‘Europe’s fatigue and old Balkan disputes’

On the institutional level, the European Union is experiencing a big structural crisis, the end of which is nowhere in sight.

European Union flags flutter as people take part in the demonstration "One Europe for all", a rally against nationalism across the European Union, in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2019. (photo credit: LISI NIESNER)
European Union flags flutter as people take part in the demonstration "One Europe for all", a rally against nationalism across the European Union, in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2019.
(photo credit: LISI NIESNER)
This month marks thirty years from the beginning of the end of communism. Thirty years ago, crowds of angry demonstrators stormed the Berlin Wall, the most notorious symbol of the division of the world into two hostile camps of the Cold War.
There was no shooting nor victims during this assault. The wall guardians were no longer there. The regime that gave orders to murder people was over, and with that also the ideology justifying this regime. After 72 years of prophetic Marxist instructions in trying to implement it, the utopian communist experiment failed.
Following the victory over fascism, liberal democracy marked the second biggest ideological victory in over a century, which the British historian Eric Hobsbawm had rightly called the “century of extremes.” Overnight, references about the future had been overturned: the Marxist hope had given way to capitalistic hope. The key question, posed by many people from the countries just emerging from the communist empire as to which direction their countries should move, was swiftly answered by the west: they should become part of the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO.
In order for this to be achieved, these countries would have to implement a series of deep structural reforms, which, above the ruins of centralized planned economy, would build free market economy, while the structures of the totalitarian regime would be replaced with the liberal constitutional order.
AT THE TIME, this package of reforms was labeled as “Democratic transition.” The whole thing resembled the imaginary journey that Dante Alighieri undertook in The Divine Comedy: first you go through hell, then purgatory and at the end you reach paradise. In the case of countries emerging from communism, hell meant totalitarian regimes, purgatory symbolized transition, and paradise was the period marking the establishment of liberal democracy, free market economy and a society of human rights.
In its entire history, Europe had not experienced a bigger climate of overwhelming optimism than the days following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In a Washington overcome with the enthusiasm for having won the Cold War, the Japanese-American philosopher, Francis Fukuyama sat down and wrote the book The End of History and the Last Man. He was convinced, and now wanted to convince the world as well, that the end of human hostility had come, and that from now on, there was not much to do other than live in liberal peace and happiness.
Thirty years later, this climate of optimism has diminished. In its place, we have a climate of pessimism, which has the traits of what the famous Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl, already in 1935 coined as “fatigue of Europe.” What Husserl meant with this term is the exhaustion of spiritual strength of European civilization, loss of belief by Europeans in their universal values.
More than just a conclusion, Husserl’s thought was a foreboding, and today this foreboding seems to have materialized. Europe today feels the fatigue, in everything it does, while the postmodern skepticism in its values has become a pan-European sentiment.
On the institutional level, the European Union is experiencing a big structural crisis, the end of which is nowhere in sight.
GREAT BRITAIN, driven by the sentiment that the European ship is sinking, took the decision to abandon it, but the ones who took this decision have not yet found another lifeboat. Brexit will go down in history as the example of dangerous lies hiding beneath messianic promises of populism.
On the other hand, the big project of integrating former communist countries into the European Union has stagnated halfway. The last country to join the EU was Croatia in 2013, and the voices against any further extension of the EU are getting stronger.
The first among these voices is none other than the president of France, Emanuel Macron. During the last meeting of EU leaders, it was Macron who blocked the decision for opening negotiations for the integration of Albania and North Macedonia. Serbia, the other Balkan country, despite having begun negotiations earlier, is at a stalemate.
The reason for this, is that its advancement on the road to European integration cannot continue a step further until it resolves the dispute with Kosovo, which from 2008, is now an independent country, recognized by 115 countries, among them the majority of EU member states.
In this context, Serbia is attempting to change the European stance by threatening that it will become part of Russian plans for a large Eurasian alliance, a response to the West in global geopolitics. Currently, this threat is not being taken seriously by the European Union or the US.
The reasons for this are several, among them also the fact that Russian plans for a Eurasian camp against the West are clearly not feasible. Except the US, these plans are also opposed by China and Japan, two countries, which in many respects, are ahead of Putin’s Russia. Thus, in order not to be stuck in between the East and the West, Serbia is forced to consent to sit down at the negotiating table with Kosovo in order to resolve its historical dispute.
So far, this dialogue led by the European Union has not brought any significant results. Many small agreements, reached so far between Kosovo and Serbia, remain only on paper, since neither of the two parties had full willingness to implement them, and the Brussels bureaucrats were not capable of enforcing implementation.
Currently, all hopes lie with the key involvement of Washington, which has openly expressed its intention of helping both parties in finding a solution, for two reasons. First, an independent Kosovo is an American project, and second, resolving historical disputes in the Balkans diminishes Russia’s attempts at exerting its influence in the region. What will transpire remains to be seen!
All that the countries of the Western Balkans are left with is the hope that Europe’s fatigue, predicted by Husserl, does not come over to the United States as well, and that all who talk about “the end of the American century” are harbingers of falsehood.
The writer is a professor of political philosophy and philosophy of religion at the University of Prishtina in Kosovo.