After Europe | Interview with Ivan Krastev

After Europe | Interview with Ivan Krastev

I’m sitting with Ivan Krastev, the chair of the board and
founder of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria,
and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences. Who has just published from the University of Pennsylvania press After Europe, a wonderful text and it’s a pleasure to be
here with him. And Ivan just if you could say a few words perhaps to start
things off as to what the after in the title specifically refers to. There are certain books that
you write because you want to write them and there are others
you write because you cannot write, cannot not write them for yourself
and from this point of view this book which was also very much related to many
things that they have been writing for the Journal of Democracy before was very
much tried to make for myself sense of the current crisis in Europe but
generally liberal democracy that we walk around. And when I was putting- this
was not my title, the truth is that my title was Perhapsberg on Fragility and
Resilience- Perhapsberg. Yeah, Perhapsberg. But the publisher and I always tend to defer
to the wisdom of the publishers that Perhapsberg probably is good for a
lecture in these stood for human sciences in Vienna but it does not make
much sense on the book market. So then came the idea of After Europe and for me
After Europe is not synonymous with the end of the European Union. There’s not a
book that basically say that European Union is going to disintegrate good but
of course it could survive and basically at the end I was trying to give an
argument why but for me anyway beyond this is “it going to be here” or “is it
going to disintegrate” something radically has changed in the way the
way the majority of the Europeans see the world and After Europe is telling the
story of the European Union, European Democracy, after they realized that
Europe is not the center of the world anymore and that the European Union is
not a model into a poetry that others are going to follow much more it’s an
exceptional world which is very much under pressure to being transformed by
others. There’s a certain tone in your book Ivan, one
might call it anxiety, one might call it distress, I wouldn’t call it cynicism but
there is a tone that courses throughout the book there’s definitely a worry. What
what are you worried about? I don’t know, probably-
I don’t worry about many and different things but many things that we have been
taking for granted are not, cannot be taken for granted anymore. Just to give
you an example, when I was writing the book I was rereading Fukuyama’s article
the article not the book The End of History and it was an interesting
exercise because you can see there a lot of talk about movement of ideas
particularly, but also movement of goods, movement of capital. But it was one thing
that was not moving and this was people and on the base of the latest experience
of Europe with the new creation crisis and not so much the number of the people
that they came it was nothing impressive in the numbers- A million-and-a-half people. Exactly but this is slightly like with 9/11 in the United States, it’s not about the
number of the people who died in the towers, but that it forced people to
re-perceive the world. To try to see the world differently to see vulnerability
where you didn’t see them before. And I do believe in a strange way the refugee
crisis simply pushed Europeans to think much more in terms of demography. And
from this point of view the fact that the world as we know it probably is
disappearing but not for good or for bad but simply that history is not going to
be as a good explanation for what is going to happen. That both demography and
technology are going very much to change both the way we work with whom we leave
the institutions that can help I do believe this isn’t- you’re right about anxiety. I do
believe that anxiety is something that is typical not probably only for the
tone of the book but for the tone of Europe because people like talk fear.
I’m not buying this because here is a very kind of a silent feeling when you are fearful about something you are very
cautious, you are very careful, you are not kind of shouting out. Europe is too
noisy to be fearful but anxiety is exactly this: you know that something is
changing dramatically you cannot figure out what exactly is changing you cannot
understand why you are not sure how it’s going to affect you and from this
point of view yes I do believe that to a certain extent this probably also
reflects my understanding of what’s happening here but also what is
happening to us. And from this point of view, we are a certain type of a
generation that had the feeling that history has a direction and now the fact
that history basically can go different ways creates this sense of
confusion, call it distress. I’m going to call it cynicism because cynicism is
also kind of a comfortable feeling. Normally people under huge pressure
don’t have the luxury to be cynical. You know when you were in the throes of
finishing this book, it seemed that Armageddon was next door
for Europe. Everyone talked about Marine Le Pen as being able to become the new
president of France, Brexit had only happened some months earlier, Donald J
Trump had become the new president of the United States. History changes so fast
these days that we’re seeing what people are calling a EU-phoria now what’s happened
since the publication of your book? Are we fooling ourselves that Jeremy
Corbyn’s rather impressive showing with a Labour Party in the UK, or the
constraints on Donald Trump, or the on march movement of Macron and France is
pushing the tide back? Is this a temporary contingent thing, should we
care? It’s interesting, part of this moment of
anxiety is that we’re trying to read everything that happens as a major
historical change. And you see in the last, the concluding remark of the book.
