European dis-Union: lessons of the Soviet collapse

In 1992, the world woke up to find that the Soviet Union was no longer on the map. One of world’s two superpowers had collapsed without a war, alien invasion or any other catastrophe. And it happened against all expectations. True, there was strong evidence to suggest that the Soviet system had been in irreversible decline since the 1970s, but this was anticipated to unfold over decades; nothing preordained its collapse as the climax of a “short 20th century”. In 1985, 1986 and even in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as inconceivable to contemporary analysts as the prospect of the European Union’s disintegration is to experts today. The Soviet empire was too big to fail, too stable to collapse, had survived too much turbulence simply to implode. But what a difference a decade can make! An outcome that was perceived as unthinkable in 1985 was declared inevitable in 1995. And it is exactly this twist of fate, this leap from “unthinkable” to the “inevitable” that makes the Soviet disintegration experience a useful reference-point in current discussions on the future of the European crisis and the choices that European leaders face. After all, EU’s present crisis has powerfully demonstrated that the risk of the disintegration of the EU is much more than a rhetorical device, a toy monster used by scared politicians to enforce austerity on unhappy voters. It is not only European economies but European politics that are in turmoil. The financial crisis has sharply reduced the life-expectancy of governments, regardless of their political colour, and opened space for rise of populist and protest parties. The public mood is best described as a combination of pessimism and anger. This is reflected in most recent “future of Europe” survey, funded by the European Commission and published in April 2012. It shows that while the majority of Europeans agree that EU is a good place to live in, their confidence in the economic performance of the union and its capacity to play a major role in global politics has declined. More than six of any ten Europeans believe that the lives of today’s children will be more difficult than those of people from their own generation. Even more troubling, almost 90% of Europeans see a big gap between what the public wants and what governments do; only a third of Europeans feel that their vote counts at an EU level, and only 18% of Italians, 15% of Greeks consider their vote counts even in their own country. Against this background, how unthinkable is the EU’s disintegration? Here, Europe’s capacity to learn from the Soviet precedent could play a crucial part. For the very survival of EU may depend on its leaders’ ability to manage the same mix of political, economic and psychological factors that were in play in the process of the Soviet collapse (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to European dis-Union: lessons of the Soviet collapse

  1. Once upon a time in Europe, there was a confederation. It stretched from the Alps to the Adriatic and straddled the ancient line between Western Christendom and Byzantium. The confederation promised an eternal end to the wars that had historically bedeviled its component peoples. It built goodwill and interdependence through a common currency and free movement of labor and capital. Espousing peace, equality and human rights, the confederation offered a “third way” between the callousness of American-style capitalism and the inefficiency of central planning. It also offered an alternative power center to countries not content to choose their allies from among the United States, China and Russia. But Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991, after more than a decade of steadily escalating strife. And its downfall was accompanied by renewed ethnic warfare even bloodier than the World War II-era fighting the postwar confederation was supposed to abolish. I wouldn’t overstate the analogy between Yugoslavia and today’s troubled European Union. Yugoslav “market socialism” was more authoritarian than the social democracy of Europe. For all the talk of “brotherhood and unity” at home and “non-alignment” abroad, what really held Yugoslavia together was the iron fist of its chieftain, Josip Broz Tito, who died in 1980 and was succeeded by a succession of ineffectual, unelected bureaucrats. The end of Soviet-U.S. competition relaxed the East-West tension that had helped force the Yugoslav peoples together from the outside. But I wouldn’t understate the analogy, either. Like the European Union, Yugoslavia was constantly trying bureaucratic fixes for deep-rooted rivalries — between Albanians and Serbs, Serbs and Croatians. Leadership shuffles, duplicative institutions and constitutional rewrites papered over but never eliminated them, even though almost all Yugoslav nationalities spoke the same language. Tito used debt-fueled economic growth to buy peace; when the bills came due, fiscal austerity added yet another political irritant (…..)


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