This interview took place on the sidelines of Forum 2000 in Prague, an event held each year under the patronage of the former Czech President Vaclav Havel at which the ways to avoid conflict are explored.
RFE/RL: Mr. Rupnik, may we start by asking you a question on Central Europe, a region full of optimism after accession to the EU and NATO but whose political scene has turned somewhat sour recently. In the Czech Republic, there have been several months without a government, and there was been violent unrest on the streets of Hungary. As a political scientist, would you say there is a crisis in postcommunist Europe as a whole?
"There's certainly, to put it politely, democratic fatigue [in postcommunist Europe], and we see very acute symptoms of it in Poland."
Rupnik: Well, there's certainly, to put it politely, democratic fatigue, and we see very acute symptoms of it in Poland. That's probably the most worrying situation, where you have a government that is really now pursuing a course of great polarization, destabilization, an attempt to reverse the policies of the past 15 years against the liberal changes that have taken place, [and that has] nationalist and sometimes xenophobic overtones.
In Slovakia, you have something similar, but from left-wing populist nationalists; in Poland, they are right-wing conservative clerical ... from the League of Polish Families. In Slovakia, it's left-wing populism, with [Vladimir] Meciar, or his party, back in government, and [Jan] Slota, [whose] ultranationalist xenophobic party is in government. These are very worrying things. Perhaps we'll have to judge over the long term -- this government has been in place for only three or four months – but, still, it is a very worrying sign.
In Hungary, we've had, only a few days ago, the parliament giving a vote of confidence to the government while the main opposition party is calling [people on] the streets to overthrow the government! So you have a real challenge, a crisis of parliamentary representation. And, in fact, if you were to put a common denominator to all these events, you would say there's a crisis of political representation.
That's one thing. Secondly, you have a reverse, or an attempt to respond to the liberal market policies that have been followed over the past 15 years. Poland has had 10 governments over the past 15 years, but they all had the same policies, more or less. [There is now] an attempt to oppose, as the Kaczynski brothers say, "Solidarity Poland" against "Liberal Poland." Solidarity, reinterpreted in their opinion, means 'protective, patrimonial, bringing back the state as a protector.' This is a very new thing, and I think this whole antiliberal moment that we're witnessing is potentially worrying, because it also coincides -- and this is probably the third common denominator -- with accession to the European Union.
All these countries have followed the reform course with the goal of joining the European Union. As soon as they joined, there's a phenomenon of decompression, of exhaustion of the pro-European coalitions, and we now see even a backlash with Euroskeptic, sometimes even Europhobic overtones.
So, all this put together does not produce a very encouraging picture. On one hand, you can say this whole transformation targeted at joining the European Union has proved very effective in consolidating reforms and democratic changes. On the other hand, you can also wonder if that European factor works, once you've joined. And that is a big question mark that has implications for future enlargement.
Should EU Enlargement Be Delayed?
RFE/RL: On the opinion pages of the Western press, some are writing that these countries were admitted far too early, that they were not yet ready to be members of the European Union, and because of this, the next enlargement of the European Union should be delayed as much as possible. What do you think about that?
A demonstrator hurls a stone at police protecting the Hungarian television center in mid-September (epa)
Rupnik: Well, I don't actually support this argument. My own view had been throughout that perhaps they could have been admitted earlier. I was for a kind of political membership very early on, in the early 1990s, because I would have thought that this was important for these countries to show that, yes, you are a part of the family, you belong to the European Union as a community of democratic countries, but, of course, we know that you are not yet fully prepared for all the obligations of membership, and we can work together on the necessary reforms. That might have been a different way of dealing with it; that is, the invention of a different kind of membership that would gradually lead to full membership.
Anyway, that's already old history. It's interesting, of course, that this crisis of democratic institutions, this rise of populism in East-Central Europe, occurs at a time when the European Union is having its own sort of soul searching. Both the rejection of the constitutional treaty in the referendums in France and Holland and the impact of the enlargement have created a big question mark about where it's all heading. I would like to hope that we just have a crisis of leadership in the European Union; we've just had a changeover in Germany, France will have its change within six months, Tony Blair is on the way out [in Britain] and will be replaced. Possibly with new leadership in Europe, we can catch our breath and see whether the EU is still capable of moving on.
But at the moment, the mood seems to be to pause and digest. There's Bulgaria and Romania coming in, and they're even less prepared than the others. All the rules have been bent in order to take them in, and we will see how that works, because the number of members of the European Union has doubled and we still have basically the same institutions. So, how well that will work, that's one question.
