Keynote: Eastern Europe as “New Old Environment” - Wolfgang ...

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Keynote: Eastern Europe as “New Old Environment” - Wolfgang ...

Keynote:Eastern Europe as “NewOld Environment”Wolfgang PetritschAustrian Ambassador to the United Nations Office, Geneva, Switzerlandand former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (1999-2002)I am honoured to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished group of experts,researchers and practitioners alike, who, according to IAPS’ Mission Statement are in thebusiness of facilitating “communication among those concerned with relationships betweenpeople and their physical environment.” Your invitation, however, presented mewith something of a dilemma: as I am an expert in neither physical nor environmentalmatters, I wanted both to clearly understand these terms and to respond to you in substanceon matters related to my expertise. My questions included, what does environment,more specifically “physical environment,” mean in the context of this gathering?And what could I as a diplomat and former crisis manager in the Balkans contribute?Defining “environment”When I consulted the World Wide Web I found a long list of definitions, ranging from theobvious to the far-fetched. You might be interested to know, for example, that:• in biology, environment means everything that may directly affect the metabolismor behaviour of a living organism or species, including light, air, water, soil;• in architecture, ergonomics, and work safety, it is – according to my wwwencyclopaedia – the ensemble of elements of a room or building that affect thewell-being and efficiency of its occupants;• in computer sciences, it generally means data, processes or devices, although not


10 W. Petritschexplicitly named as parameters of a computation, which may nevertheless affectits result;• in a non-technical, non-science context, such as politics – it also has a meaning.There it refers to the natural environment, that part of the natural world deemedvaluable or important by human beings – for whatever reason. It is in this sense,where I may be able to make the most sense.When the organizers of this congress invited me for this keynote, they did not expectme to talk about the physical environment in the way you deal with this issue. Where theymay have thought I can “add value” is by addressing the “political environment,” if youwill, in Eastern Europe – and the fundamental changes triggered by the end of the East-West conflict, the implosion of one hemispheric power, the end of the bi-polar world andthe ensuing re-unification of Europe.East versus WestIf you think that the term “environment” is far from exact, wait until you hear about thevexing definitions and meanings of the term “Eastern Europe,” where geography andprejudice happily mix. Until 1989, the beginning of the end of the cold war, the terms“East” and “West” seemed to refer to clearly defined separate entities, invariably referredto as “blocs”. It was communist dictatorship “there” and liberal democracy “here”; theindividual versus the collective – with the concept of freedom and social responsibilitytaking centre stage. A Manichean world-view, rooted in the reality of a Europe still at warwith itself – albeit mostly a cold one. This was the defining feature of what was back thencalled the East-West conflict.The perception of Eastern Europe as the “negative other,” to borrow a phrase frompsychology, was greatly exacerbated and compounded by the political, military and ideologicaldominance of the region by the Soviet Union. This strict dualism of two “blocs”clearly missed the complexities and built-in contradictions of Eastern Europe. The “real”and, consequently far more complex and diverse environment of the peoples of EasternEurope living in their “bloc,” seemed somehow oddly excluded from this view.Take the case of Yugoslavia – Tito’s multi-ethnic yet Slav-dominated state, or that ofAlbania under its particularly xenophobic dictatorship, take Romania’s version of national-communism,or Hungary’s “goulash communism”. Most of these east-bloc countrieshad their own versions of widely varying brands of more or less oppressive governance.In the West these differences were often ignored or, at best, used for their tacticalvalue in efforts to weaken overall Soviet influence. For many in the West, they weresimply all the same, but above all they were all “East”. This construction of “the other” isa constant feature of European politics and culture – in a way it is an apt illustration ofwhat Samuel Huntington so wrongly termed the “clash of civilisations”.The invention of the EastA brief look into the origins of the term “Eastern Europe” is indeed instructive. Theexpression “Eastern Europe,” if not the concept, is of fairly recent coinage. Historically,


