Perceptions of the past in Central and South Eastern Europe in time of EU integration

As we have assisted at the 20th anniversary of the Berlin’s wall fall, media’s attention has again focused on the whole of the countries belonging to the so called former Eastern bloc. Nevertheless, despite celebrations and ad hoc speeches, the real interesting issues coming from these events have consisted of the perceptions of the past and the vision of the future of these countries.

The communist regimes have commonly been considered as equal without taking into account the differences which every country has embodied both for its cultural identity. Indeed, if we pick up two examples from this set of states, we immediately understand not only the diversity in their past history, but also the current differences.

Yugoslavia has notably been an exception among Eastern Countries. The Tito-led regime has in fact represented a peculiar communist system which has combined an internal unequivocal socialist organisation with a foreign policy which has allowed the former Yugoslavia to gain some valuable advantages. Apart from receiving non ignorable financial aids both from the East and the West, allowing small private-owned proprieties and granting an enviable quality of life in comparison, for example, to Russia, the former Yugoslavia has been able to hold a record which is nearly difficult to believe: the best document of travel in the world from the 50s to the year1990, the so called Red Passport. The Yugoslavian passport has allowed its owners to travel without visa nearly to every country all over the world including the US and excluding Greece, Portugal, Spain (as they have been under right-winged dictatorship) and Russia for the underneath-mentioned reasons). If we sum these facts with the gloomy and tragic events of the 90s, it is not difficult to realise why the debate on the communist era has been overcame by the ethnic basedtension, thus it not been so harsh as it has occured in Central Eastern Countries and particularly in Poland and Czech Republic.

In fact, among those latter, the communist system is not only associated to a period of lack of political and economic freedom, but also and most of all as a foreign imposition, notably by the USSR. The core of the reason of the differences between Central and Yugoslavia is very simple, the permanence of the USSR Army. As the Soviet Army has been militarly necessary to defeat the nazi occupation, it has brought about the its evident political and diplomatic consequences as it has imposed its way of commuism. In turn, Yugoslavia as it has liberated mostly by itself had the material and moral capacity to “kick out” the Russians from the country. The 1954 broke up with Stalin who accused Tito of applying a non orthodox way of communism was basically an ideological excuse to try to marginalise Yugoslavian among the eastern block in order to force the country to follow the USSR orders. Consequently, the so called non alignment bloc has been created at the Conference of Bandung, basically from an agreement between Nehru, the Prime minister of India at that time and Tito who have gathered all the states who did not wish to join one of the cold war blocks.

If, according to this analysis, the former Yugoslavian countries seem to be the “winning part”, going back to the history of these areas, we discover another capital difference. Yugoslavia has first of all a very recent historical tradition as it has not consisted of a Nation State since 1918, when at the Berlin Conference the winners of the WWI decided to enforce the creation of a State called the Kingdom of Slovenian, Croats and Serbs. Secondly it has never has very marginally participated at the mainstreams of the European Cultural History (Renaissance, Enlightenment and so on ). On the contrary, Central Eastern European Countries has a longer tradition for waht concerns their national identity and furthermore they highly participated and contributed at these cultural and social movements. The extensive beauty of Prague speaks for the Czech Republic, while Kapucinski is a good benchmark for Poland. Quoting this author, “Kings of Poland have always been beloved by its people, one has been reminded as the the Fair, another as the Charitable or as the Pious and another has inherited a country made of wood and he has left it of stonework.” Just having a walk in one of the numerous parks in Warsaw, we can see the legacy of the Enlightenment period of Poland: the freedom to promenade through the kings’ gardens and, if the weather permits, the possibility of assisting freely at a classical concert.

Aware of the fact that politics and culture are strictly interconnected, we cannot avoid to notice that despite the differences, the greater political phenomenon merging from all former Eastern countries are basically two: an outspoken nationalism and an obsession for the recent past.

In various versions, the obsession for the affirmation of the regained national identity both in terms internal and external matters appears to be one of the top priorities for all the above-mentioned countries. Nevertheless, if this process is understandable, it is more justifiable in the Western Balkans, where ethnical based armed conflict have occurred, rather than in Central Eastern European Countries (CEECs) as the collapse of communism has not generated any war and as they are already members of the EU.

In fact, CEECs seem to have forgotten their long term history of full cultural integration in the European continent. The European Union is in fact not only based on the achievements of the ECSC or the Maastricht treaties, but it can claim the long standing common cultural tradition and often painful history. The path has been evidently common and the perceptions of history have greatly converged during the last decades leading some historians to define WWII as a civil war among Europeans overcoming the nationalist vision of history. Thus we can fairly state that insisting at refusing the European Flag in the castle of the President of the Republic in Prague and/or pushing through National and European Politics a non-up-to-date anti-communist rethoric and/or affirming the unique sufferance of a given country do not help at emphasizing the vsion of an European common history, but  they rather insist on on the divisions which Europe has suffered before and during and after the cold war till the European Integration occurred.

As it is will be of primary importance for the welfare of the European Union enhancing a great convergence within member states and current and future candidates not only in economical, but finally in political terms, so far, the only certainty is represebtend the fact that this phenomena in the Western Balkans can be adjusted by the EU conditionality, while in CEECs a greater political and cultural convergence is mainly up to themselves.

European Spirit

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