The Heart

Dear Readers,

In recent decades, Central Europe has returned politically and economically to Europe. Nevertheless, one can sense a growing uneasiness among part of the political class which feels that it has not been fully accepted in the center of EU decision-making. The first seeds of an illiberal mood in countries joining the club grew with the acceptance of the superiority of Western institutions. This raises several questions. Is a centre-periphery polarity inevitable in the institutional setting of European integration? Can every nation be equally represented in its institutions regardless of its size and geographical location? What is wrong about being at the periphery?

It could be a disadvantage in hierarchical systems, but not necessarily in networks. The center and periphery can be mutually complementary, but are more frequently in tension. Eventually, one can turn the perspective upside down—as Viktor Orbán did in 2014—and claim that a country in a periphery could become morally superior to a decadent center.

In her analysis, Edit Zgut identified “an impatience with liberal constraints on the government with checks and balances viewed as obstacles of getting things done for the people” as a major symptom of illiberal backsliding. She rightly points out, however, the other side of the coin: “a political state capture and systemic corruption is partly financed by the EU throughout generous subsidies”.

According to Vít Dostál, dealing with the fringe of Europe has become both a moral and political issue because of notions such as “new avant-garde”, or “cultural counter revolution”. By nurturing “the identities of the lagging periphery” and by failing to “convince Western Europeans about the merit of European integration”, Central Europeans could find themselves “in the position of periphery unwanted, and perhaps forgotten again.“ Csaba G. Kiss also views peripherality through economic and moral lenses and describes it in terms of an inferiority complex.

Kacper Szulecki provides unique insight into internal EU migration, its motivations and dynamism. Central European diasporas living in Western and Northern Europe, channelled back home their disenchantment with host countries, migration, and more broadly with Europe and ‘the West’ He mentions the testimony of Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who described his disappointment with previous encounters with Western Europe as a successful CEO in the financial business. High hopes for recognition met with disinterest. I suspect more Central Europeans share such an experience.

In the end, there is a broader question as to whether the whole of Europe will not become a periphery in global terms. Will the European Union be able to make effective political decisions in order to remain geopolitically relevant? Or will Europe find itself in the position of a powerless object of competition between the United States and the People‘s Republic of China?

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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Current issue - 01/2020

Heart of Europe on the Periphery

Illiberal backsliding is getting stronger in Visegrad countries recently. Central Europe suffers from a complex of inferiority, they say. Is it a legitimate feeling? Discover the heart of Europe and its pounding chambers on the periphery.

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