The West is losing the battle for the heart of Europe

January 10, 2016
A Greek policeman stands in front of Iraqi, Afghani and Syrian refugees waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near to the village of Idomeni, Greece December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1XC9R

A Greek policeman stands in front of Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian refugees waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

A little over a quarter of a century ago, Europe celebrated the healing of the schism that Communism enforced on it since World War Two, and which produced great tribunes of freedom.

Lech Walesa, the Polish shipyard electrician, climbed over his yard wall in Gdansk to join and then lead a strike in 1980 – lighting the fuse to ignite, 10 years and a period of confinement later, a revolution that couldn’t be squashed. He was elected president in 1990.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident who served years in prison for his opposition to the Communist government, emerged as the natural leader of the democrats who articulated the frustration of the country. He was elected president of the still-united Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Jozsef Antall, a descendant of the Hungarian nobility who opposed both the Hungarian fascists and communists, was imprisoned for participating in the 1956 revolt against the Soviet Union. And he was foremost in the negotiations to end Communist rule in the late 1980s. He survived to be elected prime minister in 1990.

These men were inspirations to their fellow citizens, heroes to the wider democratic world and were thought to be the advance guard of people who would grow and prosper in a Europe eschewing every kind of authoritarianism. Havel could say, with perfect certainty, that the Communists in power had developed in Czechs “a profound distrust of all generalizations, ideological platitudes, clichés, slogans, intellectual stereotypes… we are now largely immune to all hypnotic enticements, even of the traditionally persuasive national or nationalistic variety.”

It isn’t like that now. Poland, largest and most successful of the Central European states has, in the governing Law and Justice Party, a group of politicians driving hard to remold the institutions of the state so that their power withstands all challenge. The government has sought to pack the constitutional court with a majority of its supporters; extended the powers of the intelligence services and put a supporter at their head; and signed into law a measure which puts broadcasting under direct state control.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Law and Justice Party leader, and former prime minister, drives the government’s agenda with a steady purpose: to fashion Poland into a state guided by Catholicism, free from foreign influence — whether from the Western European states, or from Russia. rejecting as much of modern liberalism and Western European influence as possible.

In this quest, he sees a model in neighboring Hungary. He has a close relationship with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, huddling with him for six hours of talks on Jan. 6 .

Since his election victory in 2010, Orban has successfully cowed the leftist opposition, suppressed the media, packed the constitutional court with his loyalists, made the electoral system more friendly to his party and clamped down hard on the activities of civil society.

Orban and Kaczynski seem to disagree on just one thing. Orban and Russian president Vladimir Putin are mutually admiring: Kaczynski holds Putin’s regime responsible for the death of his twin brother Lech, then Poland’s president, in a plane crash in Russia.

The Czech Republic isn’t authoritarian: but the promise Havel held out for it – to be the heart of Europe, a lighthouse of freedom, civility and diligence — has been frittered away. Its president, Milos Zeman, has appeared drunk several times at televised events, and he joined a virulently anti-Muslim rally in Prague last year. More like Orban than Kaczynski, he’s a fan of Putin — not a popular position with those Czechs who remember the Soviet era.

Those, for whom Havel was a hero and a model, despair of a country whose political and business elite, including many media owners, are in and out of each others’ pockets. Istvan Leko, editor of the daily Lidove Noviny, told me at a recent talk in Prague that “we did not grasp what was happening. We saw ourselves as on the same side as the new politicians and as Havel; and we wrote about the Communists, and the STB [secret police], and the past… Meanwhile the relationships between the politicians and the new business people were being quickly formed and the new time of corruption was beginning.”

It’s corruption, the scrambling after political power to benefit one’s own or allies’ business, which corrodes civic behavior and trust. It never seems to be vanquished. Waves of new (or old) politicians come to power on an anti-corruption ticket, and too many of them stay to discover and enjoy the fruits of power. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned last year with numerous charges of corruption and abuse of office hanging over him. He’s not alone, in the former communist world.

These governments, all members of the European Union, feel less and less loyalty to it. What little they had has been strained by the stream of refugees that has flooded the continent. Most of them have followed the early example of Slovakia, and shut their borders. The Germans have threatened legal action to reopen borders, but mass attacks near Cologne’s main train station early this week by young men of Middle Eastern appearance have weakened its moral authority. With police and politicians apparently attempting a cover-up, it has raised the level of anger at the mass acceptance of migrants in Germany itself.

In regaining autonomy with the Soviet collapse, the Central Europeans first reached gratefully for Europe and its panoply of rights. Now, they recoil from its responsibilities. Instead, they seek a patriotic spirit impatient of liberal opposition and what they see as immoral or alarming innovation from abroad, such as gay rights.

This is likely to change again. A young Polish friend, working (as so many) in the United Kingdom, told me that “the old voted for Kaczynski: we, the young, didn’t vote, and that was a mistake.” An opinion poll recently showed 56 percent opposition to some of the Law and Justice government’s measures. But they need a new inspiration: and they need jobs. Their provision is the largest task in the presently fading continent.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s first election victory. He previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002. Additionally, there is no clear evidence that Orban and his predecessor in office, Jozsef Antall, worked as allies.


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Europe is losing the battle for its very existence. The fools in The Hague are fiddling while Cologne, Stuttgart, Berlin and other cities are experiencing gang sex assaults on German women. The police were powerless to stop the attacks. When protesters demanded answers, they were met with water cannon and tear gas-neither of which were used against the NYE rapists.

You, in the Lugenpresse, deserve a special sneer for cheering the open borders policy of Mutti Terrorisa. May Merkel go down in history as the traitor she is.