The second question is, how Romania and Bulgaria will fit in. Will they reproduce the pattern that we have seen in Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary? And in that case, that will not be a very strong encouraging argument for future enlargement. Or, if Romania and Bulgaria show that they are adapting well, and in fact that this has helped to consolidate the democratic changes, that would be a strong argument for people like myself who argue that we need to expand, particularly to what is called the Western Balkans, where there is a lot of unfinished business and where the European Union has an important role to play.
RFE/RL: You mentioned this argument for a pause in enlargement. What kind of signal would that send to countries that are still waiting outside the door -- countries in the Balkans, and Turkey, for instance?
Rupnik: Well, certainly, Turkey is a separate case, because Turkey has already started its negotiations. The questions are: Will it fulfill all the conditions, will it stay the course, and will the EU stay the course, as well? We haven't seen in the past any negotiation being derailed and not leading to membership. Once you start negotiation, there is no precedent in EU history of it not leading to membership. Turkey might well be the first, partly because there is no public opinion support for it. If you look at public opinion in EU member states -- old member states but also in some of the new member states -- there's no great enthusiasm for expanding to Turkey.
This is not because of Turkey being a Muslim country, as some have suggested, [meaning] that this is related to some kind of prejudice. I think it might be a factor for some, but I don't think this is the most important [objection]. The most important is extending Europe outside Europe. Here you have a European Union that had great difficulty -- 15 years -- to extend to Central Europe. Now they're asked to extend to the Middle East, and have a common border with Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
I don't need a referendum to know what people think about that, because they watch television every night, and they know what's happening in Iraq. They know what kind of regime Syria has. They're very worried about Iran. And you tell them, this is a great achievement of the European Union, we're going to move you straight to the borders with those countries! Not a very exciting prospect.
You might have 10 good geopolitical arguments for doing it; I know them, and they are very powerful arguments. But you have to sell it to the public. The new lesson is, you cannot continue without democratic support. It cannot be simply an elite-driven project by wise statesmen who know best. The referendum on the constitution has been, I think, a warning. So, I would say the Turkish case is a different matter.
On the Balkans, there is a clear commitment by the European Union, made at Thessaloniki in 2003, made in a milder version earlier, but in Thessaloniki there was a very clear commitment that the place of the countries of the Western Balkans is in the European Union. Negotiations have now started with Croatia. In my opinion, the argument for postponing Bulgaria and Romania would have been justified not only if it had provided additional incentives for reforms in those countries, but if you could have taken Croatia in as well. That would have been a very strong message to the countries of former Yugoslavia, to say that 'we had an enlargement to Central Europe, now we'll have an enlargement to the Balkans; Balkan countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are joining in, this is where your place is.'
"We cannot afford a pause in the Balkans, because the issues are on the agenda now."
The European Union would then have to follow up with a very strong commitment, a very strong engagement, in the settlement of all the unfinished business of the breakup of Yugoslavia. 'We think the war is over, and therefore we are looking to other things.' But for people like myself who spent some time traveling there and following the issues, there's a lot of unfinished business, a lot of potential for things to go wrong. We don't know what the status of Kosovo will be. Montenegro has just gained independence. Bosnia is a virtual state. And we therefore have a big question mark over what are the borders of Serbia. Serbia is a state that doesn't know what its borders are going to be: it has just lost Montenegro, [and it doesn't know] what will happen in Kosovo. And as long as you have a question mark over territorial issues, it's very unlikely that you can consolidate democracy, because you are in a state of permanent bidding against the 'best defender of the nation'; everybody's competing for the title of who's best defending the interests of the nation. And that starts with territorial interests, that starts with protecting our minorities, by force if necessary.
So, my own sense of urgency is related to that. I understand the reasons, I live in France, I know exactly the reasons why there is this ambivalence and the call for a pause. But we cannot afford a pause in the Balkans, because the issues are on the agenda now. It's not like we can say we made a commitment for the Western Balkans, and let them do their homework, we'll help them, and in 10 or 15 years we'll see whether they meet the conditions. The issues in the Balkans are now.
Montenegro's independence happened now. Kosovo's status is on the agenda now; it's supposed to be decided by the end of the year (I don't think it will be, but it's supposed to be). Bosnia needs a new constitution. All this can only have a chance if there is a European umbrella for settling these issues. This is why you need to rethink European engagement there -- not just as a matter of political will, but perhaps to be imaginative in inventing something that will be a different pattern of enlargement than the one we have followed quite successfully for Central Europe.
The EU's Eastern Borders
RFE/RL: Talking about the borders, I'd like to draw your attention to the eastern borders. With Romania and Bulgaria in the European Union, the border of the European Union is going to almost coincide with the border of the former Soviet Union, except for the Baltic states. Are those the borders that the European Union is looking for in the east?
