PANEL DISCUSSION 2023
WILL CENTRAL EUROPE BE A COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS OR A
GERMAN SPHERE OF INFLUENCE?
Thank you. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak twice from this stage.
I hope that I am not going to repeat myself too much. I'll speak now about Central Europe as a cultural community. Culture means knowledge and means education and, in a way, also economy depends on education and knowledge and if we can combine the two, I think that we can achieve results.
Most authors – starting with Kundera whom I had mentioned yesterday, who wrote about Central Europe and Mitteleuropa, Intermariumand we heard about Trimariumtoday (this is a collection of European states located in the Adriatic, Baltic, and Black Sea basins) more or less agree that their subject matter is a cultural community. The area was defined as "sandwiched between Russia and Germany",or as"a grain of sand thrown into the gears of the political machinations of the Great Powers whose interference created a plethora of weak political entities whose fates are decided in foreign capitals." That was a quotation.
The strategic characteristic of this cultural community should be spiritual-mental capital, multiplicity, diversity, polycentricity, pluralism and tolerance. In a way, a characteristic once – I hope I shall not offend anyone –wittily attributed to Austria-Hungary: Gemütlichkeit und Schlamperei. When I speak about cultural cooperation in this cultural community, I am actually not speaking about a plan or program, but about the manifest or at least latent essence of the Central European life. Of course, cultural cooperation between – let us say – Ljubljana and Prague or Budapest and Warsaw or within the organisations such as Trimarium or Visegrad should be encouraged, but the main task should be removing obstacles.For example: the railway and air connections between our countries, between our centres are in bad shape. I can swear this goes for Slovenia. Perhaps there are other problems as well. I do complain about Slovenia, but I've heard complaints from other places about the same problem.
The question is, what is left, or what has come instead of culture that Kundera has defined as or judicated that it was bowed out. He says: "Culture has bowed out." So we are in a situation that Kundera in 1984 defines as a culture having tendency of removing itself of being removed. The question is, what is left if this is the case, or what has come instead. In my country, culture, particularly the culture of books and literary works used to live at the centre of national life. In 1875 (little time back, but we said we would appreciate history anyway) a Slovenian writer (Josip Jurčič) wrote: "We cannot work in politics, so, let us work where we can, in the field of literature!" Slovenian writers, many of them endowed with charisma, performed a number of roles that in more advanced countries were performed – for example – by political leaders, diplomats, historians etc. After independence and with democracy, Slovenian culture – to use the expression of Max Weber – became routinized. People are less and less interested in reading books. My students have explained to me that they can find everything on internet.
Culture does not necessarily mean les belles lettres or works of fiction. The literary republic– as it was once called – may have become obsolete; the literatihave become less charismatic, and their role has been taken by politicians, journalists, and businessmen. Hopefully, the culture of everyday life, let us call it cultural or national identity, in our case the Central-European identity, has not become obsolete. Classical art and culture, facts of national history, cultural and mental patterns, language, moral values… do not necessarily – except by political diktat or neglect – become obsolete. Classical music – let me use another quotation – is not replaced by modern music, as old cars are replaced by modern ones.
Of course, culture (cultural cooperation, interaction, communication…) should be encouraged. For this purpose, we need promotion and research institutions. If possible, they should be associated with the Governments (Ministries for Foreign Affairs, Ministries of Culture possibly…) and universities of the Central-Europeanand/or Three Seas Initiative(TSI) region. I mean institutes (think-tanks, research centres), university departments for Central-European and "Trimarium" studies… Primarily we should concentrate on publishing (publishers) and translation. A Central European and Trimarium Initiative foreign policy review published in all Central European languages would be necessary to analyse the developments in and around the European Union. We could help to organise Central European and Three Seas Initiative conferences, art festivals, exhibitions, presentations of Central European achievements, etc.
Central-European people of culture, artists, for instance, share Central European values, but by definition develop them in individual ways and directions. But common traits can be easily recognised, take Kafka! The publics in Central Europe generally sympathize with Central European culture, not necessarily their own national culture. Slovenian public (readers, audiences, visitors…) still love Czech or Polish authors, Havel, Dvořák, Smetana, Chopin, Conrad, Czesław Miłosz, Polanski… I presume that the readers in Prague or Warsaw are interested in Plečnik (Slovenian architect) and Slavoj Žižek (Slovenian philosopher); and I believe that Polish, Hungarian or Czech writers admire Serbian and Croatian authors like Ivo Andrić and Miroslav Krleža.
Regardless of libraries, regardless of museums and encyclopaedias, Central European culture has to be recognised in a natural, spontaneous, and easy way – developing into an everyday life experience. To achieve that, Central European culture has to be advertised and organised. To be present and influential, it needs institutions.
Let me at this point to be a little bit – how should I say – polemical or critical. I have heard during this morning some suggestions, some remarks that contradict whatever I ascribe to Central European mentality. I am referring to statements about Ukraine, about the idea of "land for peace" and about Minsk being sort of disregarded by Ukrainians and so on. I don't think this can be true. I think that Ukraine has the same right and is confronted with the same problems as Czechoslovakia has been in 1938. I think that Ukraine has the same rights as Czechoslovakia had in 1938. And the right to self-determination was at that time and is today in Ukraine being disregarded. I think it is a huge problem. Of course, it is a huge problem because many Central and Eastern European countries – I hate to nominate any – are openly or relatively pro-Russian, seeing such a stance as providing balance against Brussels imposition of its normative framework. Maybe we can reserve some time for discussion about Ukraine for some later opportunity.
How does the project – politically, economically, or militarily – the project of Central European culture – relate to the European Union? All the potential Intermarium members are either EU member states or, in the case of Ukraine and of some countries in the Western Balkans, hope to become so in the near future. In that case, is Intermarium setting itself up as an alternative to the EU – although none of these countries are keen to leave the European Union – or a simple regional initiative inside the EU – in which case it should be negotiated with Brussels – or a will to transform the EU from the inside?
There is the American ambiguous relationship to Europe. On one hand, there is the hope of shifting Europe's gravity centre from the Paris-Berlin axis to Central Europe, with Warsaw at the vanguard. Growing dissensions between the Paris-Berlin axis and the Central/Eastern European countries, both in terms of EU domestic politics and foreign policy stances, are supported by Washington to pursue Russia's isolation as well as to avoid Europe taking distance from transatlantic paradigm for its security and defence policy.
In addition to highlighting the negative connotations of Mitteleuropa, writers soon began to make a definite distinction between it and Central Europe. Mitteleuropa on one hand, Central Europe on the other. Several writers questioned whether German influence would simply replace the receding Soviet Empire and attached those fears to the recently revived idea of Mitteleuropa.
I should mention at the conclusion of this contribution Jacques Rupnik – many of us know him even personally. He's been one of the, I would say, prophets of Central Europe. He published an article in a special issue of Daedalus (it's a review, a journal) questioning whether the end of Soviet domination meant a return of Central Europe or Mitteleuropa. For Rupnik, the distinction was a critical one. The end of the Yalta system implies the systematic decay of two alliances and the overcoming of the partition of Europe and Germany. But it leaves open the question of what is to come in its stead: a new Central Europe as a community of nations between Germany and Russia or a new version of Mitteleuropa as a German sphere of influence?
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, if Mitteleuropa, like the idea of Central Europe, had represented a neutral, pacifist concept during much of the 1980s, its emphasis quickly shifted toward its earlier associations with German imperialism. Much of Rupnik's unease rested upon two major themes of German involvement in Central Europe. This is a quotation: "a long history of interaction and the tendency to seek hegemony."