One of my points was in 2016 everybody behaved if the world is over. Europeans
were totally kind of desperate because of Trump, because of Brexit, because
of the fact that you have the feeling that this integration is unavoidable. But
when it was first- it is contingency and also politics is very much about luck
about people taking decisions and also in the same way that President Trump
encouraged a certain populist vote, he also very much discouraged many people to
vote this way. So I do believe 2016 it was one level of exaggeration where the idea of a populist wave was taken for granted and people were living with the idea
of a inevitable populist anti-globalist revolution. I do believe now we are slightly
going into the other direction. After this kind of six months of a total
despair, people are saying no, no everything is going to be fine, and
Macron is doing fine, and their resume was humiliated with Brexit, and
Wilders they don’t do well in Netherlands, and even in Italy, the five star movement
didn’t do well during the local elections. So the idea is that populist
plate now is receding populism is history. In my view, this is certain way of
misinterpreting what is happening because if we talk about populism,
populism is not the rise about certain party or certain political personality.
We obviously see a major transformation of the democratic politics as we know it. 1989 created the political space in
which two words were almost banned or non-existent as a political
self-identification: socialism and nationalism. People who are socialists
were trying to find another name to call themselves, people who are nationalists
were trying to find another name to call themselves. Now- They’re out of the closet. Yeah they are- yes, they’re back
and the fact that they’re back means that the ideological space has changed
dramatically. It does not need to be bad news but it is a major dramatic
change it’s a different paradigm. Secondly organizationally the major
political party, the mainstream parties, people all the time saying or because of
Macron this is the end of populism. Macron is also a version of a
different type of optimistic pro-EU populism but he also destroyed the
mainstream parties. He came as a party of change very much attacking the
establishment in the way it is- And fiercely anti-labor and sharing many
of the blare-eyed politics- Exactly and we are also fiercely saying we need new people who basically experience
does not help the worst thing for people to be elected this day was to be in
government before. So from this point of view it’s very important because some of
these words which were operating these days, and populism is one of them,
are starting to lose their analytical meaning. People are using them mainly for
political efficiency but they are not helping us to understand what is going
on. So along those lines how do you feel about Jan-Werner Müller’s definition of
populism as being something that is purely exclusivist? Do you think he
overstates the case? I do believe that Jan is making the most- I find his stress on the much more anti-pluralist than anti-elite nature of populism extremely
important because if there is something in my view, critically important and
where I do believe Jan is touching on something which is really important is
that people continue talking in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism. But
listen, many of these parties are not simply not against free elections, they’re the only one that these days like them. So what we can very easily see is the rise of
majoritarian democracy where these same democratic institutions that two years
today have been the major instrument for including different type of minorities
can become the instrument for exclusion. And from this point of view I do believe
that Jan-Werner Müller has a point. And the point is that, yes you have a new
political sensitivity in which the majority believes that it really owns
the state and every minority is a conspiracy. To be honest the roots of
this understanding of politics goes back to the French Revolution. If you are not
majority you’re not the nation. And I do believe this is there, so from this point of
view he’s right where I don’t believe that the talk of populism is really
helping us is that I do believe that there are two types of talk of populism that I don’t
like. One is you’re just using it as a label you’re calling somebody populist and
this is the way to stop taking him seriously. But even some of the ugliest
political players attaching on something serious and something important look at
the new President Trump. President Trump probably is a loose cannon and
people can very easily focus on his inconsistency, on his tweets, on his
performance, but at the end of the day he is making three important points we
should be taken in mind seriously. The first is that order, the liberal order
that America created is not in the interest of the United States. You can
agree or disagree but you cannot simply ignore because part of his major
argument is not simply about losing jobs but about the destruction of the social
cohesion of the American Society. And if you see some of the demographic data
concerning basically with the level of suicide and so on of a white
middle-class Midwestern America obviously he’s talking about something
which is real. The way he’s touching it does not make it easy to discuss it
seriously but in a certain way he is representing a certain trend. Secondly, he
made the point which is also very radical and the point is that the very
identity of the United States is immigration country, is a liberal power which traditionally was perceived as one of the major advantages
of the United States can become a vulnerability. Because the United States
cannot allow itself things that others can. If you’re a migration nation you are
not building walls. So from this point of view, they’re going to build a world in which
others are building walls. You are in a position according to Trump in which your
disadvantages- and certainly he made a point which I found him very important
and very much resonates with things that we can hear from President Putin, from
president Modi, is that liberal order is hypocritical. There is no victory in
defeating a certain rate liberals destroyed difference between victory and
defeat because they created this multi-lateral frame in which you can not
really win or you cannot also really lose but not really losing should be
important for the weak nations. But the strong nations should talk about victory.
