An intriguing historical essay by Ivan Krastev of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. The more you read on history the more it amazes you. Krastev says one should not assume Euroarea cannot disintegrate because risks are high. USSR suffered from similar ideology and fate. When you read essays like these
Some bit on USSR collapse:
In 1992 the world woke up to find that the Soviet Union was no longer on the map. One of the world’s two superpowers had collapsed without a war, alien invasion or any other catastrophe, with the exception of one rather farcical and unsuccessful coup. And the collapse happened against all expectations that the Soviet empire was too big to fail, too stable to collapse and had survived too much turbulence simply to implode. True, there was strong evidence to suggest that the Soviet system had been in irreversible decline since the 1970s, but this was anticipated to unfold over decades; nothing preordained its collapse as the climax of a ‘short 20th century’.
In 1985, 1986 and even in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as inconceivable to contemporary analysts as the prospect of the European Union’s disintegration is to experts today. As late as 1990 a group of outstanding American experts closely connected to the Pentagon were convinced that it is improbable that by the end of this decade the Soviet Union will be a welfare state…
But what a difference a decade can make!
And it is exactly this twist of fate, this leap from the ‘unthinkable’ to the ‘inevitable’ that makes the Soviet disintegration experience a useful reference point in current discussions on the ramifications of the European crisis and the choices that European leaders face.
After all, the EU’s present crisis has powerfully demonstrated that the risk of disintegration of the EU is much more than a rhetorical device – a toy monster used by scared politicians to enforce austerity on unhappy voters. It is not only European economies but also European politics that are in turmoil. Europe finds itself squeezed between the impotence of national politics, the democratic deficit of European policies and the growing mistrust of the markets.
He says the idea of building European Union has failed already:
This mood is reflected in recent surveys. For example, the “Future of Europe” survey, funded by the European Commission and published in April 2012,2 shows that while the majority of Europeans agree that the EU is a good place to live in, their confidence in the economic performance of the Union and its capacity to play a major role in global politics has declined. Even more troubling, almost 90% of Europeans see a big gap between what the public wants and what governments do; only a third of Europeans feel that their vote counts at an EU level, and only 18% of Italians and 15% of Greeks consider that their vote counts even in their own country. And according to the latest Transatlantic Trends poll, 76% of Europeans find their economic system unfair and delivering only to the very few at the top.
In short, the European Union, as we know it, no longer exists. The very foundations on which it was built are eroding.
Soviet history provides useful lessons:
Against this background, how unthinkable is the EU’s disintegration? Should Europeans make the mistake of taking the Union for granted? Should they assume that the Union would not collapse because it should not collapse? Here, Europe’s capacity to learn from the Soviet precedent could play a crucial part. For the very survival of the EU may depend on its leaders’ ability to manage a similar mix of political, economic and psychological factors that were in play in the process of the Soviet collapse. The game of disintegration is primarily a political one driven much more by the perceptions and misperceptions of the political actors than simply by the constellation of the structural factors – institutional and economic.
At the same time, deciding to compare the current EU crisis with the Soviet collapse does not mean that we accept that the EU is doomed to disintegrate. The intention of this comparison is to kill misplaced illusions and not to fuel apocalyptic fears.
Though there are differences between the two:
The EU is not a house of cards, and the great differences between the Soviet and the EU projects must always be kept in mind if we want to make use of the lessons of the Soviet collapse. While the EU is an unfinished project, the Soviet Union was a flawed project. While the Soviet project was based on terror, the European project was built on consensus. While the majority of Soviet citizens were attracted by the life in the West, Europeans are proud of their way of life and their political model and do not dream ‘Chinese dreams’. If the collapse of the Soviet Union was preconditioned on the collapse of the communist ideology, the EU is not suffering a major crisis of its worldview. If Soviet reformers saw the future of the Soviet Union in a looser federation or confederation, the EU’s survival is preconditioned on a closer political union. In short, the Soviet Union fell victim to its failures while the EU is threatened by its very success. But while the fundamentally different nature of the European project is a strong argument for why Europe will not go the Soviet way, it is not a sufficient guarantee that its collapse is impossible. For the EU to survive, European leaders should avoid the mistakes that the Soviet leaders made.
So what are the seven lessons?
The first lesson is also a paradox: namely, the belief (backed by economists and shared by Europe’s political classes) that the Union cannot disintegrate is also one of the major risks of disintegration.
The second lesson is that the EU’s disintegration does not need to be a result of a victory by anti-EU forces over pro-EU forces; the Soviet experience is a potent warning to Europe that collapse can occur and if it happens it would be the unintended consequence of the Union’s long-term dysfunctioning (or perceived dysfunctioning), compounded by the elites’ misreading of national political dynamics.
The third lesson of the Soviet Union’s demise is that misguided reforms – even more than the lack of reforms – can result in disintegration. It is during crises that politicians search for a ‘silver bullet’, and quite often it is this bullet that is the cause of death.
The fourth lesson of the Soviet experience is that the major risk to the political project – in the absence of war or other extreme circumstances – comes not from destabilisation on the periphery but from a revolt at the centre (even if the crisis on the periphery can be infectious). It was Russia’s choice to get rid of the union rather than the Baltic republics’ ever-present desire to run away from it that determined the fate of the Soviet state. Today, it is Germany’s view of what is happening in the European Union that will more decisively affect the future of the European project than the troubles in the Greek or Spanish economies.
The fifth lesson is that if the dynamic of disintegration prevails, the result will look more like a ‘bank run’ than a populist revolution against the Union. Thus, the most important factor affecting the chances of the Union surviving is the trust of the elites in the capacity of the Union to deal with its problems. In Stephen Kotkin’s apt observation on the Soviet case, “it
was the central elite, rather than the independence movements of the periphery, that cashiered the Union”.
The sixth lesson of the disintegration is that the hope of a small but more functional and optimal union and orderly break-up of the eurozone may itself open the way to disintegration.
The seventh and most disturbing lesson coming out of a study of Soviet collapse is that at times of threats of disintegration political actors should bet on flexibility and constrain their natural urge for rigidity and solutions intended to last (which, if and when they fail, can accelerate the momentum of disintegration). Unfortunately, at present, European decisionmakers are trying to save the Union through policy solutions that radically limit the choices of both national governments and the public.