initiated the close collaboration of the core Central European countries (“Visegrád”), with the double aim of dissolving the Warsaw Pact and quickly joining the European Community and NATO.
Following the failure of the Moscow coup by the hard-liners and the break-up of the Soviet Union the new Russia looked friendly and embarked on the path towards democracy and free market capitalism. Both before and immediately after 1990, the Central Europeans were impressed by the post-war solidarity and alliance between the two sides of the Atlantic. This solidarity held both when the Soviet Union was a feared adversary and in the first post-communist decade.
In the immediate post-Cold War world the former “captive nations” commanded much attention. Germany looked genuinely grateful for Hungary’s role in allowing East Germans to escape to the West, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. (The President of the Bundesrepublik, Christian Wulff, reiterated that on the 20th anniversary.) Presidents Havel and Walesa became heroes of the world press, while Western leaders thought most highly of Prime Minister Antall, listening to his views and even seeking his advice. Nevertheless the high-sounding phrases of the Charter of Paris (November 1990) unfortunately did not address the specific political, economic or social problems of Central and Eastern Europe, nor were measures worked out to facilitate and guide the region’s transition from command economics to functioning market economics.
As Foreign Minister, I was becoming concerned: “The present generation of politicians, advisers and thinkers has the historic responsibility to make the best of the great changes that occurred between 1989 and 1991, in other words to utilize the resounding victory won by western values and principles by the Euro-Atlantic political, economic and social model.
The traditional mistake made by so many victors should be avoided: to win the war and to lose the peace. Today the road is still open to restore the historic frontiers of the western world as a Euro-Atlantic community, with a chance to expand it eventually to the Pacific, incorporating Siberia, and reaching the borders of China.”
By the end of 1992 in the eastern half of Europe the euphoria of 1989 gave way to disappointment and even a kind of nostalgia for the recent past. Naturally this nostalgia was not for the communist dictatorship, but for the time when everyone was employed, public services were free (albeit of low quality), and although few items were actually available in the shops, they were affordable. Now everything became available, but very few were affordable. Central Europeans expected to be welcomed and quickly included in the united Europe and NATO. After some wavering the latter did open its gates soon enough, but the former was far too slow to act. There was no differentiation between the front-runners and the slow learners, the genuine democrats and the communist turncoats. By the time most formerly communist-ruled countries were admitted into the EU much of the earlier love, shown on both sides, withered away.
We in Hungary thought that the Euro-Atlantic values also included respect for regional autonomy, local democracy, and rights for Hungarian and other national minorities. In the words of Sándor Márai, a mid-century Hungarian novelist who died in exile in San Diego, Ca. and was “discovered” in the West only after his death, to be a European meant to believe that reason and solidarity would prevail over base instincts, “the terror of passions.” But the Cold War was barely over when “the terror of passions” engulfed the Balkan Peninsula, and the Europeans were unable to extinguish the fire. The US, however, appalled by the carnage, took action in 1995, showing that only a war process could bring an endless “peace process” to a conclusion. That, and the 1999 air war to save the Albanians of Kosovo from “ethnic cleansing,” looked as if the new world order was viable and successful.
On the eleventh anniversary of the proclamation of that order the successful terrorist attack on the United States shattered the illusion that a single superpower could guarantee security and peace everywhere. Then all democratic countries agreed that the terrorist, fundamentalist wing of Islam must be defeated and destroyed in order “to make the world safe for democracy.” Opinions differ as to what caused the first decade of the new millennium to be so markedly different from the success story of the 1990s. Although Central Europe made great progress economically, we were at a loss when witnessing the disagreements about the war against the Iraqi dictatorship. And we were bewildered by the unwillingness of Western Europe, the birthplace and until recently the centre of Christianity, to recognize and name its religious and cultural roots in the Lisbon Treaty. History, culture and traditions which were so dear to us, were losing their appeal. We remain strongly attached to the values and achievements of “Western” civilization, and continue to believe that its spread to the rest of the world was beneficial and served the interests of all. While we Central Europeans, too, respect other cultures, we think that certain customs (from cannibalism to “honour killing,” forced marriage, female circumcision and death by stoning) are against the dignity of human beings.