And from this point of view strangely enough if you see the language of the
President of the United States, the President of Russia, some of the other
leaders, the word respect is becoming critically important. But this respect goes very much against the idea of recognition. So yes, Bulgaria and the United
States are not equally powerful in the world. And I don’t know that there is a
single person who is not aware of it. Does it mean that any time when America
and Bulgaria talk this power symmetry should be put on the table? Or should we
try to pretend that in a certain way basically they’re two sovereign states that
talk is equals. I am afraid that the idea of respect in the way this is used quite
a lot today in politics very much resembles the idea of the respect I have
heard basically being described in the Russian prisons. Where being a respected
man means that nobody dare to disagree with you. And this type of the zero-sum
world in which the clarity between who is a winner and who is a loser and that
victory is what gives meaning and what it gives identity. I do believe this is
the world, which is true for international politics, this is becoming
true also for the domestic politics and this is why this type of changes I am
talking about cannot be reduced to the success of one or another party. Because
even if you talk and look at Mr. Corbyn in the UK, people are going to say what
happened to the resume was that this was buyer’s remorse with respect to
Brexit. But obviously speaking, Corbyn is post-Brexit left. So in some ways you
describe, if I may, a 21st century version of a realist world order, that
liberal internationalist idealist in part world order that we became as
Europeans and Americans very comfortable with since 1945. If it’s not been totally
subverted, it’s been very much reimagined. Totally and do you know why, I do believe-
and here I could be wrong, but this is also part of some of the point I tried
to make in the book. We like to talk values, we like to talk interests, we like
to talk institutions, but there is something very important to tell out
institutions to stay values to be articulated interests to be pursued. And
this is certain type of experiences. Liberalism traditionally came in
European politics as a result of the religious wars. When basically you
understand the dissident things on which you cannot agree and because you cannot
agree you’re trying to get it out of politics. Albert Hirschman in his book on interest and passions beautifully showed how
there was all these passions but people decided that some of them are less
dangerous than others. Better to be greedy then to like to kill. So some of
these passions will legitimize then normalize an interest exactly know that
you keep basically the desire to kill outside of it. I do believe that from 19th to
20th century, the very idea of the revolution, liberalism is a very typical
post-revolutionary ideology. You see a major social and political change and
you’re trying to normalize it, to domesticate it, to institutionalize it, to
go beyond the excess which is typical for any revolution and for many ages
made any major social reordering. And from this point of view liberalism came
very easily to society coming out of fascism and communism where there was a
kind of a very total strong projects of remaking the world. The problem is that
this experience is fading away. And it is fading away simply because there is a new generation these new generations are less and less interested in history
because one of the effects of the social media is that you’re more and more
communicating with in your own generation. Secondly paradoxically the mixing of
people the globalization is also making this type of experience very relative
because strangely enough many of these new people coming for example to Europe
from Syria and others, they have their own idea of tragedy they’re coming with. For them
World War II is not what basically shaped the imagination. And certainly I
do believe this type of liberalism particularly the way it was talking to
articulate it in the 1990s was very much based in a certain type of historical
experience and it was a kind of a Jewish universalism and cosmopolitanism from
the 19th century and the idea that emancipation of any small group can
result only in the emancipation of everybody. But I do believe now we see a
kind of a certain transition from the Jewish century to the Israeli century
where it’s much more of this understanding of basically
demographically under siege embattled political states- Even when the numbers, as
you said, in Europe of migrants and refugees are relatively
small. In fact the numbers on the continent or half of what they are in
Turkey. True. But here’s the interesting story because coming from where I’m coming, this type of a demographic story is quite important and all this-
because if you don’t understand what is going on, Central and Eastern
Europe is going to be totally in-understandable. Listen you have this
strange part, Central and Eastern Europe, in which basically there are no migrants, no
refugees, simply nobody. In 2015 when 1 million people went to Germany the 160-
168 people who went to Slovakia and nevertheless it was Central and Eastern
Europe that became most shaped by the migration crisis, the battleground, the
political parties, the new political consensus was born. And this was not only
in Hungary and this was not only true in Poland and it includes a lot of liberals,
how it was possible? And I’m saying this because in my view in order to
understand this, and this is to understand and not to justify, nobody is
going to justify the way with discussing all this. But in order to
understand what is going on is we should understand that we are talking about
very small ethnic groups organized around states that have been living in
the crossroads of history basically appearing and disappearing and they in
the day when people start coming to Europe it’s not the people that come but
the fact that this cannot be stopped, created the idea of the demographic
