The Springtime of our discontent?

June 13, 2010

By Leonidas Donskis
The springtime of our discontent includes not only a profound economic crisis in Greece, which threatens to develop into a chain reaction creating a domino effect and affecting the next stops, namely, Portugal and Spain. Perhaps, for the first time over the past decade, a shadow of uncertainty hangs over the future of the EU.

Let us put aside almost banal temptations to engage in a long debate on whether it was fair to dismiss Lithuania’s candidacy to the eurozone, several years ago, because of what appears now to have been just a miserable and marginal gap between the standard set by the EU and the country’s economic performance. Suffice it to compare this story to the economic performance of Greece, and to the degree of irresponsibility recently shown by its political elite to arrive at the conclusion that the denial of Lithuania’s application on the grounds of its alleged failure to meet the qualifications of the eurozone is the best proof of the EU double standards and unfairness.

In fact, this point is not my wish to add insult to injury; it was discussed recently by my Estonian and Slovenian colleagues in the third largest political group of the European Parliament, ALDE-Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Whatever the case, this is not the main point that I would like to make here. It is possible that Estonia’s accession to the eurozone is a symbolic victory of the entire Baltic region, worthwhile of praise and celebration.

We have other threats to the stability and solidarity of the EU. The greatest one, in my view, is the misperception of social and political reality. Immediately after the election of Viktor Yanukovych as the new president of Ukraine, we witnessed a deja vu picture of an East European country caught between its past and future. The decisively important country, Ukraine, found itself at a crossroads of its crucial political choices that will determine the future of the entire region, including Russia itself.

This time it is barely that same story of a small unfamiliar country, which is in the middle of nowhere and which evokes merely geographic and historical curiosity of Western Europeans. What is happening in Ukraine now is about a grim backlash and a swift sliding of the huge country, whose relationship to the EU is critical for the independence and well-being of the Baltic States, into the grey zone of Russia’s geopolitical games and manipulations.

By refusing to regard the Holodomor as the genocide of the Ukrainian people and as a crime against humanity, Yanukovych sent a clear signal to Russia that his new interpretation of history is on Russia’s side. In doing so, and also in rewriting history textbooks for Ukrainian high schools, he and his establishment legitimize Russia’s strategic attempt to regain domination and influence over the former republics of the Soviet Union, and to deprive them of their possible leaning towards the EU and NATO. Gas for independence, that is, the stable supply of gas at reasonable prices for the refusal of striving for one’s membership in the EU and NATO, becomes a new devilish stratagem of Putin’s Russia, with an undecipherable role conferred for Medvedev.

The EU did not react to the absorption of a quite large and important country with incredible speed, the country whose joining the EU and NATO may have substantially affected the future of the entire continent. More than that, Ukraine would have substantially strengthened NATO, setting a crucial example for Russia, as if to say that the story of animosity, not to say civilizational rivalry, between Russia, or Eastern Europe, and Western Europe is over.

Yet the EU chose to leave Ukraine to its own devices, not to irritate Gazprom and Russia. Europe betrayed Ukraine in a silent and banal fashion, thus allowing Russia to split the old and the new members of the EU, and to impose on us the logic of bilateral relations with Russia based on “sheer pragmatism.” Who on Earth can now take seriously our regrettable lip service on European solidarity after this knife plunged in the back of Ukraine? If this act of treachery and indifference is not the abandonment of the EU Eastern neighborhood policy, what is it then?

Last but not least, let us take the Mistral deal between France and Russia, eagerly followed by other NATO countries that are desperately trying to sell to Russia as much strategic weaponry as possible. If NATO members can sell the most advanced weaponry to third countries - in this case, to the state which recently held some of NATO’s members occupied and annexed - with such an ease and even without consulting each other, not to mention the slightest reaction to the new existential threats posed to the Baltic States, i.e., partners of that same security system and members of that same club, aren’t we witnessing the beginning of the demise of NATO?

For the first time in its recent history, Russia changed its armament paradigm. Having long been a self-sufficient state on security and armament, Russia started buying strategic armament from Israel and NATO members. It would be unpardonable of us to ignore this fact. Especially for those who know quite well that a failure, or a refusal, to critically assess one’s difficult and criminal past is nothing other than a license to repeat it, albeit in a different form.

Does this all mean that Vladimir Lenin’s famous metaphor of the rope, which the greedy and stupid bourgeoisie of the West, according to him, will unavoidably craft for Soviet Russia only to be hanged by the Bolsheviks in due course, was a prophetic one?
The springtime of our discontent allows us to think about it.          

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.

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