Today the political scene and the prophesies are very different from the optimism of 1990. They augur the decline of the US and the rise of China closing on the former as a new superpower. That is accepted with a certain resignation, and is seen as inevitable. China’s war capabilities (conventional, nuclear and space-directed) are fast growing, but that seems to give rise to little alarm. India and Brazil are undoubtedly promising new giants, and that carries a positive message. Japan and South Korea are certainly not to be written off, but are no longer seen as a counterbalance to China; perhaps India is. Irresponsible and unpredictable North Korea has nuclear weapons, and Iran may soon join the nuclear club, without a readiness to abide by the rules. Confidence in the strength and the capabilities of the US was already undermined by the war in Iraq and now even more by the growing casualties (including Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians) in Afghanistan. The overflowing enthusiasm of the Western Europeans for President Obama has subsided, and everybody watches anxiously the economic figures coming from America. The European Union, which only a few years ago aspired to catch up with the US in a number of fields, is in deep trouble due to its low birth-rate and slow growth-rate, and is at a loss how to handle its immigrant, mainly Islamic population. The inability of the international community to deal with piracy off the coast of Somalia, to stop and eradicate it, is inexplicable and shows a kind of international paralysis, all the more so that here at least all countries have the same
interests. Poverty, chaos and mass violence in Africa, from Darfur to the Congo, is another painful example of the impotence of the developed countries.
The European Union did help the newcomers in many ways and is indispensable for them, but its vast bureaucracy, its extravagant spending on salaries, travel and translation, upsets those whose incomes and pensions are only a fraction of their Western colleagues’. But Euro-fatigue and fashionable anti-American outbursts notwithstanding, most Central Europeans believe in and remain committed to the original aims and principles of the EU. Hungary’s reappointed Foreign Minister, János Martonyi recently wrote that Europe needs more solidarity and cohesion, and equal treatment of the members. He expresses a widelyfelt view in Central Europe that the cultural, historical, commercial, financial and economic fabric that connects the two sides of the Atlantic cannot be overlooked, when the EU builds a common foreign and security policy. So far we see few signs of any serious effort to base that policy on compromise and consensus which takes into consideration the experience and concerns of the newer members. Twenty years ago the idea of Europe, the vision of the makers of the Common Market inspired the peoples who were coming in from the cold.
Today we see too many narrow and selfish policies and a double standard, “quod licet Iovi, not licet bovi,” whereby the big and the rich are forgiven for those things which the small and the poor are held accountable. Today energy policy is probably the most important field where common European action is needed. While lip service is paid to that, the major European powers vie with each other in making special deals with the suppliers. Ten years ago the Europeans could not agree how to react to Saddam Hussein’s detestable rule, and today they are at a loss how to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Europe has no consistent and imaginative policy on the permanent Arab-Israeli conflict. Some of the actions, such as simultaneously appeasing both sides, even exacerbate it. (E.g. refraining from criticizing Israel’s ruthless retaliatory actions while sending generous supplies for Gaza.) In all the present foreign challenges the tradition of appeasement and separate deals seem to be stronger than the lessons of history. Mediators, peacekeepers, NGOs have not gone beyond maintaining a temporary truce for several decades even on Cyprus.
In the wake of the financial crisis there is talk about a rift within the EU between the “hardworking”
and “spendthrift” North and the easy-going, irresponsible South. The Euro is limping, and one reads predictions that it can survive only if it throws some member states overboard. Two years ago many commentators agreed that the soul-searching would lead to fundamental changes in economic policy both on the national and on the international level. “Banker-bashing rivalled skiing as the most popular sport at this year’s forum” at Davos, wrote Gideon Rachman in The Financial Times as late as 1 February, 2010. But signs of a modest economic recovery are enough to forget the admonitions and the pledges.
Few paid any attention when in 1993 the Hungarian Prime Minister spoke about political fundamentalism as a serious threat, the bolshevism of the 21st century. 9/11 changed all that. But nine years after the terrorist attack it seems that Islamic fundamentalism can at best be contained but cannot be defeated, at least not by the Judeo-Christian West. When moderate or simply rational Islamic states try to fight the militants the result is often civil war. Pakistan and Yemen show that for the time being a stalemate is the best that can be reached. There is no doubt that peace between Israel and the Arabs would remove one of the strongest weapons in the hands of fundamentalists and would also make the indispensable energy resources of the Middle East much safer. Until recently Turkey promised to offer a secular alternative to an Islamic state. The denial of membership in the European Union may drive its 80 million people towards the anti-Western Arab neighbours. The Kurdish issue complicates European and American attitudes to Turkey as well as to Iraq and Iran. Apparently the question of how to deal with the multi-national states and tribal societies of the Islamic world has not yet entered the heads of many Western analysts and decision-makers, who continue to speak of “nation building” in countries deeply divided by religion and language.
