Last week, the European Parliament Plenary Session was dominated by the rule of law situation in Romania.
After a brief analysis, if we are trying to be objective, we will conclude that, lately, a very similar situation has been repeating over and over again. The Eastern (European) nations, where fair elections led to the creation of comfortable majorities, tend to ingrain authoritarian policies instead of Western democratic customs.
I do not want to discuss the situation in Poland or Hungary, but when it comes to Romania, I can certainly state that there is a generalised confusion. Westerners live in the comfort of rigid interpretations, while Bucharest’s leaders slalom through questions by providing answers completely unrelated to the issues at stake. This is how we end up in a dialogue in void.
In any society, gathering power around a single centre is alarming. For democracy, accumulating power in the hands of just one man is a deadly threat. In Romania, this risk is greater. With less competitive economies and more fragile societies, the Eastern European countries have the tendency to avoid uncertainty and clutter by supporting strong-arm regimes. The West cannot understand this and blames the political situation in that state altogether. The long-term result is that the citizens of these countries tend to agree more with the local authority (even though it is obvious that it belongs to controversial politicians), rather than with the formal and blunt criticisms of the West.
The Western attitude, repeated this way, will only widen the cleave between East and West. The general criticism against the “situation” in a certain country paradoxically generates feelings of pride and identity of which those in power undeservedly profit.
This “Eastern” criticism of the Western attitude does not mean its rejection! Eastern Europe needs the EU more than the West does. Ultimately, the post-War West has become what it is today without the East. More so, today’s West has its own, rather complicated, problems.
Many commentators have the tendency to globalise the causes, evolutions, and effects of the identity segregation phenomena that we witness today. Indeed, it is very facile to conclude that Brexit, Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, and the constant ascension of extreme and populist parties in the West are all correlated with the crystallszation of “illiberal” regimes in Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless, even though the context of all these phenomena is global, the profound causes are different. The crisis of the West is generated by its incapacity to imagine its own future in an increasingly fast-paced world. Hence, it attempts to go back to economic and/or political formulae that used to work in the past. For Eastern Europe, however, the future is relatively simple: it is imagined as what people in the Wester see as their current state. On the other hand, the crises and frustrations in the societies of Eastern Europe stem from their incapacity to decide what to do with their own past.
Shortly, both the rich and the poor cry, but for different reasons!
What should be done? Eastern Europeans are still very far from the Western way of thinking. Effort and willingness from both sides is needed in order to decrease the distance.
Of course, democratic forces and civil society in Eastern Europe have to continue to push for the democratisation of the society. On the other hand, however, I believe that those who are responsible in the West have to give the East more attention and offer it more economic opportunities. This is what Eastern European need in order to truly live with the advantages of democracy and rule-of-law.
Alternatively, on the other side of the coin: can the Eastern Europeans help their Westerner counterparts? My answer is, “Yes”. This answer is based on a psychological consideration that when you know that you are backed by people who trust you and will follow you, then you – the one in the leadership position – have the courage and determination to go forward.