Friday, October 28, 2005

The End of 'New Europe'

Here's a terrific piece from today's Guardian by Jonathan Steele on the end of Donald Rumsfeld's 'New Europe' .
The whole idea of 'New Europe' - a place beloved by pro-war, free market fundamentalists- was a fiction from start to finish. Although many of the governments in the region supported the Iraq war, the populations of the countries themselves, as opinion poll after opinion poll showed, were overwhelmingly opposed to the US-led aggression. And the myth of the 'dynamic free-market economies of Eastern Europe' is simply not borne out by the facts. In Poland, a country where 12% 0f the population are living in poverty, the long-suffering electorate have said enough is enough- and voted instead for a government and a President which puts social solidarity ahead of appeasing western multinationals.
And next spring, the neo-liberal coalition which runs Hungary will be booted out of office too.

Poland's disenchanted killed off 'New Europe'
Poverty and regional inequality helped win votes for a socially conservative, nationalist and Catholic president
Jonathan Steele
Friday October 28, 2005The Guardian

"New Europe" is dead, and that's official. The verdict is not that of an obscure thinktank. It comes from the central actor in the heartland of what was once deemed to be a bold new part of the old continent, namely the people of Poland.
In two recent elections, for parliament in September and for the presidency on Sunday, they gave most support to a party which wants a strong state and is highly suspicious of the free-market reforms of the last 15 years. It also has major reservations about the European Union.
Its victory offers an important reality check against the hot air of yesterday's Hampton Court talkathon and Tony Blair's latest calls to step up the pace of liberal reform. The biggest of the EU's new members is as attached to the old social model and as anxious about unregulated globalisation as the "no" voters in the French and Dutch referendums.
The "new Europe" tag was invented by Donald Rumsfeld in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and initially covered foreign policy. Flushed with their post-communist freedom, it was claimed, eastern and central Europeans understood the value of Washington's international campaign to promote democracy better than western Europeans did. The claim soon proved inaccurate. The governments of "new Europe" supported the war, but majorities in the polls did not. Poles and Czechs were no more enthusiastic about having their troops in Iraq than people in Britain.
"New Europe" was then used to categorise attitudes to internal EU reform. It is this simplification which Poland's voters have exposed. The victorious Law and Justice party offers a traditional Catholic and nationalist platform, which is more about protecting inherited values than promoting further reform.
On social issues president-elect Lech Kaczynski is a man of the right, a critic of homosexuality and an advocate of the death penalty. After "nice" Lech Walesa, the Solidarity founder who became Poland's first non-communist president, we now have a "nasty" Lech, whose election was greeted in Brussels with warnings that he would be watched for any violation of EU standards. His twin brother, Jaroslaw, who led the Law and Justice party to victory in parliamentary elections, has similar views. He did not triumph outright and is still embroiled in fierce negotiations for a "grand coalition" which make Angela Merkel's enforced marriage to the social democrats in next-door Germany look simple.
The fact that Walesa and the two Kaczynskis are all former Solidarity activists shows how far Polish politics has moved from the romanticism of 1989 - and how much Solidarity, even in its first years, was an amalgam of not easily reconcilable interests: workers' rights, Catholic nationalism and westernising liberalism, to name just a few.
Simple slogans about freedom tended to exaggerate the political dimension of the Polish revolution. It also contained an important economic core. What happened in this autumn's Polish elections is the return of economics. During Poland's 16 years of neoliberal reforms, it did not matter much whether the governments which brought them in were post-communists or anti-communists. Economic strategies remained the same.
Now the electorate wants a rethink. At least those who voted do. Disenchantment with politicians of all stripes is high, with barely 40% taking part in September, the lowest turnout since 1989. The Civic Platform, which had expected to win but came second in both polls, is a radical "flat tax" party which advocates a 16% rate across the board. "Flat tax", which unashamedly goes against the philosophy that governments have a duty to promote income redistribution, was almost Angela Merkel's undoing as well. Her proposal to appoint a flat-taxer as finance minister caused a huge slump in her campaign.
Poland's elections exposed a divided country in which regional inequalities have got worse. The geographical split is not unlike Ukraine's. Poland's poor rural east and "rust belt", areas that benefited from postwar industrialisation and are now struggling, voted for the Kaczynskis. Warsaw and the more prosperous north and west chose the flat-taxers.
The results should not have been a surprise. The World Bank has just published its latest survey of central Europe and the former Soviet Union. The bank is hardly a leftwing propaganda outfit but its report, Growth, Poverty, and Inequality, shows how far the region still has to go to make up for the fall in living standards which came with the collapse of communism. In 1988 only 4% of the region's people were poor - defined as having an income of less than £1.25 a day. Now poverty affects 12%.
This is better than five years ago, when poverty affected 20% of the region's people. Things have got better thanks largely to the rise in world oil prices, which has pulled up the economy of Russia and some of its immediate neighbours. Among the countries covered by the World Bank, the eight new EU members are much better off. But the report shows that Poland, alone among them, has seen a further increase in poverty over the last five years.
It also found a growth in inequality between regions, with prosperity largely confined to capital cities while smaller towns and rural areas suffered. The World Bank notes that subjective impressions also matter. It talks of the "transition shock" caused by the sudden switch to market economics. "The socialist legacy of high access to social services (eg, heating) and infrastructure (eg, healthcare) which have since been eroded means that people feel an acute sense of deprivation," it says.
The lesson for the future is that assessments of progress and popular satisfaction must include socioeconomic factors as well as levels of political freedom. EU governments should not get involved in narrow crusades. Poland's neighbour, Belarus - which the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has called "Europe's last dictatorship" - is sure to attract attention next year when it holds presidential elections. The World Bank survey is relevant here. While poverty went up in Poland, Belarus saw one of the sharpest declines, enjoying "broad-based economic growth beneficial to labour" in which the "benefits were broadly shared by the population".
Few doubt that the Belarus election will be less pluralistic than Poland's; but social solidarity, a strong state, and a government which attempts to lessen inequalities are what Polish voters have shown they want. The people of Belarus probably have similar views.


