Enlarged Europe is a tragedy waiting to happen


OPINION:THIS IS not a good time to be a small country, especially if you are in southeast Europe. Even getting your own name spelled correctly can be a major international horror, as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) – or Macedonia as it would like to be called – knows only too well, writes RICHARD PINE

 Self-determination is a thing of the past and identity – yours, mine, ours – is vulnerable. And it isn’t good to be a young person, either. All over Europe, young well-educated people are frustrated, standing at the rock face that denies them meaningful jobs and affordable housing. But much more importantly, in the long term, they wonder whether they actually matter as individuals with ambitions, identities and a place in a viable society. Not only politicians, but also the directors of the consumer society, couldn’t care less about people, merely about market share.

Our identities are in hock to playboys who are joyriding the universe (to use the late John Moriarty’s immortal phrase) – not the Madoffs of the financial world, but the Amazons, the Wikipedias, the iPods, the Googles (and I admit to being 25 per cent in thrall to Google). Having realised this, the vast majority of EU citizens have adopted apathy as the safest way of dealing with an unliveable life.

Our so-called leaders preside over a resortification of Europe, the creation of a perpetual “workers’ playtime” in which our personal aspirations and deep-rooted cultures are set aside as we suck our placebo sweeties - in the past, Benidorm and Watney’s Red Barrel; today Ryanair, Ferrero Rocher, EasyJet, and now EasyCruise and EasyHotel.

Strictly against my instructions (of course) one of my children recently jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet without a parachute and survived. The fact that she was strapped to a man who did have a parachute is really neither here nor there. Most banks thought they were strapped to some financial parachute, but they also ignored the dangers of freefall, and now, with 19 of the EU’s 27 member states in excessive budget deficit, what used to be the euro zone is now a financial vortex.

But there is no point in blaming the political leaders, because they didn’t cause the situation and, despite their obsession with finance, they don’t have the answers. Berlusconi, Putin, Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel: a plutocrat, a spy, a bore, a jogger and a plodder – to these people we entrust the destiny of our continent, yet none of them is capable of leading, and they are very dangerous bullies because of their blindness, their apathy, towards the destiny of Europe.

Faced with a financial crisis of proportions unknown since 1929, the bullies are unable to see that this, in itself, is a temporary phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with a financial ice-age, as long as you have enough olive oil, bread and wine, and in the village where I live we are self-sufficient, thank you very much. As Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), he of the Pensées, said: the best strategy is to learn how to sit quietly in a room, until it is over.

The major problem, which the Lisbon Treaty or any other set of windy words is quite incapable of solving, is the fact that Europe hasn’t worked out what “Europe” means, culturally, socially, even spiritually. Obeying the fiscal imperatives has created a system which, in cultural terms, excludes more than it includes, in a form of internal exile. The new Europe has, literally, gone too far.

A recent contributor to this newspaper (Miriam O’Callaghan) suggested that the chief problem is the emptiness of our shopping malls, as if the religion of retail therapy had become the hell of retail misery.

O’Callaghan also prefers Berlusconi to Cowen – Berlusconi who, she says, is not screwing the country (her words). But Berlusconi can send a law through parliament that grants him immunity from prosecution, and he can manipulate the Italian media (almost half of which he owns). But he isn’t screwing Italy. Oh no. But who cares? The crux is that it is not a national problem, but a European one, and we do not understand ourselves as Europeans.

The EU leaders and their media, with the exception of Greece, seem to have adopted corporate apathy about what is happening in the increasingly fragile state of the Balkan countries of southeast Europe. There is no other comparable land mass within Europe with so many cultural, racial, religious, and of course financial complexities. With recent elections in Albania and Bulgaria, and next year in Greece itself, with EU applications from Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia and Turkey, identities are fragile and cultures are . . . well, who cares about cultures?

Greece has ambitions to regain its former glory by becoming the financial hub of the Balkans, amid this cultural confusion. But Europe continues not to learn from its Balkan mistakes, not least its ambivalence over that most un-European of cultures, Turkey. Apathy usually means “if we ignore it, maybe it will go away”. In this case, the opposite is the reality: the more we ignore it, the closer it gets.

And all this is the lesson of history. The 19th century saw the major powers deciding the fate of the little people – “brave little Belgium”, “plucky little Poland” – as they graduated from the hedge school of nationalism to the flatulence of nation states.

The 20th century was little different. Europe used to be “us” and “them”, when “they” were on the outside. Today, “they” are on the inside, as Europe has gone global. The inevitable break-up of Yugoslavia was more than a political tragedy, with Christians and Muslims hacking each other to pieces – and still waiting to do so in Kosovo. This new enlarged Europe will be worse: a tragedy waiting to happen.

Richard Pine is director emeritus of the Durrell School of Corfu, where he lives – rpinecorfu@yahoo.com. Orna Mulcahy is on leave

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