bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
Europe as an impaired construction
by Tomaz Mastnak - interviewed in Feral Tribune

There is a widespread perception here in Croatia that we are leaving the Balkans and entering Europe. Cooperation with other Balkan countries is in this perspective seen as a necessary evil. Will countries like ours become part of Europe or remain peripheral to it?

This negative view of Balkan cooperation has a rational core. The world powers insist on cooperation between the Balkan states, but without pressing for or contributing to any victory over evil in those countries that are responsible for the breakdown of the earlier cooperation. The United States and Europe in particular are evidently unwilling to confront this evil, to which they themselves have contributed, since they would then have to admit the colossal mistakes of their policy towards the Balkans. They started off by blaming 'Balkan types' , whom they portrayed as atavistic tribes who could not be helped; and they ended by reducing the evil that has occurred to the personalities of two or three leaders. A good example of this erroneous policy is their attitude to Serbia since the presidential elections there. Now that Milosevic is gone, everything is suddenly declared to be fine. Had he won, the West would have denounced the elections as manipulation; but since it was Kostunica who won, Serbia overnight became a land of democracy - although there has been no de-nazification or anything of the kind. It was enough, it seems, to invest so-called Serb nationalism with a human face.

The Balkan peoples themselves appear determined to escape from the Balkans.

People who advocate escape are fleeing from themselves. Instead of confronting themselves and their own history, they have created an impression that everything that made them into what they are will be left behind, and that by entering Europe they and their societies will be miraculously transformed into something that is new, good and attractive. In my view it is entry into Europe that should be treated as the necessary evil.

Choice Without Choice

You are saying that integration offers no hope?

The choice between being part of Europe or remaining on the periphery is a false one. I see no compelling reason for treating contemporary Europe as the centre of the world and defining everything outside it as peripheral. In the world of today Europe itself has become a periphery and is bound to become even more peripheral in the future. One could argue, therefore, that our countries will not escape being peripheral by integrating into Europe. Their existing peripheral status will simply be sealed. From being states they will become transformed into crown lands of the central bureaucracy in Brussels: a periphery of a periphery.

In the introduction to your book Europe between Evolution and Euthanasia you speak of the uncritical adoption of a 'pro-European' option by Slovene public opinion. What are the parameters of this fascination and what is its cause?

Pro-European unanimity rests upon an uncritical understanding of the concept of Europe, its treatment as an unproblematic category.  'Europe' stands for all individual desires, so 'Europe' becomes what we all want. The freedom of choice thereby becomes limitless, for we are all choosing the same thing, all sharing the same 'European' orientation. The Germans have a very good word for this: Gleichschaltung. All Slovenian parties with any influence agree on this, although each interprets the 'European orientation' in its own way . Instead of creating their own political programmes and national development strategies, 'joining Europe' has become their only political programme and strategic aim. Since all real strategic decisions are left to Brussels, local politicians are freed from all responsibility. This is where their policy ends and it is in this end of politics that one should seek both the outcome and the cause of pro-European unanimity.

'Europe' is universally taken as a synonym for integration. To what extent does it denote integration as opposed to exclusion?

The word 'Europe' emerged as code name for the sense of Western Christian unity after the Turks had captured Constantinople in 1453. It was then that Europe in the sense of a geographically defined cultural and religious community of Western Christians first appeared. This consciousness was articulated as part of a political mobilization directed against the Turks, when the active slogan became to 'expel, drive out, eradicate' the Turks from Europe, to 'wipe out the Turkish name in Europe', etc. It is this drive that marked the birth of Europe with which we automatically identify today when we speak of Europe.

Legitimate Violence against The Other

Does this means that the Europeans were formed as a racial opposite to the Muslims?

Western Christians became Europeans when they identified the Crusades - ie. the holy war against Muslims as enemies of the Christian world - with 'Europe' . The fundamentalist hatred of Muslims was not invented by Europeans, however, but by Western Christians at the end of the 11th century. The Europeans inherited this hatred from their mediaeval ancestors and gave it a new meaning. It played a determinant role in the formation of a European identity and remained part of its core. The demand that the Turks be expelled from Europe was in a sense a demand for 'ethnic cleansing'. I am not sure that one can define a community created through a mobilization on this basis as racist without falling into anachronism; but the fact remains that Spain was 'cleansed' of Muslims and Jews in the name of purity of blood. The perception of Europe as a common 'land' and the concept of purity of Christian blood appeared more or less at the same time.

What constitutes present-day European exclusivity?

It consists of worshipping and enforcing one's own values and one's own historical experience as universal standards. Those who do not accept them are rejected, are seen as doomed to decline or destruction. It also includes hostility towards foreigners. Islamophobia is universal, anti-Semitism has not been defeated, Fascism and Nazism are on the rise, racism remains alive. Sometimes all this is shrouded in a more or less modern, high or at least respectable culture; sometimes it spills over into diplomatic tension; sometimes it forms part of centuries-old local traditions, nurtured and retained as folklore; sometimes it survives hidden beneath the cloak of true faith; at other times it comes to the surface in all its ugliness as naked violence. In so-called Schengen Europe, violence against foreigners is in the last instance legitimate: though sporadically subjected to legal sanction, this is never sufficient to restrict it effectively, let alone to destroy it. The liberal-democratic establishment as a whole favours 'Europe' , but enmity towards Islam has remained constitutive of Europe. The freedom of expression and organization enjoyed by an extreme right of Islamophobic or generally xenophobic tendency is defended in the name of 'political correctness'. To take one example, German Social-Democracy has chosen to fight neo-Nazis by praising tolerance and multi-culturalism rather than by state repression. We are dealing here not only with a co-existence of liberal democracy with Islamophobia, however, but with an entire European tradition that remains Islamophobic at heart. It is unfortunately true that political events offer ample evidence for the persistence of hostility towards Islam, of which the most striking example was the war against Bosnia.

