24 august 2012 in Crimea as part of the final of Studrespublika-2012 with a discussion-seminar “European Ukraine – a to be realised dream” spoke Dr Leopold Specht (Austrian Republic), Member of Academic CouncilInstitute for Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School. Post thesis.
“Europe” has become a short hand expression for the European Union. This is unfortunate. On the one hand, it eliminates important expressions of European culture from the European koine. The plurality of cultures and traditions which form the Ukraine of today are but one example. And, it reduces the plurality of social, economic and political experiences, within a European history, to one model of social, economic and political development. Both result in devastating consequences, as can be seen from reading newspapers about Greece, Spain and – more important for people in the Ukraine – about the Eastern periphery of the EU.
The reduction of “Europe” to the monolithic policies of social and economic development of the EU is a center piece of official Ukrainian proclamations since the beginning of this century, independent of the ruling coalitions in Kiev. Ukrainian elites have learned to borrow a discourse about EU enlargement – previously applied to the cases of other East European countries – to legitimize their dominating positions within the country. And they have done so to also describe the – alleged – lack of space for their own initiatives. Presumably, there is a path of modernization, of European development, as institutionalized in the EU. Such path is described as without alternatives. The Ukraine, hegemonic wisdom goes, must follow such path. Otherwise it will not succeed to become part of Europe, epitomized in EU membership.
This position, prevailing amongst Ukrainian elites, is misleading on many levels.
First, there is no realistic path to EU membership of the Ukraine in the immediate future. Romantics within the European Parliament may describe a membership of the Ukraine as a long term development. It is not grounded within the current potential of the Union. Therefore, this position of romantics borders on the cynical.
Second, the legitimation of institutional arrangements of the EU are currently undergoing dramatic changes. The interventions to solving the financial crisis of member states of the EU, culminating in the so called “European Stabilization Mechanism” (ESM), are resulting in a state within (the member) states. The hegemonic legitimation of such interventions advances the idea of a government of elites, narrowly defined as “experts” of finance and economics, which is not any longer bound by democratic legitimation. According to this vision of government, “markets” should not be subject to political control shaped in democratic processes. Instead, in the words of Ms Merkel, democracy must accommodate markets.
The battle cry for democracy, for two decades key to the enthusiasm of a Ukrainian middle class when pinning it hopes to the colors of the EU, has lost its voice. More importantly, scarce resources of the EU will not allow for spreading material possibilities to a country as large and as complex as the Ukraine.
Third, the EU has made its essence – which consists of austerity for a majority of people – overt. The bail out of financial institutions is paid for by dismantling the welfare, cutting back on health, education pensions. Despite high unemployment in many member states is the EU commission advocating extensions of working time instead of better distributing work which actually exists.
The symbols of welfare, the images most attractive to people outside the EU when seeking to come under its umbrella, are turning pale. Ukrainian elites would not gain additional legitimation and ordinary people will not see their potential of participation increase.
All this might be precarious from the point of view of a political folklore which has taken roots in hegemonic discourses, in the Ukraine. It is, however, good news from the point of view of the Ukraine developing its own model of prosperity. And, as such, it might contribute to the search for alternatives to the institutional arrangements – prevailing in the EU – which are at the roots and have been the cause of the crisis which is going to be a long one because it is deep without precedents.