FOREWORD

We decided to dedicate this issue of Aspen Review Central Europe to the erosion of mutual trust and a re-emergence of old stereotypes in current public discourse in Europe. Central European states became members of the European Union more than a decade ago. Because of their negative attitude towards suggested measures to tackle the refugee crisis they are suddenly portrayed as irresponsible free riders who never internalized the axioms of European integration and do not understand the value of solidarity in European community. At least in the eyes of “old” member states they are not seen as full-fledged members of the club. Some view their behavior as a proof that the enlargement of the European Union was premature. In her article in this issue, Ulrike Guérot notes a growing disappointment of too early enlargement in old member states and growing gap of misunderstanding between Germany and its Eastern neighbors. Who has lost whom? Did Germany lose Central Europe or vice versa?

Others even question the ability of European integration model to overcome deep cultural or civilizational cleavages between European nations. For example, Prof. György Schöpflin questions the assumption that only Hungary under Fidesz has changed by claiming that EU has undergone a major change as well. From another angle, Anna Sosnowska reminds us about a shadow of Mitteleuropa looming over Central Europe as it aspired to join the Western Europe in the 90s.

Did we overstep the mark by using the term “barbarians?” We simply intend to provoke a debate whether it is acceptable and appropriate in nowadays Europe to think about fellow Europeans as barbarians. In his article, Roman Joch explores four features of Central European societies that are deemed to constitute a “barbarian status.”

Is it justifiable to denote a nation as inferior or immature based on the result of its choice in free election? Martin M. Šimečka reflects the situation in Slovakia after parliamentary election – Slovakia being a test of liberal vs. illiberal cleavage. Anton Shekhovtsov debates whether the Czech Republic and Slovakia have succumbed to illiberal tendencies. However, a growing support for nationalist and illiberal forces does not seem to be a problem of Visegrad countries only. As we may see in Austria, France and other countries, it is a general phenomenon not limited to “new members.” One of the main reasons of this shift seems to be a failure of mainstream politicians across Europe to convince the public about their ability to lead through troubled waters of current challenges.

Finally, Aleksander Kaczorowski, the editor of this journal, invites readers to an encounter with authors of seminal works of the region and concludes by underscoring the claim of Andrzej Stasiuk that Central Europe is that part of “Europe that has no wish to catch up with the West because it is happy to stay where it is.” And indeed, the catching-up paradigm in the realm of political, institutional, social, and economic rapprochement has not been questioned until recently. Nevertheless, to keep Central Europe within the institutional and intellectual framework of the West remains one of the key goals of Aspen Institute Prague. We rely on your support!

Jiří Schneider

Jiří Schneider entered public life after democratic changes in 1989 when he was elected to the Czechoslovak Parliament (Federal Assembly) in 1990 and 1992. In 1993 he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held various positions at the Czech diplomatic service. Most prominently he served as Ambassador to Israel (1995-1998) and First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (2010-2014).

 

Jiří Schneider graduated at The Czech Technical University (ČVUT) and obtained a Diploma in Religious Studies from University of Cambridge. From 2000 to 2009 he lectured on security studies, international relations, public policy, and the role of think tanks in Central Europe at Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, and New York University in Prague. During the International Policy Fellowship at the Central European University in Budapest he published on Think Tanks in Visegrad Countries (2003) and Lobbying and Interest Representation (2007). He was closely associated with the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), a leading Czech security think tank, as a Program Director (2005-2010) and most recently as a Senior Fellow and Director of Special Projects (2014-2015).

 

Jiří’s engagement with Aspen dates back to the early 90ʼs when he was a fellow of Aspen Institute Germany. More recently he supported the establishment of Aspen Institute Prague and served as a member of its Supervisory Board from 2011 to 2014.

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