Nationalism— “Financed with European Union Funds”

The renaissance of nationalism in Central European societies is one of the greatest paradoxes of united Europe. The more Poles or Hungarians benefit from EU membership, the more they support politicians who promise that their countries will never be anything like Europe.

Poles and Hungarians want to imitate European modernization (i.e. enjoy a steadily increasing living standard), but only a few are ready for European modernity (i.e. a Western lifestyle and customs).

The distinction between these two concepts, modernization and modernity, seems to be crucial. Central Europeans overwhelmingly accept and adopt Western technologies, but not necessarily Western ideologies (i.e. the visions of the proposed socio-political order contained in myths shared by the community). It is enlightenment without Enlightenment, a civilization without culture. It can also be called a relationship without obligations, a love affair without illusions.

Central Europeans want to benefit from the blessings of a multicultural and tolerant liberal democracy open to otherness. But not necessarily at home. Let our neighbours take this path. This is why the more Polish or Slovak towns and cities, subsidized under the European cohesion policy, resemble well-maintained towns in Holland or Belgium, the more confidently their inhabitants vote for nationalists and open Eurosceptics (even—or perhaps especially—when they themselves take seasonal jobs in the West). The last thing that Poles or Slovaks, forced to compete with Pakistanis for low-paid jobs in England, want is labor migration from outside Europe to their home countries. To put it simply, the more they come in touch with multiculturalism abroad, the more they do not want it at home.

Of course, there are also exceptions, these being the hundreds of thousands of young Poles, Hungarians and Romanians who have moved to the West permanently, not only because of the prospect of better earnings but also to lead a different lifestyle, far from nosy neighbours and the parish church. They generally do not vote, however, in their home countries, although they often send money there (in Poland alone it amounted to about 4 billion euros in 2018). This huge stream of money, together with incomparably larger EU funds and direct investments of Western companies – a real cornucopia, which from the Polish point of view is a fount of allegedly non-existent free lunches—makes Central Europe develop and get richer, and its inhabitants no longer feel like poor relatives of the West, as they did years ago. Today, they are masters in their own home and want to decide for themselves who to invite and who to show the door to.

The party headquarters of the Law and Justice party and Fidesz, the doors of Orban’s and Kaczyński’s offices, should feature plaques known from playgrounds, swimming pools or modernized railway stations: “Financed with European Union funds”. As a matter of fact, they would also be appropriate at the SMER and ANO headquarters.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, former deputy editor-in-chief of Newsweek Polska and chief editor of the Op-ed section of Gazeta Wyborcza. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel or Bohumil Hrabal. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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Central and Eastern Europe are facing a global pandemic, an attack by state institutions on an independent judiciary and the media, or a post-Soviet dictatorship right in the European Union's neighborhood. This volume offers women's perspective on these life-changing events and highlights what we should not overlook.