Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The divided sky of Europe – a history of Western arrogance and Eastern insult


The misfortune is reflected in the fact that they cannot talk to each other, because they do not understand each other. A Westerner always feels that his reason has been offended, and an Easterner that his dignity has been violated.

George Conrad

The East is, of course, a construct. Such that Rade Serbedzija can thank him for his planetary recognition. While Western popular culture distinguishes Sicilian from the Calabrian mafia, a stronger accent is sufficient for Easterners. A Russian, a Serb, a Pole, who would go into shades now.

The gap that was most deeply drawn by the Iron Curtain is the topic of a new book by German journalist Norbert Mapes-Niedick. In the “Divided Sky of Europe”, the subtitle is already the content: “Why the West does not understand the East”.

The centuries-old history of Western arrogance and Eastern insult, writes Mapes-Nidik, has a comeback in this century, especially since the financial crisis. The East is seen as a slacker on whom the Western teacher can only frown. Conversely, in the East, “in the collective unconscious rests the image of a decadent, morally failed West.”

Apart from arrogance – that is how Westerners were experienced in Constantinople in 1054, when the church will be divided – cynicism is also transferred to the West. That is when, during the Cold War, Western politicians gave speeches about defending the free world, and at the same time supported anti-communist dictatorships in Latin America or the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

In recent years, that is when migrants, who want to go to Germany, Austria or Sweden, are repulsed at the Balkan borders, if necessary with batons and tear gas. “That cordon makes its own brutality superfluous and thus preserves the self-righteous image of the West as humane and value-driven.” And Western TV viewers can confirm prejudices – Easterners are prone to xenophobia.

The suspicion of the two sides has a long history, which Mapes-Nidik is trying to convey. Thus, in a few pages, one goes from the great schism to the Cold War, and in a few paragraphs the war in Croatia is covered. The author suddenly took a big bite out of this book.

How much did the help cost?

The essence of the misunderstanding of the two sexes may be in these few sentences: “The West is supposedly the only correct, universal truth, and the whole world measures according to it. The East points to its special interests. The West seeks submission – not to itself, as it thinks, but to general principles. seeks respect – for whatever. “

But the East seems doomed to take turns “happily taking on Western ideas and rebelling against them.” In the West, both the steam engine and the printing press, and capitalism and human rights were invented.

We are still in an ambivalent relationship of acceptance and rejection: is there, even in countries with endemic corruption such as the Balkans, anyone in their right mind who would say that they do not want a rule of law organized like, say, Denmark? And homosexual marriages? It’s a little harder.

In the global financial crisis, Mapes-Nidik sees the end of the chapter of joyfully taking over Western ideas. EU enlargement to the east is over (for now?), And Easterners have critically drawn the line for the first time. Today, they live better than before the fall of the Iron Curtain, but they wonder if the path they took makes them the eternal periphery of the West.

Are their so-called foreign investments helped or hindered more? How much did they pay for cheap labor and brain drain? The famous French economist Tom Picketti reckons that Western companies from Eastern Europe have made more profits than they have invested and left through taxes and salaries.

While countries like Poland and the Czech Republic stand on the watershed, in Serbia or Northern Macedonia there is still a race to the bottom – who will flood foreign investors with more subsidies and dig deeper into the periphery.

In this the Westerner sees only ingratitude. There are quite a few liberal, supposedly enlightened politicians from the West who, treating Poland and Hungary, have reached a point: they don’t want our values, but they want our money.

As Mapes-Nidick notes, a whole vocabulary has been conceived for Brussels in the East. There is talk of “maturity”, “homework”, reports of “progress”. Such a dictionary did not exist when Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the European Community in 1995.

“Adults find it difficult to tolerate role models who constantly shine, especially when they still share unsolicited advice, melt away from their alleged selflessness and do not want to hear that they themselves profit from such a relationship,” the journalist writes.

Neighborhood versus family

Mapes-Nidik is one of the last Mohicans among German-speaking journalists who know the Balkans well, especially the former Yugoslavia. There were many of them in the 1990s, they often sided with someone, but there are hardly those who continued to write about the region and not look at it through stereotypes.

This German journalist has been living in Austria for a long time, he writes for the media, including Deutsche Welle. In his career, he crossed the boundaries of journalism, for example, when in 1994 he became an advisor to Yasushi Akashi, the UN special envoy for Yugoslavia. Or when, ten years later, he became a spokesman for the German Bundestag.

Such a life path gave Mapes-Nidik the opportunity to add an interesting part to the book about the different understanding of the nation in the West and the East. And the nation-state is an invention of the West. But while it was created there by enlarging, say, Germanic and Italian countries, in the East it was created by breaking up three empires: Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian. The dismemberment of smaller nations was encouraged – so the emperors and the sultan ensured obedience.

In the West, nationality is equated with citizenship. A nation is a kind of expanded neighborhood.

In the East, the nation is an extended family. “No one chooses their family. And when they quarrel over blood: they remain relatives forever. (…) Some relatives are loyal to the family, some curse it. Affiliation is not affected by whether you are proud of the family or ashamed of it,” writes Mapes-Nidik. Maybe that’s why nationalists, as especially loyal family members, consider it a supreme insult when they call someone a traitor.

The neighborhood operates according to known rules, such as how and where garbage is disposed of. Thus, the nation-neighborhood considers respect for the constitution and the law to be the supreme principle. Whoever respects them, whoever integrates, becomes a part of the nation.

The nation-family also has rules, sometimes even cruel, but they do not make a nation. Here we are all our own. We’re going to town to finish something. We know the man. He will do it to us. It is not possible for some institutions and formalities to destroy family harmony there.

No one to blame, all victims

Speaking of loyalty to the family: this is where Mapes-Nidik sees the key to understanding the culture of keeping silent, denying or justifying the crimes of members of his people. This is a convenient answer to the question of how an acquaintance, who would not step on an ant and is otherwise a good man, relativizes crimes, even fascist ones.

The goal “is not to turn history upside down and rehabilitate fascism. It is important to maintain an unblemished image of one’s own family. If something bad happened, then only because the occupiers wanted it; our people participated only for tactical reasons, out of naivety, fear, perhaps out of weakness. “

These lines are universally applicable to “Croats who claim that Jasenovac was a summer resident, Poles who forbid the law to talk about collaborators, Serbs who find excuses for Ratko Mladic or Kosovo Albanians who deny the possibility that the KLA committed crimes.”

On the other hand, one’s own family, which, as we have seen, is always passive, always an object of history, is ideal for the victim. The bigger the crime, the better. “For nationalists, the story of genocide is important: a nation that was a victim of genocide makes its survivors, in their own belief, always right.” They see in the verdict of the international judiciary a special position that should spare them from facing their own role in the war.

Attempts to change the notion of the national either failed ingloriously or were not serious. Mapes-Nidik reminds that the modern father of the Croatian nation, Franjo Tudjman, before the great persecution of Serbs, mentioned that the two nations, when they settle accounts and each is on its own, will be able to build a historical friendship based on the French and Germans after the Second War. “Instead, hatred towards Serbs developed in the absence of Serbs.”

With this book, as we said, Mapes-Nidik took a big bite, but he still chewed it well. “The divided sky of Europe” is still more intended for Westerners – maybe that’s why the author is sharper and more cynical towards them.

The West sees itself as the selfless bee without whose work the East would resemble Chernobyl. In the East, they do not see moral cover for such a Western future. If the author’s assessment is to be believed, a new phase is underway in which Westerners feel that their reason is being insulted, and Easterners are offended by pride.



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