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Krastev revisited his theory of the imitation imperative in a essay co-authored with the legal scholar Stephen Holmes. The two start from the assumption that the current rejection of liberal democracy in numerous EU countries has less to do with ideology than collective psychology. The East—West opposition is no longer explained in terms of differing political doctrines, but of the dynamics of emotion, with national pride taking centre stage.
Pride is the basis of national self-esteem; any violation of this pride is experienced as a form of humiliation.
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Now, it is a question of the humiliation of groups, of entire societies and nations. The western way of life that in Poland and Hungary was until recently seen as a vision of a better future, now meets resistance, defiance and open hostility. In order to explain the abrupt transformation of the East from eager Europhiles to militant Eurosceptics, Krastev and Holmes shift their analysis to the unspoken, focusing on elementary feelings such as aversion, animosity and resentment.
The post-socialist nations, they remind us, suffer from an acute lack of recognition. Having been denied any national pride during the Soviet era, they were still not free after , but were instead expected to become like the liberal West. Under this moral and political paternalism, one particular desire became increasingly urgent: to be what you are but have never been allowed to be, namely a homogenous nation state and an illiberal society in a closed territory.
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Holmes and Krastev do not believe this to be the best form of statehood for the post-communist countries. They do, however, construct a narrative of Europe in which this was the only course available after This article is part of a discussion between scholars, journalists, experts and witnesses, debating what if left from the promises of , and who can claim ownership over those remains.
Aleida Assmann criticizes their analysis , citing the dissident intellectual heritage of the region. The two faces of European disillusionment. The end of the liberal world as we know it? Wests, East-Wests, and divides. I argue that this construction of history is fatalistic. We do not have to tell the story of the European Union in the way they do; we can also tell a different story, in which this negative teleology intersects with alternative possibilities and perspectives.
Only then can we extricate ourselves from the favourite mindset of many male intellectuals: one of gloomy prognosis, twilight, decline, and apocalypse. Copy the West! If this edict really has caused so much resentment and humiliation, then it needs to be examined more closely. To start with, it is surprising that Krastev and Holmes place so much emphasis on the concept of the West. The West had its heyday as a normative rallying cry during the Cold War, when it was held up in opposition to the East. Like Nato, the West was defined in transatlantic terms and included the United States.
This was a generation that in the s attended universities that had banished the West from their curricula. Western culture and enlightenment values were replaced by a focus on multiculturalism and a commitment to human rights that no longer required a detour via Europe. The idea of the compact West, celebrated during the heyday of modernisation theory, no longer holds sway on either side of the Atlantic. So why now declare it to be a norm? This ambiguity might of course be deliberate. In any event, the resuscitation of the concept is destructive, because it obscures something that we urgently need today: a more precise memory of European history, as a way of dealing with the current crisis.
If we free ourselves from old polemics and look more closely at the post-war history of Europe, we see not only a steadily deepening rift between East and West, but also an astonishing set of interconnections. Holmes and Krastev make no mention of human rights as a key driving force in the history of the European Union, for example.
They are completely on-trend here. Human rights are not considered sexy. However, the argument about the imitation imperative appears in a very different light if we recall an episode from EU history that Krastev and Holmes completely ignore. Human rights do not have an uninterrupted history. Anything but a historical constant, human rights have consistently had to be rediscovered and re-contested under new political circumstances. Cassin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Few people noticed this in Germany, because human rights had again slipped off the agenda.
The student movement had other concerns, including the global class struggle against capitalism and imperialism. But things were very different in the Warsaw Pact countries. In March , Polish intellectuals around Adam Michnik organised student protests and until regularly spent time in prison. In Prague in January , Jan Palach immolated himself in a protest at the Soviet occupation of his country.
In August , the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki signed a Final Act guaranteeing the Eastern Bloc countries new forms of cooperation, including recognition of frontiers and mutual non-intervention. In return, the Eastern Bloc countries undertook to uphold human rights. Man carrying axe on Stoke Bridge tasered by police.
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