Central Europe – Or, The New Colonies

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.


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Written: December, 1998

Mercantilism was the intellectual correlate of colonialism. The idea, roughly, was to physically conquer territories (colonies), subjugate their people, transform them into cheap labour, get hold of all the raw materials and ship them to the colonizer's territory, there to be processed to yield finished products. The beauty in the concept was the "closed circuit" logic. The inhabitants of the colonies (also known as "natives") had to consume finished goods and products. The colonial power forced upon them (through tariff and quota regimes or violence when needed) the finished products produced from their very own raw materials! Thus, the colonies were prevailed upon to sell cheap raw materials and to buy expensive finished goods.

This was coupled with a hubristic and haughty conviction in the transforming powers of the Western values, Western technology, and Western economics. The natives awe struck and grateful were supposed to assimilate these endowments and thus become honorary Westerners ("white men"). Where osmosis and immitation failed bayonets and bombs were called upon. These were later replaced by soft credits and economic micromanagement by a host of multilateral institutions.

If it sounds like colonialism and has the same economic effects – it is colonialism. The relationship between the European Union and Central Europe is colonialism. Central Europe provides the European Union with raw materials and cheap labour. It buys from the European Union finished goods, products and services. In the process, it incurs enormous trade and balance of payments deficits. Incidentally, it also serves as the EU's dumping grounds for anything from toxic waste to shoddy or outmoded products.

Let us examine the case of the Czech Republic. It is the assembly plant of Volkswagen and the export launching pad of other multinationals. And the workers are supposed to consume heavily subsidized agricultural produce (such as pork).

For this the Czech Republic is to blame. The previous government did everything it could to alienate its natural allies in the Vysehrad Triangle. It did a good job of it. Instead of negotiating with the EU as a bloc of c. 70 million consumers – it ended up representing an ever-diminishing number of Czecho-Slovaks. Its haughty and corruption-laden behaviour did not acquire too many friends in the West, either.

The approach should have been different. In the West, the client is always right. The Czechs are CONSUMERS. They are the clients of the huge corporation called EU. As a consumer club or group, they could have dictated terms, rather than be subjected to them. The current Hungarian government understands this. Consumers have a single, irresistible power: they can stop consuming. Imagine if 30-40 billion USD were to be deleted from the EU's books by angry consumers – it would have come begging and negotiating, instead of dictating and condescending. The EU does not hesitate to pull every lever – however illegitimate, ridiculous, or downright dangerous – in its negotiations with the new applicants. The new applicants did not assimilate yet their dual role as applicants (an inferior position) and as markets (a very superior position).

This inferiority complex has to do with history. The Hussite Wars were perhaps glorious – but they were also irrevocably destructive. Not only were the Czech Lands physically demolished – they were also cut from the rest of Europe for centuries to come. The only times they were reincorporated into it were traumatic (the Nazi occupation, for instance). Having glimpsed the first real opportunity to become a part of the big west dream (and to be redeemed from the clutches of the wounded Russian bear to the East) – the Czechs lost all judgement, self-esteem, self-confidence and negotiating skills. So did all the other Central and Eastern (and Southern) European nations. It was security and safety they were after – not prosperity.

This basic misunderstanding underlies the great European project. The EU's thinking was mainly economic and marginally geopolitical (though it was presented differently). The Czech's motivation was mainly geopolitical and marginally economic (though it was presented differently). The resulting malentendues are worthy of Moliere's pen.

Moreover, the Czechs have always been a religious breed. True, they are the most vehement atheists in Europe – but this is because they adopted other deities. They have always been zealous, intellectual fanatics. One of my Czech friends calls many periods in his nation's history "intellectual terrorism". The swings some people made lately from being youthful communists to being vengeful ultra-capitalists are indeed breathtaking. Personality cults are supplanted only by fanatic ideologies, which are replaced only by religious zeal. This, of course, does not tend to enhance the realpolitik instincts of the nation. Czechs have always been a few years too early. They had their own reformation long before Luther. They had the Spring of 68 long before Gorbachev. Every such intellectual transition was followed by a Jacobin disposal and by purges of whole classes and elites. These "new religion-personality cult-purges" cycles were not absent from the Velvet Revolution.

Simply, the EU got frightened. Excessive zeal can give anyone – let alone the Brussels amphibian bureaucrats – cold feet. Dates are being pushed back. Commitments hushed or rehashed. Now the Czechs "enjoy" the worst of both worlds: they are being treated as a colony and their date of entry is ceaselessly postponed.

This should and could have been different. The Czechs should not have shown any enthusiasm or anxiety. These are bad negotiating tactics. They should have negotiated with the EU as consumers (markets) do with producers elsewhere in the world. They should have extracted at least a commitment regarding the date of accession and detailed timetables. And they should have kept these timetables.


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