panic because these states discovered, these nations, their mortality. Listen, if
you basically look at the statistics according to the UN projections in the
next 25-30 years, Bulgaria is going to lose 27 percent of its population. We are
talking to the nation of 8 million people and then the question is there
concrete use to anybody is going to speak Bulgarian is going to be anybody
who is going to know and to read the books that we are reading now written on
this language this comes in a totally different question. And I do believe the
demographic panic is the most under discussed issue and then of course when
Germany said listen let’s resettle refugees, the reaction in
these was very similar to the reaction on the left on the cells when basically
Germany said listen in the global market it’s not going to be up to the
democratic state to decide how economy is going to operate. In the way the pro-market liberalism is saying listen the market is a natural phenomenon and we
cannot do anything about this. But this is under discussed Ivan I just want to
press you on this one point the demographic question is under discussed
because of the anxiety and apprehension of liberals to talk about it? Why do you
think it’s so under discussed because it’s misunderstood? No, because listen in a certain way, we always try to say that democracy is the answer to most of the
questions but democracy if it’s not an answer to something it’s not an answer
to the demographic change. And the question can you be the same with
different people is a very important question. And if that question were posed
twenty-five years ago we’re sitting in Budapest if you would have had the same
refugee flight from Syria and Afghanistan 25 years ago into Europe do you think in a
place like Hungary that’s walled and fenced off its borders, taken in no
refugees and migrants, would that response in a more, if you will, liberal
dominated era have been different? Yeah it wasn’t going- to be honest, even then it’s
not going to be unproblematic because don’t forget, all of the Central and Eastern
European states are the result of the ethnic cleansing after the World War II.
And ethnic homogeneity became one of the major sources of legitimation of the
communist regime in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1939 one-third of the
population of Poland had been non-Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, Jews, now more than 95
percent of Poles are Poles. But then the idea was, and you can see how some of the
Bosnian refugees and use of refugees can be seen there was more understanding
and there was much more kind of an empathy. But several things happened and
one of the things that happen strangely enough is also the number of the people
who left Central and Eastern European countries. And the interesting story is that there
is no correlation, positive correlation between the economic
performance and how many people left. One of the countries from which for the last
ten years most people left as a percent of the
population of the Baltic States which we’re doing quite successfully in
economic terms more than ten percent and then you start to have the idea of your
own community the very fact that you’re staying in your own place starts to be
perceived as kind of a losers position so the last 25 years created a lot of
individual successes of course people are living better, of course people have many
opportunities, but what we don’t have is the idea of the collective success. And this
lack of a collective success in my view very much affected the way that people
have been reacting to what they think and secondly don’t forget you have these
states which do not have solidarity as foreigners but we don’t have much
authority with each other. And as a result of it basically this
moment in which Central and East Europeans we believe that entering
Europe was as if we’re getting outside of the idea of crisis we’re really
getting out of history. For us the European Union was the end of history learnt. And
this return of history but now this is a history in which they’re very few of us
and we are much weaker than we used to be I do believe this explains this violent
reaction of people who are neither really bad and who basically of course
has a certain sympathy and easily can imagine that this can happen to them
because most of these nations through their history have been in a position of
the Syrians. They have been running out of others. And maybe that’s why just as a final
question Ivan, you conclude your book at least in part by saying that the sort
of re-imagination of Europe right now because of the demographic changes, and
because of the social and economic changes, may ultimately be paradoxically
a source of legitimacy for the European Union you just want to say something
on that? Listen today people basically talk is the European Union managed to reform itself, is European Union going to collapse and during the book I was very
much trying to tell the story as I see it as a story of
somebody who has seen how a political system was collapsing in front of my
eyes. So I was always using this, the idea of the desert of your mindset because
we East Europeans what was happening in the European Union nevertheless that
we are always going to say that it’s very different than our experience from
late 1980’s but you cannot stop yourself to make analogies but one
thing that I do believe is important for myself when I was concluding the book
you understand is for something to survive it’s not necessary to be
successful in the way the communist or political societies are going to define
it. Success, survival by itself is a source of legitimacy. As the famous German
poet Mark Anna Maria Rilke put it, who speaks for victory to endure is all. Let’s leave it with Rilke then. Thank you so much Ivan. Thank you.

3 thoughts on “After Europe | Interview with Ivan Krastev

  1. Discussing Democracy in Europe and people migrations without discussing the economic system or systems is just fish without water? Too many things to talk not enough time here.

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