Keynote: Eastern Europe as “New Old Environment” 11Europe was divided on a North-South axis, with the southern, Mediterranean states andthe northern Atlantic and Scandinavian/Baltic states as the main actors in European history.The term “Eastern Europe” first arose in the 18th or rather 19th century. It was usedeven then to describe a region that has fallen behind the rest of Europe economically andsocially. Also, it was seen as a region where autocratic governments, serfdom and theoppressive rule of might persisted, long after those concepts had faded away or wereeliminated by popular force in the West. Enlightenment and bourgeois revolutions didnot, except in small doses, reach these parts of our continent.To be sure, borders were porous even then when it came to the flow of new politicalconcepts and philosophical ideas. Thus, not all of Eastern Europe – particularly not thecities – fit this stereotype of backwardness. Here the concept of Central Europe – in itsspecific iteration as “Mitteleuropa” – comes in – as Milan Kundera, Vaclav Havel, GyörgyKonrad, Andrzej Stasiuk and Erhard Busek have envisioned it. If you do not want to becalled “East” but are geographically and culturally not fully “west” – like Austria and itsneighbours to the east, north and south – then why not settle for “central”. To be in themiddle made good sense, particularly during the cold war.Centre and diversityThe enlargement of the European Union in May 2004 will undoubtedly strengthen thenotion of a culturally determined “geopolitical centre” of Europe, including those partsof the continent, that as recently as the Second World War were indeed “central” to theevolution of modern Europe. Let me be clear: This latest enlargement of the EuropeanUnion – misleadingly called “eastward expansion” (“East” again) – will fundamentallyaffect the mental map of Europe.Some euro-optimists even suggest that “East” and “West” will never be the sameagain. Whether this will indeed be the case, remains to be seen. However, this enlargementmay well succeed in rearranging the continent, reinstating the centre to its rightfulhistoric relevance. No small thing after the long and bloody era of European civilwars.There is yet another side to it: This latest enlargement of the European Union to 25countries with a population of more than 450 million further enhances the Union’s diversityof languages, cultures and ethnicities. Diversity as the main feature of the integratingEurope has been strengthened. Will this reinvigorate the drive towards more unity aswell?For the first time in modern Europe the Slavic element, an integral part of Europeanhistory, is included in the ongoing process of forging a continent at peace with itself. Callit “old,” call it “new” – Europe is producing a real transformation of its historically embattledterritory. The at times shallow slogan of “diversity in unity” has gained new resonance.Talking about “old” and “new”, much of Europe has ties to both the East and theWest. While all of the countries were influenced, even formed, by Judeo-Christian traditions,many countries in the region that we call Eastern Europe, also maintained relationswith neighbours further east and south-east, stretching as far as into the wider MiddleEast and Central Asia. The Mongols in Russia, to name a not so obvious example, theOttoman Empire and Islam in Southeast Europe and Spain, were forceful and at timesproductive influences on the European landscape.


12 W. PetritschTurkey as “new old East”Let’s take the example of modern Turkey. By the end of this year under the leadership ofthe Dutch EU-Presidency the 25 will decide on Ankara’s application for membership. Tobe more precise, European leaders will have to set a date for the commencement of negotiationsabout Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The “oriental question” –“orient”being the expression for “East” in a bygone era – pops up with renewed vigour.Geography is destiny, indeed … and material for a heated and controversial discussionabout the outer borders of Europe, about how, literally, to define Europe.Where does Europe end? In Cyprus and Malta to the south? Does it include Kaliningrador the Ukraine to the east and Moldova to the southeast? Or does it somehow stretch tothe borders of Iraq, Iran and the restless Caucasus region? I am afraid we have to admitthat there are no easy and ready-made answers. Ultimately, Europe simply defies anygeographic definition.Let’s continue with the Turkish example: Considerable stretches of Europe were once– not so long ago – dominated by the Turkish-Ottoman Empire. The remnants of thismagnificent empire are still visible and occasionally alive in Bosnia and in some of itsneighbouring territories of ex-Yugoslavia, as well as in Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.Today’s Turkey is – since the times of the Atatürk revolution – in many ways a successfulexample of a secular Muslim society – albeit with its military leadership still wieldingconsiderable influence on political matters. Not to be forgotten, Turkey is already in theWestern security camp as a member of NATO. In short, Turkey is an important strategicand political European ally in the volatile borderlands of the Middle East. Thus the decisionof the European leaders this coming December is arguably the most daunting challengeever faced by the Union. It will, in all likelihood, determine the future shape andinstitutional make-up of the Union. At the same time, it will further challenge the elusiveconcept of “European identity” at a time when this enlarged Europe is much less sure ofitself than at the end of the Cold War, some fifteen years ago.Europe – a western identity?The original vision of Europe as a model of modernity, democracy and reconciliation,sprang from the partnership between France and Germany, successfully expanding in thecourse of thirty years to the southern, northern and central parts of the continent. Today,this vision of a “western” united Europe is undergoing a dramatic make-over. In theprocess, this breeds uncertainty, since it goes to the heart of our identity debate.“Is Europe about the value of geography or about the geography of values?” asks DominiqueMoisi, the eminent French scholar of international relations (International HeraldTribune, 2004-04-30). This latest expansion of the European Union already poses challengesof an unprecedented nature. Economic realities and the sheer scale of this politicallydriven enlargement by themselves are the source of great challenges and opportunities.Let’s not forget: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War thepromise of membership in the European Union has been the single greatest incentive forsocietal transformation and economic reform throughout Eastern Europe.The historic re-alignment represented by this series of events has positively affectedage-old conflicts. Hungary and Romania, for example, have put longstanding territorial