Rupnik: Well, the European Union has very clear borders in the west. It has clear borders in the north (perhaps Norway will one day make up its mind). And it has clear borders in the south, with the Mediterranean. It doesn't have clear borders in the east. That question therefore remains very much open and, as you rightly say, it coincides with the borders of the former Soviet Union, and any expansion of the European Union in that area obviously brings it into close contact with Russia, or raises the question of its relationship to Russia.
The key will be the development of democracy on this periphery, in this 'near-abroad.' What Russians used to call the near-abroad is now the near-abroad of the European Union as well. We call it simply the 'neighborhood policy.' Russia also has its own neighborhood policy. Clearly, in the present circumstances, this is a big question, possibly with differences of opinion inside the European Union about the implications of pursuing further enlargement on our relationship with Russia. There, I see a significant difference of opinion.
There's no difference of opinion about enlarging to the Western Balkans. There are some people who might want to do it slightly faster or slightly slower, but there's nobody who thinks it's not important or that it shouldn't be done. There's great hesitation about what kind of relationship we should have with Russia. You know, Romania joins, and the Romanian president, who is not yet in the European Union, already announces that Moldova should be a member of the European Union. Well, anybody who reads newspapers and sees Moldova on the map -- most Western Europeans don't even know such a country exists -- once they find it, they discover that it's a state that doesn't fully control its territory.
There was just a referendum concerning the attachment of part of its territory to Russia, and [Europeans] feel, well, do we need to get engaged in a situation where the very question of statehood is not settled? I've just said this is why we need the European Union in the Balkans, and you could therefore make the same argument for Moldova. But that's an academic argument, an argument for discussion. Politically, it's settled with great difficulty.
A lot will depend on the stability and the democratic changes in countries such as Ukraine or Moldova. And it will depend on the evolution of Russia and its relationship with Europe.
The EU And Ukraine
Scene from celebrations in 2005 of the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution (epa)
RFE/RL: What do you think about Ukraine specifically?
Rupnik: Well, Ukraine is actually an interesting case, because nobody raised the question of membership in the European Union until the Orange Revolution. So that was put on the agenda, the European Union was involved...
RFE/RL: Actually, President [Leonid] Kuchma mentioned it as early as 1994.
Rupnik: No, I wasn't saying the Ukrainians weren't mentioning it, I was saying it didn't feature on the agenda of the European Union. They were already busy enlarging to 10 new members, they knew there was Romania and Bulgaria, plus the Balkans, the whole question of Turkey, and this just seemed like a very busy enlargement agenda. And then came the Orange Revolution, and people said, particularly some of the new members like Poland, well, what about Ukraine? And before people really had time to think it through, they discovered that the Orange Revolution perhaps was not so orange, that we have some reversals. Certainly if there were to be a discussion about EU engagement, it would have to be a long-term project.
I don't see most of the major members of the EU wanting to go ahead unless it is part of some kind of new partnership with Russia. It would have to be clearly part of a redefining of the relationship with Russia. You know, in the past there was a lot of talk about partnership with Russia, but we never saw very concretely what the content of these partnerships would be. There's a lot of trade and that's fine, but that's not what political partnership should be.
So, given what we've seen, the way Russia is capable of using its energy leverage, given the state of dependency of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, but also Europe as a whole, on Russian gas and oil, this is a serious issue. It's not just something where we can go to a conference and say this is what we think should be done. That's a feel-good attitude, and what you do after is not clear. What I think we can do is avoid closing doors. I think that's the first step.
My own argument would be, well, if you're starting negotiations with Turkey, although 98 percent of its territory is outside Europe, what about Ukraine? Ukraine is a major European nation. It has a lot of internal problems, with its cohesion, with its political stability, with its relationship with Russia, and we are aware of them, but these problems do not strike me as more severe than the problems of Turkey. If there's such a strong case, we're told, for enlargement to Turkey, on which, as you've gathered ,I have some doubts, I would have much stronger concerns that we keep the door open to Ukraine, although I know that is not something that would happen overnight.
RFE/RL: In the case of Turkey, it's probably because there is no third country that would be against it. It's just between Turkey and the European Union, whereas in the case of Ukraine you have to consult Russia first.
Rupnik: Yes, and it's not just consulting as a kind of acceptance of limited sovereignty, or something like that. If you are redrawing the map of Europe after its division during the Cold War ... we're still in a way living with that process; it started in 1989, and it has continued.