Islam is not only an external threat, but also an internal problem for the Western world. America seems to handle it more successfully by the traditional policy of inclusion and the recognition of diversity. Europe has insisted on total integration and assimilation, policies which have failed dismally. Some mosques became hotbeds of Islamic propaganda, even schools for potential terrorists. There are alarming signs of the radicalization of the younger generation of European Muslims. What bewilders level-headed Central Europeans is the indifference and permissiveness of so many opinion makers in Western Europe to the threats to society and traditional European values. Underlying all that is what many call “demographic capitulation,” when the birth rate in Europe is extremely low, but is high among immigrant populations. Pessimistic forecasts envisage a Muslim majority in Western Europe, and – given the free movement of people within the EU – this would spill over into Central and Eastern Europe. The governments and inhabitants of that region do not wish to import the problems of the immigrant ghettos and crime associated with them. The problem of the Gypsy (Roma) population of Central and South-Eastern Europe bears a certain resemblance to that. It, too, goes back to unemployment, poverty, voluntary segregation, and insufficient education. The similarity goes farther. Although there are cases of prejudice and discrimination, that is not the root of the problem, as well-meaning but uninformed observers often think. Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs and Bulgarians have long lived with their Gypsy ethnic minorities without serious tensions, accepting that they preferred a vagrant life to settling down and engaging in agriculture or industry. Communism tried to integrate them by force, making employment compulsory, but did not do much for their education. When capitalism was restored and productivity became a priority, the unskilled Gypsies were the first to lose their jobs, but were given unemployment benefit and/or welfare. That caused a population explosion among them (not unlike what we see in Gaza or in other welfare-dependent communities). Inactivity, poverty and lack of education also bred crime. The West thought that the problem was caused by the ill-will and prejudice of the governments and/or the public, and lectured about the need to eradicate racism, but when EU enlargement opened the gates and crowds of Roma appeared in the streets of Western Europe, hoping to utilize the generous welfare programmes, the reaction often became drastic, and smacked of the application of double standards. The most recent verbal clashes between some national governments (Italy and France most notably) and the well-wishers of Brussels are watched in Central Europe with some malice.
Just as western European governments do their best to facilitate the integration of Muslim and other non-European immigrants, so do the governments of the new EU members with their native Roma citizens. The solution – knowing that it is a must – requires in both cases a sincere and thorough dialogue between the experts (government officials, sociologists, social workers, economists, church leaders etc.) in the two halves of Europe, as well as goodwill and a determination on behalf of the majority and the minority. Better education is clearly a requirement, but employment offers the only lasting solution.
No one can envy the present leaders of the Western world, facing so many varied challenges, while also struggling with Doomsday scenarios about global warming and an energy crisis caused by the depletion of fossil fuels.
Hungarians and their neighbours are not indifferent to environmental problems, and they too want to live in peace and security. But they lost their previous guidelines. Before 1990 the Central and East Europeans (including most of the communist elites) admired the United States, envied the well-being of West Europeans, and knew very little about the rest of the world. They were happy to endorse capitalism and join the prosperous West. After the shocks of the transition their expectations started to materialize, only to be shattered two years ago. By now the success story of post-communist Central Europe has been scuttled by the financial crisis. Ukraine continues to be in a mess, and Russia’s consolidation by the semi-authoritarian Putin depends on the price of petrol. The global financial crisis hit them, too, very hard, and they have no economic reserves to fall back upon. The fashionable term for present-day capitalism, “globalization,” became a dirty word, at least in Hungary, while the phrases of the old Marxist political economy textbooks were dusted off to be wielded by the rightist media. Clearly that tendency is not restricted to the former communist world, but here market economics has less strong roots, and people are listening more gullibly to the ignorant and the demagogues. A robust economy, a strong middle class, a reduction of corruption and less greedy foreign and domestic capitalists are the best prophylactics against Leftist or Rightist extremism.
Obviously it is not my task to give advice to the leaders of Europe as to how they should address the host of serious problems they – we – face. What I advocate is that they complete the enlargement of the EU (and NATO) by regular and honest discussion of the issues that trouble us, free of hypocritical “political correctness”. It would be advisable for them to listen more to the new members, who in their decades of captivity preserved many of the traditions and values of Europe, and due to their direct experience of the pains and horrors brought about by oppressive, autocratic regimes they are strongly committed to freedom and independence.
There are a number of areas where the old and the new EU-members see the recent past and present issues somewhat differently, and that should be resolved through frank discussions and consultations. The views of the Central Europeans deserve serious consideration. Why? Although economically they are behind their Western partners and allies, they have important assets: a truly European culture, large and strategically essential territory, a still unsaturated market, and a readiness to work hard and to accept less attractive jobs. Millions of them fill much needed vacancies in the job market of Western Europe. Their population is relatively well-educated; they have a sensible and open attitude to the problems of the world, little affected by the political orthodoxies of the “Left Liberal” proponents of the West, and a strong historical awareness, which should not be seen as a handicap.