Pegida, period.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

We need more articles from Mr.Lloyd! They appear to offset the articles and odd photos cobbled together to push agendas all across Europe.
He is a breath of fresh air!

Posted by famoustroll | Report as abusive

Hungary does NOT neighbour Poland. Viktor Orban was first elected in 1998.

Posted by flimo | Report as abusive

The examples given are of individual nations of Europe. The biggest danger to Europe is the EU, seemingly driven by one person, Merkel of Germany. The attacks in Germany were not the only ones on New Year’s – there was also at least one attack in Finland. The attacks were “coordinated” and that is the worst part of the situation. There will be more.

Countries in the EU are now not “sovereign nations” since they have no borders and no control over who enters. Some are rebelling – they do not want their cultures, their languages, their laws disappearing due to the orders they are given regarding “refugees”. You can’t blame these countries for wanting to keep what they fought to have.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

The Poles are absolutely right, lets hope the public in the UK have woken up and vote for Brexit.

Posted by peterhpeterj | Report as abusive

Europe was doing fine till we started destabilizing countries surrounding Russia, China, Middle-east/Africa where, Europe was left to deal with and pay dearly, for the spill-over of issues as a result of our relative immature meddling at global level.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Germany has taken in over 800,000 refugees over the past 2 years. There were approximately 320 attacks reported in Cologne. Many of the attackers that have been identified were not from Syria, nor were they refugees. Some were. That means that if we’re being very liberal with our interpretation and are saying that ALL the attackers are refugees, that means that 0.04% are misogynistic enough to perpetrate these sorts of crimes. A whole 0.04%. Do with that number what you will.

Posted by mynrkt | Report as abusive

While I neither agree with or even understand the heading this article has been given, the article itself distills wisdom and an urgent concern for the direction world politics has taken.

My country, the United States, has opted for “regime change” in just about every region of the world. This logic leads to war. Not piddling war—but world war.

Americans should realize their greatest enemy is their own government—not Russia, not China, not Syria, not Iran, not any of those places mentioned by politicians running for President.

Posted by Brett_Merkey | Report as abusive

Exclusive: U.S., Mexican efforts to battle gun trafficking falter – GAO

Again, another opinion piece. Do you ever investigate anything?

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Islam has been trying to invade Europe since the year 735 or so. Now with the help of ignorant liberals they have succeeded.

France, UK, Germany, Scandinavia, you will have Kalashnikov and RPG sectarian violence in your streets on a weekly basis soon, because of your naivety and hubris, thinking you could tame a wild animal or reason with the insane.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

There is no Europe. Look at a map. It’s just part of the Asian Continent, where people got too far north and lost their skin pigment a few thousand years ago. Any attempt to maintain a “European identity” is folly. Always has been, always will be. Europe is an imaginary designation. If you doubt this, then tell me. Without googling: Is Azerbaijan European? How about Georgia? Armenia? Belarus? Europe or not Europe?

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

@Solidar Often agree, but Europeans have a long history of losing territory, but then rolling back, invasions by Persians, Huns, Arabs, Moors, Mongols, Turks. Which has strengthened the sense of national identity in Eastern Europe – Croats, Serbs, Russians, Hungarians, etc. Hence the rise of nationalistic anti-immigrant forces and parties, with left/liberals split between “hard headed” and “soft headed”.
Germany seems badly conflicted, by “inviting” economic migrants as “refugees”, with many arrivals from impoverished nations other than Syria. Then trying to force the rest of the EU to take a proportion based on say relative population was outrageous to many. Now they talk about tighter controls and lots of deportations, but will this really happen when origin countries like Algeria do not want them back ?
Even without the extra problems of “Islamic identity”, large groups of new arrivals from an ethnic/cultural group tend to compete with the lowest layers of the host society, form “mafias” for access to work and social support, and may take generations to become “cross cultural” let alone “assimilated”. Many benefits but many problems to overcome for multicultural societies like Australia.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.

Posted by GOLDENRULE | Report as abusive

No, ‘the West’ is not losing the battle for the heart of Europe. Europe is losing the battle for the heart of Europe; my part of ‘the West’ is doing just fine.

My part of ‘the West’ has spent > 3% of its GDP on defense for many decades. The EU bunch… 1% maybe. Could be why they don’t have the navy they need to defend their coastline. Haitian refugees get intercepted and taken back to Haiti, because we have a Coast Guard and Navy. Seems to work for us, sorry about Germany.

As to eastern European corruption, do some investigative work on the British and French bankers. Barclays is simply more efficient, and its execs have learned to shelter themselves a bit better. Maybe by using their relationships with British media companies…

Posted by DavidHume | Report as abusive

@mynrkt That makes me feel much better…and I think we all know this issue isn’t about misogyny.

Posted by Jlwllcx | Report as abusive

OK, Reuters censors, you will probably ban this again. That’s your shame.

Here is a famous quote from Ms Nuland of the State Department (2013),
“F… the EU”
What can I say, mission accomplished!

Posted by BraveNewWrld | Report as abusive

No. We in East Europe see losing of West Europe. You have flooded Western Europe by Muslims and Africans, you manage European Union with bureaucratic style. Today’s Europe = Germany & France only, regardless of the small countries. Sorry, but we have experience with nazism and communism and we never let the victory of totalitarian ideologies, like islam or European Union neomarxism again. Our part of Europe is still real Europe, not like yours. Your Europe – Western – begins to be like African shariah country, with parallel muslim community. One day you will want to come here.

Posted by Michal74 | Report as abusive