The Western Sin

You believe that the war in Bosnia was an example of the survival in Western Europe of the spirit of the Crusades?

The Western, largely European, policy systematically created conditions for the war against Bosnia to succeed. It did nothing to prevent the outbreak of the wars that accompanied Yugoslavia's dissolution, or to end the violence once it had erupted. It made sure that the genocidal violence against the Bosniaks would realize its aims, not passively and out of impotence, but actively and with an iron will. When these results appeared endangered, it imposed an unjust peace. Western, and in particular European, policy fully endorsed the Serbian war propaganda as the legitimate framework for understanding the war against Bosnia. At the core of that propaganda was the identification of Bosnians with Muslims. European and American politicians re-named the legal government of an independent state as 'the Muslim side', and the war as an ethnic war, in order to be able to negotiate publicly with war criminals as if they were statesmen. They denied the Bosnians the basic right without which the modern international system cannot be imagined: the right to self-defence. They tied their hands so that 'our Serbs' could slaughter them like cattle. The picture of the Dutch officers drinking a toast with Mladic in the middle of the Srebrenica carnage tells it all, though it was just one illustration of many such incidents. European politicians will most likely try to prevent the delivery of Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic to The Hague, because they could probably speak there of things that are better left unsaid. They could testify about Europe and its Islamophobia as our living reality.

What about the Catholic Church?

The Church, which invented and created Islamophobia, has never rejected this part of its tradition. This is true despite the fact that the Pope took a much better position on the war against Bosnia than the great majority of European politicians. I am deeply concerned about the growth of Catholic fundamentalism. We are witnessing an attempt today to re-Catholicize societies which underwent so-called secularization and atheistic totalitarianism. Its success would inevitably bring about a conflict with other confessions and cultures.

Surrender of Statehood

How do you view the current policy of the West towards the area of former Yugoslavia, given the presence of its governors in Bosnia and Kosovo and its placing of FRY under strict supervision of the kind once applied to Croatia?

Current Western policy is the continuation of the old one, the one that aided Yugoslavia's violent disintegration and assisted war criminals. The Balkans was indeed Europeanized - and radically so - with the war against Bosnia, when it retraced the footsteps of its past. At that time the violence was directed primarily against a culture, i.e. towards a violent removal of the material culture testifying to the former presence in the region of the Ottoman Empire. The latest wave of forcible Europeanization involved destruction of the 'non-European' population, obliteration of its settlements, sacral objects and cultural monuments, burning of its libraries and historical archives. Once this project was largely accomplished, it could be replaced by the market.

It is precisely the market, capital investment and so on that are presented as the path to stability and avoidance of future wars.

The end of the war opened up limitless and virtually open markets. In this state of absolute freedom everything is for sale, from construction materials to consulting and managerial services. The war removed, or at least radically weakened, structures of government that might have imposed limits on the market or tried to regulate it. States have been replaced by foreign governance. Instead of public, civil governments, the emphasis is now on 'civil society'. The greater the freedom of movement of capital, goods and ideas (but not labour!), the smaller the need for open political pressure. Political domination will henceforth be maintained by non-political means, which will be facilitated by the declining role of national states.

What then is the fate of national states, especially small national states like Slovenia and Croatia, in the process of European political integration?

In principle the same thing will happen to small states that happens to large ones. But the outcome will be worse for them, since they have no other means for ensuring or realizing their interests, at least certainly not such as can withstand the non-state and non-political sources of power available to the large states. The formation of a so-called united Europe is directed against the state as an instrument of public rule; yet it is only at the state level that small nations are in principle equal to large ones. By giving up their statehood they surrender also this legal equality. By giving up our statehood we are giving up our existence as political communities. In so far as we remain a community, we will be able to do so only on a non-political, and probably ethnic or religious, basis. National interests, which at least nominally embrace and represent also our interests, will be replaced by group, corporate or individual interests. The problem with European integration is that states are being dissolved without being replaced by new mechanisms of publicly accountable decision-making and government. Survival of the state and citizenship are a precondition for being able to make decisions about public and collective matters. The European processes of integration are making that impossible.

How do you see the future of the integrative process?

If successful, it will lead to a major re-distribution of wealth and power that will profit a minority, while the majority of the population, especially those living in peripheral regions like ours, will lose out. For the world around us a united Europe would represent a danger, since it would be difficult to supervise and tame it. People of non-European origin living within it would have a hard time. If integration fails, on the other hand, it will mean a great dissipation of energy and wealth; some people will prosper, of course, but it will leave behind many ruins and great demoralization.

What in your view are the chances that integration will succeed?

It is most likely that it will not. One of the main reasons for eventual failure is precisely this lack of any democratic mechanism for deciding common affairs. Another derives from the fact that it is impossible to advocate absolute freedom for the European market at the same time as absolute freedom for the world market. This gravitational economic axis of European integration will break down sooner or later. The third reason we can describe as spiritual: the fact that Europe's sense of identity is based on lies, and lies are an insufficient foundation for such an ambitious enterprise.


Tomaz Mastnak is scientific adviser at the Philosophical Institute, Centre for Scientific Research of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts. He became known throughout the former Yugoslavia in the mid 1980s as one of the leading proponents and theoreticians of the new social movements in Slovenia. An early advocate of the concept of civil society, he has since distanced itself from it. His works include Christianity and the Muslims (1996) and Europe Between Evolution and Euthanasia (1998). This interview by Toni Gabric was published in Feral Tribune (Split), 23 December 2000.


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