If you do it with a sense of 'let's roll back Russia as far as we can'... we know the Russian reaction: in the latest crisis was Georgia, [there] is a hint of where that is going to lead. So the debate in Western Europe is: Do you want to expand at the cost of having some kind of confrontation with Russia, which you depend on for your oil, which you depend on for security reasons, terrorism, and what have you? Or do you believe that successful enlargement on this unstable periphery can only happen if Russia itself understands that it is in its own interests that these countries are stable, prosperous European democracies, and that Russia itself will benefit. And even if Russia is not, I think, a serious candidate for joining the EU, it's slightly too large for comfort, you still have the idea that it can have a relationship with the European Union that would not be based simply on some kind of rivalry in the neighborhood.
So we really have two options. At the moment it seems that we are more in the latter, but that's not necessarily good news.
The EU, Russia, And Solidarity
RFE/RL: You mentioned that the big European powers want to have a special partnership with Russia, and the smaller partners, especially the Eastern European partners, often complain that this kind of partnership is against their national interests. This was seen, for example, with the pipelines to Germany avoiding Polish territory. Is there still a principle of solidarity within the European Union?
Polish President Lech Kaczynski (left) appointed his twin brother, Jaroslaw, as prime minister in July (epa)
Rupnik: Well, the European Union was created based on that idea. Initially, the first step was to put together the coal and steel industries in France and Germany, so you put together the main industries that were involved in making war machinery on both sides. That was the first peace agenda. It's based on this idea, and this is how it has progressed.
Obviously, the more we expand, the more difficult it is to find a common denominator and to keep the political bond. We have enlargement of the European Union, and people like myself call it the reunification of Europe, [but we also] saw a Europe divided. Public opinion saw a Europe divided. This is part of the reason for the present crisis. The war in Iraq has divided us deeply. People thought they had to choose sides: Are you for the war or against the war? They were divided also about economic policies: Are you more free-market-oriented, or do you believe in the European economic social model? They were divided on the constitution. They're now divided over policies toward the near abroad. So that is the first thing. If you have different political agendas, solidarity might be difficult to achieve.
Secondly, [it's difficult] if you have a new member like Poland, which is a great beneficiary, financially, not too mention otherwise, of joining the European Union. Just look at the budget for 2007 to 2013: Poland gets half of all the funds for the new member states. Poland has done incredibly well out of it. Never had it so good! Polish peasants today never had it so good. Every year they increase their standard of living by 70 percent due to European subsidies. But the same government criticizes and sometimes insults the European Union, almost every other day! And it says to everybody, "We are in the European Union only to defend our national interests." The emphasis is on 'only.'
Well, if that is the case, if you are here only to defend your national interests, why do you expect solidarity from the others on your agenda of expanding further east? You think it's a good idea for your security interests that you don't want to be the eastern border of the European Union. OK, that's an understandable point. But if you want this to be shared by others, you can't do it with the present government, which considers the European Union to be useless, to be only an economic tool from which you derive some benefits, [a government] which says we don't need a European constitution, and basically doesn't believe in any European common policy.
"The European Union is based on [a] very strange and novel idea... Either you understand the novelty of this process, or you enter the European Union simply asserting that you are a nation-state and that you are defending national interests."
I'm saying this to show how difficult it is. They're pursuing this, and Germany drew the conclusion that if we were to depend on Polish -- how to put it politely -- unpredictability in its relationship with Russia for the supply of energy to us and to Western Europe, well, maybe we should consider other options as well. I'm not justifying what they did, I think it was shameful, and I think it was amazing that a chancellor [Gerhard Schroeder] who has just left office then becomes appointed to the board of the company [operating the pipeline]. So, I'm not justifying it, I'm just trying to explain why it's very difficult to build a feeling of solidarity.
You cannot have a Polish minister of defense coming to Brussels to a meeting and saying that this German deal on the pipeline is the same thing as the Hitler-Stalin pact, and in the next sentence, that we need NATO [to ensure] energy [security for] the European Union. You can't have the two statements! First, you insult the Germans and compare this to Hitler and Stalin, and the next thing say now we need a common European energy policy, which we will design for you. That simply will not fly.
So, perhaps this is a matter of novelty and we'll need time to adjust on both sides. Old members will have to adjust to the presence of the new members; new members will have to understand that it's not because you were a Solidarity member in 1980, waving the flag, that you can simply use the word "solidarity" when the budget question comes, and then forget about solidarity when [addressing] political issues, or political integration, or sharing sovereignty.
The European Union is based on this very strange and novel idea: Yes, we are nation-states, but we share sovereignty, we share our security concerns, we share a common currency, most symbols of sovereignty. Defense and currency: historically, these are the two pillars of sovereignty. Either you understand the novelty of this process, or you enter the European Union simply asserting that you are a nation-state and that you are defending national interests. You can do that, but as I say, it will not work in the long run. You are undermining the institution from which you benefit so much.