Anonymous said...

If the past is anything to go by, the next stage will be government sanctioned pogroms in Poland and Hungary.

Having collaborated in the murder of the very best of everything their countries represented, it's not suprising that they are now wallowing in poverty and ignorance.

You can take the Roman Catholic Polish peasant out of the village, but you cannot take the village out of the Polish peasant. Ditto the Hungarian peasant.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is free to post here (unlike on certain neo-conservative sites which I won't mention), so long as they refrain from the use of obscene language- but I must say that this comment is way off beam. Are you really saying that the only alternative to rampant neo-liberalism is Nazism? I also find your remarks about 'Roman Catholic peasants'
to be offensive. Who are you referring to when you say 'the very best of everything their countries represented?' By using such terminology you are playing into the hands of the Nazis themselves- who would say that the people they killed were 'the very worst' their countries represented.
Every death in the Holocaust- be it Jew, gypsy, communist, socialist, homosexual or disabled person- was a tragedy. The best way of prevent Nazism from recurring in Eastern Europe- or anywhere else for that matter- is not to start using the terminology of Nazism- talking of some people being the 'very best' and others- in your view, the peasants-being in some way inferior. It's the language of Adolf himself and we should avoid it.

Anonymous said...

1) The Holocaust (and here I'm referring to the Jewish genocide and not your own watered-down version) could not have occurred without the almost complete co-operation of much of Europe. The Nazis may have planned it, but those who executed it and turned a blind eye and cheered it on were often those who also had reason to hate the Nazis. As the Poles used to say: "When Hitler dies we'll go to his grave to spit on it. We'll then return to bring him flowers for helping us get rid of the Jews." State-sponsored Jew-hatred had been a fact of life in Poland and Hungary long before 1939. Pogroms and anti-Semitic riots occurred long after the Nazis had disappeared from the face of the earth. And this state sponsorship did not occur in a vacuum but fed off the age old prejudices of the great mass of the people in Central and Eastern Europe.

