The history of present-day Europe can well be presented as the chronicle of a besieged fortress, where centralized and multicultural European Union defends its values from hordes of enemies, like nationalists, Eurosceptics, Muslims, populists and Putin’s other cunning tricks.
In 2017, the European fortress rebuffed four violent attacks – by Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany. Eurosceptics in those countries showed much better results during elections. For example, over the last 15 years, the number of people supporting the icon of Eurosceptics, the Le Pen family, has grown by 200% from 5,525,032 votes polled by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 to 10,638,475 votes polled by his daughter, Marine Le Pen in 2017.
But they still failed to win – despite Marine Le Pen’s promise that “in 2017, the people of continental Europe will wake up.” And even though in Austria, the Freedom Party is part of the ruling coalition, while in Germany, the Alternative for Germany party is the biggest opposition force in the Bundestag, experts hoped that the “populist wave” in Europe had ebbed. But harsh reality has marred their enthusiasm.
A Czech “sortie” of Eurooptimists
The Czech Republic is an extraordinary country. The Czechs are always happy to treat you – for your money - beer and legendary roasted pork knee, to show you Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square in Prague but they are not ready to shelter strangers in their country – especially if those strangers practice other religions.
In 2002-2015, the British carried out “racial bias” polls among 288,076 white Europeans: the question was if they associated black people with negative words. The Czechs had the worst index – 0.447, followed by Lithuania with 0.444 and Ukraine with 0.429. The same is true for the Czechs’ attitude towards Muslims, Asians and Jews.
The Czechs adore their historical symbols. For example, their money. Unlike the Poles or the Hungarians, the Czechs will not take any euros from you - only korunas.
So, the Czechs do not fit well into Brussels’ plans to make Europe centralized and multi-cultural. But they are not going to revolt… Why: in 2014, they paid to the EU 1.507 billion EUR and received 4.377 billion EUR. They would not like to lose this money (almost 3 billion EUR) but they would not like to obey either – especially as their President is 73-year-old Milos Zeman, the oldest Eurosceptic and “Russia’s Trojan Horse” in Europe.
The EU did its best to put a Eurooptimist in Zeman’s place but “Old Milos” knows his stuff. His trump was the Czechs’ anti-immigrant moods: in 2016, they said that they would not receive any refugees from Asia. They even dared to mock the EU by receiving just 12 out of 1,600 people they were supposed to receive according to their quota.
Zeman also aptly used the “Russian card”: in late Nov 2017, he led 143 Czech businessmen to Russia, met with Putin and came back with contracts worth 0.5 billion EUR.
As a result, he won the first round with 38.56% of the votes. His key rival, former President of the Czech Academy of Sciences Jiri Drahos was 12% behind. What happened afterwards was not a surprise: Zeman’s rivals united against him. On Jan 14, Drahos told iROZHLAS that Pavel Fischer had called him and had asked him if he was pro-Europen and pro-NATO. “I told him that I am and he said that he will support me. Yesterday, I was offered support by Michal Horacek and Marek Hilser.” Jiri Hynek and Mirek Topolanek also joined the group of Drahos’s supporters.
In other words, five former presidential hopefuls, who polled a total of 33.7% of the votes, allied with an anti-Zeman candidate and enjoyed absolute support from Europe and even the U.S. Washington Post, which said before the elections that had Drahos won, it would have been a triumph for the liberal European idea.
It is hard to say what prevented Drahos from winning. Perhaps, his mistake was his decision to direct his campaign on his own. In an interview to iROZHLAS, he said: “Yes, speaking in military terms, I have decided to assume the command for the last fortnight. Until now, there have been lots of logistics in my campaign: trips, signature collections, debates. Now things will develop very fast and will be controlled by Drahos only.” As a result, during the Jan 23 TV debate, Drahos was very unconvincing. Perhaps, it was the topless FEMEN activist who helped Zeman when she attacked him at a polling station shouting “Zeman -Putin’s slut!” “Old Milos” must have liked the show.
It’s still more likely that it was just the Czechs’ worldview choice. One way or another, Drahos polled 48.63% against Zeman’s 52.37%. The Eurosceptic has won. The Eurooptimists have lost the “Czech battle.” Brussels’ flush of victory has come to an end.
…what does this mean for Europe,…
The future of the European Union as a great power depends on its two decisions – on its strategy and on Muslim refugees.
The idea that in the EU all members are equal, but some members are more equal is very old but last year it was given a new life. On Feb 11, 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Malta that "we certainly learned from the history of the last years, that there will be as well a European Union with different speeds, that not all will participate every time in all steps of integration." President of the European Union Jean-Claude Juncker hurried to object but we all know who is Merkel without Juncker and who is Juncker without Merkel.
The two-speed principle means the end of the principle of cohesion – a policy aimed at “reducing disparities between the various regions and the backwardness of the least-favored regions.” To be more precise, the EU pays its eastern members for their political loyalty. The abovementioned 3 billion EUR for the Czech Republic is exactly the policy of cohesion. If these subsidies are stopped, the mental dividing line between Old and New Europes may turn into a political fault line.
But there is one more factor that may cause this fault: Muslim refugees. Zeman is very straightforward here: “Political correctness is to say ‘international terrorism.’ Courage is to say ‘Islamic terrorism.’” (interview given to Washington Post on Jan 11, 2017). Today, the Czech Republic is a country that refuses to receive immigrants. Europe has just a few states where immigrants account for less than 1% of the population: the three Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and… Portugal.
That is in the north and east of Central Europe we see the formation of an alliance of Eurosceptical states. The Balkan members may soon join them as the Two-Speed Europe policy will certainly leave them without money. The fear of the Eurooptimists that this project may loom large into a political-economic rival of the EU is not groundless.
As they say, nature abhors vacuum. So, wherever there is less Europe, there will be more of something else, more specifically, more America and China.
China is CCEEC (China — Central and Eastern European Countries) or the 16+1 project, where 16 is Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and FYR Macedonia.
America is BABS (Baltic, Adriatic, Black Sea Initiative) or the Three Seas Initiative: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia + Austria, which is natural as in the past most of the BABS members were part of the Habsburg Monarchy.
So, in future we will inevitably see a conflict between the United States and China. For the moment, the Chinese are focused on economic ties, while the Americans seek political and military dominance. Under such circumstances, Zeman’s victory is not just a blow on the European Union but the victory of the United States – for Zeman was the only European leader who supported Trump during his race for U.S. presidency and who ironized after Trump’s victory that “there are many politicians who admired Trump after the elections, when courage is cheap”
… and how this can backfire on Ukraine
For me, as a citizen of Ukraine, it was hard to write this but as they say “praemonitus, praemunitus” (forewarned is forearmed).
In any political dominance, there are just two stimuli: a stick and a carrot. The Americans have plenty of sticks and three big carrots: money, arms and… Ukraine. West of our borders, there are four nations that would be happy to lay territorial claims against Ukraine: Poland (for Galicia), Slovakia (for Transcarpathia), Hungary (for the same region) and Romania (for Bucovina and Bessarabia). Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Head of the Institute of National Remembrance Volodymyr Viatrovych and the other Ukrainian leaders have done their best to put their country at odds with all of its western neighbors. The only exception is Moldova, but that country is being “eaten” by Romania, so, nobody will stand up for Ukraine is something happens.
For the Americans Ukraine’s territory is a good reward they can give to their allies (for example BABS) for their allegiance. Napoleon knew what he was talking about when he said that history is the winners’ slut.
Andrey Ganzha, specially for EADaily