Thursday, June 3, 2010

When two tribes go to (proxy) war...the EU sits back and says "Nothing to do with us guv"?

The UK scene is slightly empty and boring for me at the minute, so here instead is a piece on Central European nationalism I'm hoping to have posted up elsewhere.

When two tribes go to (proxy) war...the EU sits back and says "Nothing to do with us guv"?
This land was always ours
Was the proud land of our fathers
It belongs to us and them
Not to any of the others

"If I Should Fall from the grace of God": The Pogues

Hungary's barely one-month old government has found the time already to pass a law declaring today, the 90th anniversary of the Trianon Peace Treaty, a "national day of remembrance".

With a title ironically reminiscent of something pre-1989 Communist despots would have dreamt up, the "Law on the Day of National Cohesion" states that:
Parliament declares that "each and every member, as well as community of Hungarians brought under the authority of other states, are part of the united Hungarian nation, the cohesion of which is a reality beyond state borders, and, as such, a determining component of their personal and community-based self-identity.
I know, a text straight out of the Ethno-Nat Yearbook of 1896, but as it’s only a piece of meaningless symbolism, what’s the harm?

Hungary isn’t an island state, hoping to welcome back into the fold a diaspora flung to the four corners of the world; it exists slap right bang in the middle of Europe and that "community of Hungarians" exists not only within its present-day borders, but also consists of 2.5 million people living in seven neighbouring states (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and in terms of numbers, predominately in Romania and Slovakia).

Furthermore, the recently elected right-wing populist, Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have put the meat on the bones of that "meaningless symbolism". From the 1st January 2011, citizens of neighbouring countries who can "demonstrate Hungarian ancestry and language knowledge" and have no criminal record, will be entitled to a Hungarian passport. As the Eastern Approaches blog points out, the criteria for that passport throw up some interesting questions:
It is also odd to see ethnicity taking such precedence over more modern forms of political identity. The term "ethnic Hungarian" is convenient journalistic shorthand but a poor basis for legislation. There are people who speak excellent Hungarian but have no Hungarian ancestry, and others with pure Magyar blood (nasty term) who happen not to speak the language. It would take a new Nuremberg Law to determine exactly what level of Hungarian ancestry counts as sufficient.
Orban and his party are the wiliest form of nationalist populists and they know what may appear “odd” to a Brussels-based journalist will make perfect sense in the "Magyar Motherland" when delivered in the context of the centuries-old supposed and genuine ethnic hurts and hatreds. However, ethno-nationalism is a nil-sum game; for one *side* to win, then *the other* must lose...or at least think it has.
"Slovak nationalism is totally different, it's nation-defending. We don't want what's others'; we won't give what's ours."

Slovak National Party vice-chair Anna Belousovová
The Hungarian government's attempt to re-emphasise the existence of that "united Hungarian nation" has, of course, provoked the expected (and probably desired) reaction from several of the country’s neighbours and in particular, Slovakia. Members of the latter’s outgoing government have not been shy themselves in playing the ethno-nat/racism card, with both their Roma, as well their ethnic Magyar population and is presently in trouble with the OCSE over a State Language Act which attempts to enforce monolingualism in state buildings and education. The present Prime-Minister Robert Fico, like Orban, suffers from the Central European Big Leader Syndrome where macho language designed to appeal to the basest nationalist instinct invariably trumps over logic, compromise and commonsense:
"We’re ready for a very hard counter-strike"
As part of that counter-strike, he’s proposing, if reelected, in next week’s General Election to strip Slovakian citizenship from those who apply for the Hungarian equivalent. The whole question of dual citizenship (and the existence of a the newly elected nationalist administration south of the border) is becoming a major electoral selling point for Fico’s SMER, who are slightly presently ahead in the polls.

So, all in all not a very good advertisement for the sense of unity and togetherness that was to be supposedly engendered by New Europe being brought back into the mainstream fold in 2004. However, bearing in mind the fact that whatever happens EU passport-holders (even Hungarian ones) will continue to have the right to work and live in Slovakia, should we in the rest of the EU care?

One practical reason why we should is that from next year Hungary will assume the EU presidency and whilst this, post-Lisbon, has lost some of its significance it still won't be very good PR for the EU as a whole to have its presidency nation hurling ethno-historical insults and threats across the border at another member country.

Secondly, as the recent Greek travails have proven, a financial crisis in any part of the EU has an immediate and serious effect throughout the whole "club". The CE region as a whole, but especially Hungary and Romania, is still very shaky economically; both the IMF and the EU itself have been heavily involved in helping out with short-term loans. Reliving "national tragedies" from 90 years ago may divert the population's attention from the inevitable budgetary cuts to come, but at this particular juncture it is very dangerous tactics for the whole of Europe that these difficult decisions are being postponed.

Finally, as already mentioned, European Union enlargement in 2004 was supposed to bring about a sense of unity and solidarity in the region, an example to those other countries, especially in the Balkans, presently on the waiting list. The fact that the EU "Management" has adopted a largely "hands-off, nothing to do with us" approach on the whole topic is not a hopeful portent for the future well-being of a united and peaceful Europe.

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