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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Making Barbecue in the European Garden

Mykola Riabchuk

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1Ten years ago, The Atlantic Monthly featured Matthew Connely’s and Paul Kennedy’s article “Must It Be the West against the Rest?” with a provocative picture on its cover. A white middle-class American was grilling a barbecue in his backyard while hundreds of colored people of all races watched silently from behind the fence.

2The metaphor seems to be highly topical. No contemporary discussion of the future of Europe, of the U.S., of the world, can ignore the profound West/Rest divide that threatens to become even deeper, harsher and more irreconcilable. One need not be a committed Marxist to appreciate Wallerstein’s idea of “world-economy” as a highly hierarchical system where the developed “core” nations (the “West”) have historically established dominance over the “periphery” and “semi-periphery” (the “Rest”), and where no “peripheral” or “semi-peripheral” nation can get into the “core” without the core nations’ support and consent.

3Such a view, however discredited by Leninist revolutionaries and anti-globalist zealots, and even more compromised by the corrupted, incompetent and repressive “peripheral” regimes, is largely accepted by those intellectuals who bother to think about global problems. Yet, at the same time, the view seems to be unacceptable for the majority of the common people in the West—not only because of the discrediting and compromising factors mentioned above, and not only due to the apparent absence of any feasible solution. It might be psychologically uncomfortable to recognize that the well-being of the West is largely based on the poverty of the rest; that the so called “free market” favors the stronger player who is in position to establish (and change if necessary) the rules of game, and that the popular liberal mantra of free movement of goods, services, and capitals—without free movement of the labor force—is merely a Western hypocrisy.

4Any talks on the future of Europe, therefore, should be placed in a global context. It cannot be ignored—with all its profound divisions and controversies. The Europe Paper marks a rather uneasy path between the Scylla of political expedience and the Charybdis of political correctness. The middle way seems to be simple. The paper asserts that “economic integration … as a basis of the European peaceful order” is not sufficient today. It requires political integration, based on common values and institutions. Such an integration can be facilitated by a common European culture. The process would ultimately be beneficial not only for Europeans but for the whole world: “To the extent that Europe acknowledges the values inherent in the rules that constitute European identity, those very same values will make it impossible for Europeans not to acknowledge their duty of solidarity toward non-Europeans.”

5These nice words and intentions can hardly be denied, even though the next sentence presents a possible (and rather typical) loophole for many Western commitments and declarations: “This globally defined solidarity imposes on Europe an obligation to contribute, in accordance with its ability, to the securing of world peace and the fight against poverty.” (italics mine—M. R.) Double standards that dramatically undermine not just Western impartiality and credibility, but Western values in general, can be easily justified by the notion of “ability.” Thus, the genocide in Chechnya, unlike that in Kosovo, could be tolerated; the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan, unlike that in Belarus, could be internationally recognized; totalitarian China, unlike Cuba, should be accepted; the Russian economy, unlike its Ukrainian twin, could be given “free market” status, and so on, and so forth.

6The main problem, however, is that the paper weaves between the apparent task—to support the political integration of the EU (ostensibly represented as “Europe”) by a cultural and spiritual pillar—and the hidden desire to represent this particular goal as universal and inclusive. “Fortress Europe” is a reality that will not be dismantled in the foreseeable future, since it corresponds to how the world (i.e. the world economy) is arranged. People within the fortress will certainly benefit from the political integration, and the fortress itself will be certainly more competitive and secure against the internal and external challenges. And common culture and spirituality would indeed be of some help, both internally and externally. This does not, however, mean that—as the paper claims—a solid economy would not suffice to maintain solidarity within the fortress. The barbecue in the backyard and hungry faces behind the fence may facilitate social cohesion and the solidarity of barbecue-makers pretty well. Of course, a competent politics is also desirable to make the backyard more secure; and a good culture would undoubtedly improve the internal climate, as well as international public relations.

7But the entire story seems to be primarily about the barbecue in a cozy garden and throngs of aliens forcing their way in. At least, this is how the majority of outsiders would interpret the ambiguous notion of “European solidarity”: “This solidarity must be stronger than the universal solidarity, that binds (or should bind) all human beings together, and that underlies the idea of humanitarian aid.” Eurocentrism looms large in the paper and, perhaps, there is nothing wrong with that—as long as we recognize that all peoples are equal, but values are not.

8But again, the paper seems rather ambiguous in these terms. On the one hand, it pretends to deny anything like a “catalogue of European values,” stating “there is no essence of Europe, no fixed list of European values.” On the other hand, it continues to emphasize the importance of the values that European civilization is based upon, and clearly states: “To lay claim to a common European culture and history as the basis of political identity, European political institutions must live up to the expectations engendered by the European cultural tradition.” The latter, apparently, not the former, is an unambiguous message for outsiders and an important prerequisite to European openness. Everybody who wants to slip from the (semi-) periphery to the core must accept this precondition as compulsory, albeit not sufficient. A part of the former Communist East (but not the whole, as the paper suggests) had accepted the rules and been rewarded. Perhaps someone else will succeed as well.

9Indeed, fortress Europe is terrible, but it is still the best, the most attractive, the most comfortable fortress on earth. One might not be happy with Wallerstein’s world economy but no one can change it from outside, if at all. No outsiders’ complaints would be heard inside or, if heard, taken seriously. All these complaints are a priori compromised as the laments of lazy bones, failures, or crazy leftists. Sometimes, or perhaps often, this is true. But the West/Rest problem exists, and any attempt to cushion it or, at least, facilitate cushioning— as the Europe Paper does—should be appreciated.


Mykola Riabchuk is a Ukrainian writer and journalist living in Kiev, co-founder and co-editor of the Kiev-based Krytyka monthly. In 2001, he was a Milena List of Contributors 191 Jesenska Fellow at IWM. Author of Two Ukraines: Real Boundaries, Virtual Wars, Kiev, 2003 (in Ukrainian).

Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont sous Licence OpenEdition Books, sauf mention contraire.


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