2) No group was more culpable for the Holocaust than the peasants of Central and Eastern Europe steeped as they were and are in the most virulent type of Jew-hatred. In their love of ignorance and of anti-Semitism, and also their failure to own up to their many crimes, I have every reason to despise their culture.

3) The priests of the Roman Catholic church in their countless thousands openly collaborated in the destruction of the Jewish people. There were exceptions, but they were few and far between. In Poland, actual collaboration in this context anyhow was actually quite rare. Not so in Croatia, Hungary and Lithuania.

4) The Jews were the mainstay of business, professional and intellectual life in Central Europe. Naturally the destruction of the Jews in Eastern Europe has meant that much of Central Europe is little more than a cultural and economic desert. As Holocaust victim Izhak Katzenelson wrote in his famous poem, Song of the Murdered Jewish People:

"you foolish gentile, the bullet you fired at the Jew hit you too. 0 who will help you build your lands? Who will give you so much of heart and soul?"

5) "Every death in the Holocaust- be it Jew, gypsy, communist, socialist, homosexual or disabled person- was a tragedy."

But there was no greater tragedy than the destruction of an ancient people by the Nazis and their many millions of collaborators in a well-planned campaign of industrialised slaughter. The genocide of the Jews lay at the very heart not just of Nazi philosophy but European culture itself. That the Allies themselves, most particularly Great Britain, turned a blind eye to much of what went on, only reinforces that conclusion.

6) Because I feel superior to those who engaged in genocide, that makes me Hitler? Had I suggested a campaign of genocide, that would have made me Hitler. To suggest the obvious: that the Jews represented the very heart and essence of a sparkling and brilliant culture does not make me a Nazi. It is a statement of the obvious. Do you think it an accident that a very small nation has won over 20% of all Nobel Prizes ever awarded. Do you believe that great attainment means nothing? Naturally we should be treated equally, but that does not make us equal. The untimely death of an Einstein or a Mother Theresa of Calcutta is a far greater tragedy for the world than that of a road sweeper.

7) Unlike many of my Jewish brothers and sisters, I do not believe that the left per se is primarily responsible for the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism. I do believe that it demonstrates the ineradicability of Jew-hatred in Europe. The Nazis were merely a vehicle for anti-Semitism and not some sort of root cause. Anti-Semitism is part and parcel of European culture and the only answer to it is for the remaining Jews of Europe to leave.

8) As an aside, had Europe been really shocked by the Holocaust then it would have done far more to make restitutio in integrum. As it is, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, virtually all of the perpetrators got off scot-free, and nearly all of the literally incalculable amount of property that was stolen from the Jewish victims remains in the hands of the thieves and their descendants

Kind regards,

Holocaust Child

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that must be why the Tory Party has only had two Jewish leaders - the British are so anti-semitic.

Seriously, I think that this posting has less to do with the countries of Europe and more to do with trying to pursuade Europeans to go and continue the colonisation of Palestine. It reminds me a bit of the "a million in for '74" campaign that the Rhodesians ran.

That failed too, by the way.

Ken said...

Neil Clark,

Rereading you post set me thinking. I had written something along those lines a few days ago - about Cuba, rather than Europe - and I have now Your views would be welcome.

So, of course, would the views of anyone else. That said, I do seem to have drawn in the strange person who commented here. My fault for answering them, I suppose.

Ken said...

Sorry, I messed up the html. This link should work.

Anglonoel said...

"New Europe" as a concept was dreamed up by Don Rumsfeld, which hardly suggests that it is an idea with much intellectual credibility. Perhaps Saddam can ask his old mate Don about it when or if the latter makes an appearance as a witness at Saddam's trial.

Comandante Gringo said...

Zionists are nothing if not obsessive.
But believe me: if there are any pogroms coming in the "New Europa", there will be the hand of anglo-american imperialism behind them.

Those of us not fixated on narrow pasts should be looking out instead for mass socialist revolution of the 1848 kind. And it will be historic justice if they begin in France.