Notes on European political culture




Ukraine in the heart of Europe

On February 7 the ‘Russia-friendly’ Viktor Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko, the liberalizing, Western-leaning co-leader of the Orange Revolution, in the second round of the Ukranian presidential elections. As reported by Reuters: here.

A first-cut analysis is straight forward. The European Union, having admitted Bulgaria and Romania on still-flimsy premisses, having held Turkey in limbo and given Russia itself preferred partner status (short-term Schengen visas for Russians are now entirely waved), it has for years turned its back on Ukraine’s petitions for membership. If the West says ‘talk to the hand’, we turn to the East.

Ukraine’s principle Western partner, the European Union, has been far from a loyal friend. While the world stood still for the Orange Revolution(s) of 2006 (and 2007), the EU seems unmoved. See the analysis of FAZ writer Andreas Umland here.

While it is clear that corruption and a disfunctioning legislative system leave it far from an ideal European counterpart, the uncanny conclusion drawn by by the frontpage of the Wazsaw Gazetta that Russia is now closer to being an EU member than Ukraine, gives rime and reason to an odd political irony.

Where does this adventure leave us in the imaginary landscape of the European self, with the hills and valleys of its Judeo-Christianity, the treacherous cliffs of its rights regime, and the fallow plains of its market liberal economic self-certainty?

If there is any last observer claiming that Hobbesian rules of sovereignty still support the foundation of a Newtonian geopolitics of push and pull on a stable political playing field, then she is lonely indeed. The growling hydra heads of power, identity and politics have long since taken the place of Leviathan.

European geopolitical space and time are no longer Newtonian. The political centre of gravity of Europe lies outside of Europe. Indeed it doesn’t even entirely belong to Europe. More importantly, Europe doesn’t direct or lead it, cannot steer it. Perhaps it shouldn’t.

The case of Ukraine shows us that Europe’s political self, its political identity is, in an extraordinary way, extra-European. We used to say ‘surpassed by events’; now we must say, ‘surpassed by our selves’.

Despite valiant attempts to instrumentalize Eurpean identity, to nurture its culture through institutional efforts like the European symbology, the Cities of culture and other identity-building efforts, the European ‘we’ remains elusive. Or, perhaps, more than elusive, the ‘we’ is simply not ‘ours’.

The political identity of Europe, its sphere of influence, to borrow the Cold War expression (since it still holds forth in our minds and language) is variable. The European essence, its core or kernel, if such a thing exists, is on the move. The European-ness of the EU is under the sway of a myriad of forces, none of which has diplomatic representation.

The unease generated by this reality is tangible.

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