Keynote: Eastern Europe as “New Old Environment” 13disputes on the back burner, and the Russian minority in Latvia has Brussels to thank forits rights. One unfortunate exception to Europe’s masterful use of its leverage is Cyprus,where Greek Cypriots are being allowed to join the Union before making peace withtheir Turkish Cypriot neighbours.These examples of European “soft power” and persuasion at work are of particularimportance and relevance for those countries still outside the Union.Encountering “Herzoslovakia”Let me thus move to geographically undisputed European territory but to a place thatover the last decade has added a sense of geopolitical urgency to the matter – the Balkans.To introduce you to the idiosyncrasies of this battered region, let me quote the celebratedmystery writer Agatha Christie, who, in her best selling novel “The Secret of Chimneys”(first published in 1925) introduces the Prime Minister of the fictitious state of“Herzoslovakia” as follows: He is – according to the novel – “(t)he greatest Statesman ofModern Times. The biggest Villain unhung. The point of view all depends on which newspaperyou take in.” The author then gives the following characterisation of “Herzoslovakia”:“It’s one of the Balkan states … Principal rivers, unknown. Principal mountains, also unknown,but fairly numerous ... Capital, Ekarest ... Population, chiefly brigands ... Hobby,assassinating Kings and having Revolutions … Altogether a very likely spot.”So much for the stereotype, a stereotype that since the 1920s has not much changed.Quite the opposite is true. The wars of the nineties on the territory of the former Yugoslaviaseemed to have confirmed and even reinforced the negative image of this part ofEurope, which is not just considered “East” – as in East bloc – but even worse.There is rarely another geographical name in Europe which over time has become thesynonym for bloody conflict, civil unrest, brutal ethnic cleansing, weak and fractiousstates, and economic backwardness as is the case with the Balkans. This image problemis, by the way, one of the greatest obstacles for swift changes. To be called “Balkans”seems to be worse than being called “East”. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia isinvariably characterized as “ethnic,” in spite of the fact, that most of its inhabitants areethnic Slavs (with the notable exception of the Albanians in Kosovo and the Hungariansin Vojvodina).If we were to identify “immutable differences” between the peoples – a rather deceptiveconcept to get at the root-causes of this conflict, I admit – if we thus look for potentialcauses of the conflicts in the Balkans, then the defining features are rather distinct,such as religious and cultural traditions in a historically non-democratic environment.(Let me hasten to add, that these distinctions are no greater in the Balkans than in manyother parts of Europe.).The former Yugoslavia was the place where the very concepts of “East” and “West”collided; where, as a consequence of bad – terribly bad – leadership, the socio-economiccrisis of modernity turned bloody. We need to recall that Yugoslavia was not the onlyformer communist country that fell apart. War thus was not unavoidable, however, andneither is it inherently “Balkan” or “Eastern” either. Think of Czechoslovakia, where a“velvet revolution” eventually led to two states – without bloodshed. The relatively peacefuldissolution of the Soviet Union is yet another case in point, demonstrating that the collapseof states does not necessarily have to lead to chaos, civil strife and war.