When Central Europeans appear to be more committed to Atlanticism, to the continued close relationship between North America and Europe, they are not the mouthpieces of the US. That commitment goes back to 1945, when Central Europe was allowed to fall under Soviet domination, purportedly because of the military situation on the ground, but in reality because the US had illusions about Stalin and failed to recognize its interests beyond the Atlantic coast. Today Central Europe is firmly embedded in NATO, Russia is not a communist dictatorship and Putin is not Stalin. Neither the US, nor Canada, nor the EU harbours ill-feeling towards Russia. On the contrary they hope democracy in Russia prevails. The same can be said about the former Soviet satellites. Despite the past, Hungarians and most other Central Europeans show no grudge against the Russians, because they do not hold the Russian people responsible for the crimes of communism. Central Europeans believe, and I think rightly, that the present eastern neighbourhood of the European Union and NATO should not be seen as a final border-line; enlargement should not stop. Russia’s future is not settled, and all Europeans must do their utmost to create a close relationship with Russia based on mutual confidence and cooperation. At the same time, however, all must be alert and remain sensitive to the bad tendencies that still exist in Russia. Interference, pressure or blackmailing are unacceptable as is the use of energy for political purposes.
The national interests of each European country can be brought into harmony with larger European and American interests when dealing with Russia or the other major powers. That requires wisdom and political will prevailing over narrow economic interests. That was the case in Western Europe after World War II. That was needed in post-communist Europe, too. The association in 1991 of the newly liberated Central Europeans, named after Visegrád, a former royal see in Hungary, was the right beginning. The ups and downs of that cooperation reflected the competition of broad and narrow attitudes. Today with likeminded Centre-Right governments in all the Visegrád countries there is a good chance for close, even intimate relations between them. I personally have long advocated an informal “enhanced Visegrád,” to widen political and intellectual discussion involving Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, and also Austria and South-East Germany. All that adds up to make the real Central Europe, a sub-region of the West.
The issue of the large Hungarian minorities in Hungary’s neighbours should not be seen as a stumbling-block to good relations between the core Central European countries. Hungary is not a revisionist State and has repeatedly demonstrated her goodwill towards the neighbouring peoples. Hungary merely seeks that its neighbours treat their Hungarian minorities consistent with the requirements of democracy and the principles and practices that prevail in Western European countries relative to their national minorities. Hungary is committed to internal self-determination, such as cultural autonomy, both for the Hungarians in the neighbouring states and for their own national minorities, as enacted by Law LXXVII of 1993. That Law also covers the Roma/Gypsy population of Hungary, which has nationwide as well as local self-governing bodies.
Since the collapse of communism North America and Western Europe have shown much concern over the appearance of the extreme Right and Right radicalism. The two are not identical, though they are related. The concern is justified but is often overstated. Extremist views, and what is worse, actions, hate-crime can be found in the West, too. But where there is a large, prosperous, and educated middle-class, and where social mobility is easy, extremism has only limited appeal. Large non-integrated and culturally different minorities with a high criminal record complicate the picture, as seen in Germany, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere. In the eastern half Europe responsibility for the rise of extremism lies with poverty, unemployment (especially among the young), wide-spread prejudice fed by segments of the media, and even more with bad and corrupt governments. Economic success would be the best remedy, but honest and credible governments, devoted not to personal enrichment but to the commonweal can achieve a lot. In the rise of the Right the influence of foreign agents and money cannot be ruled out.
Criticism of globalization and multinational companies is not helpful, but the conduct of the international financial world and its institutions is often rightly criticized. Disappointment with the West, particularly in the United States, as a helpful and wellmeaning superpower, who can and will stand by its allies, is unfair and misleading. Those who represent and publicize such views are ignorant of Hungary’s (or of other European countries’) real position and needs. Such people should consider the alternative: either to stand alone in a dangerous world, without wealth, without natural defences, without formidable armed forces or security system – or to rely on and join another power-centre. In our vicinity there is only one such: Russia. The radical Right in Hungary and wherever it exists seems to overlook that. If it does, it should be watched most carefully.
Finally, there is a hopeful signal. On 4 October, 2010 a large amount of toxic sludge ruptured from an open containment pond flooding settlements and affecting a whole region of North Western Hungary, destroying many houses and heading towards the Danube River. The news spread throughout the world immediately evoking sympathy and offers of help. That, too, is an aspect of globalization, and proves that despite the many hazards and threats, “no man is an island” in our brave new world.