14 W. PetritschLessons to be learnedSince my subject is old/new Eastern Europe, permit me to focus on some lessons fromthe conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia, lessons that the international community as the principalinterventionist actor there, should take to heart.The Western Balkans – as the EU now calls the region of former Yugoslavia, minusSlovenia, plus Albania – has evolved into a laboratory for the fundamental change oftraditional foreign policy defined by the principle of state sovereignty, which is beingmorphed into something Robert Cooper calls the “post-modern state” where internationaland regional instruments, treaties, conventions gradually replace outdated balanceof-powerarrangements. A new and highly complex set of political, economic and securityinterdependence is in the making. The European Union is such a post-modern “something”.We don’t know yet, what exactly it will be in the end. We only know that it willnot be just another super nation state like the U.S. This should come as good news tothe troubled and weak states and territories of the Western Balkans. Their eventualintegration into this kind of Union will undoubtedly alleviate some of their inherentproblems.Internationally, the so-called humanitarian interventions of the nineties in the Balkans– in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999 – provide the foil of reflection, and controversy,for all the later military interventions, including those in Afghanistan and mostrecently in Iraq. There, the basic concepts of sovereignty and human rights seem to collidehead-on.It is quite remarkable that at the recently held Annual Conference of the AmericanSociety of International Law, a speaker referred to the cases of Kosovo and Iraq as “thebiggest elephants in the field”. Indeed, Kosovo 1999 was the first such case, where theInternational Community intervened militarily, without UN-authorization, based purelyon the perception of an imminent and already very real humanitarian catastrophe.Four years after the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in view of itsmuch criticized failure to stop the killing there, the international community above allfeared being accused of failing to prevent yet another genocidal massacre, this time inKosovo. “Srebrenica” – the Bosnian site of the largest mass killings in Europe after WorldWar II and the synonym for international inertia – loomed large on the horizon.Slow transformation into stabilitySince the military interventions – justified on humanitarian grounds – much has happenedin the Balkans, most of it positive. Let me remind you in this context, that afterhaving effectively prevented yet another ethnically motivated conflict in Macedonia, theoverall situation in the Balkans has moved decisively into the post-war era. To be sure, therealities on the ground still present a shaky and volatile situation for many years to come.Thus reconstruction and reconciliation of these war-torn societies, the continued assistanceof the Europeans in state and institution building (with the benevolent support ofthe US, the onetime main actor in the Balkans) will remain the key features of the Balkansfor some time to come. But the delayed transformation of the Balkans – delayed byconflict and wars – needs more time and perseverance – it needs above all a real road mapand a political commitment reminiscent of the US Marshall Plan after World War II.


Keynote: Eastern Europe as “New Old Environment” 15There are, however, no quick and easy solutions; rarely a short cut, when it comes tohealing the wounds of a war – a civil war in particular. Post-war reconstruction, thefunctioning of democratic institutions – the thorny road from communist bureaucracy toa modern civil service – the establishment of the rule of law, “human security” instead ofthe traditional military security.These challenges all afford a broad civic awareness that political accountability andinstitutional transparency are the only way to reduce inherent corruption and cronyism –the cancer in every body politic – to a bearable minimum.Even more complex: This transformation to liberal democracy cannot be successfulwithout a profound shift in human attitudes. That it can be done, was so aptly demonstratedby the new EU-members. Many of them have, within a short period of time,rendered the unproductive distinction between “East” and “West” virtually obsolete.As for the Balkans, the countries of the region preparing for accession, need to tapinto the wealth of recent practical experience gained by the new EU-members with themechanics of European integration. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro,Albania but also Kosovo can profit enormously from their neighbours’ recent Europeanendeavours. The very real contributions of the new members of the European Union to asuccessful accession of the remaining countries from ex-Yugoslavia and beyond, into this“new” Europe, not dominated by stale east-west patterns, is indispensable, indeed. I amconvinced that countries of South East Europe – including those from the former Balkansbattle grounds – have the potential to swiftly follow their northern neighbours. Bulgariaand Romania are about to finalize their accession negotiations with Brussels; Croatia, nodoubt, will follow in due course.What we need to avoid in this new Europe is the – already quite real – threat of newdivisions, along social and economic fault lines we all believe we bridged years ago.Only if this new and united Europe reinvents itself as a social union, transcending themere market logic and embracing diversity and solidarity – only then will the experimentof a whole and peaceful Europe eventually become reality.

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