Time to Dream Big Dreams about the Central-European Federation

In the case of EU disintegration, Central Europe could draw inspiration from ideas of the Balkan federation. The cooperation of the Baltic countries, Visegrad, and Ukraine could serve as a backup plan.
Central European Federtation

Russian aggression in Ukraine has split leftists, and not only Slovak ones, into two groups: pro-Russian and anti-Russian. The pro-Russians blame their adversaries for not being “leftist enough” and claim that if you are not with Russia, you are for the preservation of the status quo with the USA and NATO. This is simply not true. It is time to dream big dreams, dreams of a future Central Europe without Russia, without the USA and without NATO. Dreams that stem from the ideological foundations of the Balkan federation, adapted to present conditions and re-focused on a space closer to the centre of Europe. The realization of these dreams would result in a third power, acting as a counterbalance to Russia and Germany in Europe that would not serve as a mere puppet of US interests.

Why is it necessary to dream?

The forceful annexation of Crimea has proved that Russia, like the USA, feels it is a superpower that does not have to respect rules or values. Politicians like the idealistic Gorbachev, or not-too-harmful alcoholic Yeltsin – similarly to America’s Kennedy – were here only temporarily. The idealism ended with their removal, and realpolitik – based on a desire to extend one’s own influence, economic domination, and eventually territory – has become the new norm. Everything else is just talk, which aims to cloak the only real ambition of both superpowers. Forget the UN and human rights on one hand, and Slavic unity and the Eurasian Union on the other. Do not believe in anything; a sober nihilism should prevail. They are interested only in gaining influence, economic domination, and territory. It is possible – in fact, it is the only correct option – to judge all Russian and American policy through this prism.

Strengthening the Visegrád 4 should be our primary security concern.

Every unfortunate country that happens to be in a geopolitical area of Russian or American interest has to adjust to the above-mentioned facts. Otherwise, it pays the price that Ukraine did. The 1994 Treaty of Budapest and the waiver of nuclear weapons, these were all just foreplay to the current Ukrainian tragedy. The Ukrainian president, who sought France’s guarantee on the Treaty of Budapest, has received a bitter lesson: it was politely explained to him that the treaty is only a piece of paper, and nuclear weapons would be the only real guarantee for Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. In the end, Russia and USA became the guarantors of the Treaty. The same Russia that attacked Ukraine not even twenty years later and the same USA that not only does not intervene, but doesn’t even have the courage to promise the mutilated Ukraine NATO membership in the distant future. To sum up and underline, the case of Ukraine is a lesson for all pacifists in post-socialist republics – including Slovakia – who babble on about how we need neither army nor weapons; to the great delight of Russia. Unfortunately, we do need an army. A strong one. The stronger and more efficient an army we have, the smaller the probability we would need to use it, as it works as a deterrent. It is sad indeed, but that is the case, and looking back into our history since 1968, it is the only possible way.

With whom we should not dream

Of course, we have to be a part of a bigger union if we are to protect ourselves against Russian aggression. The mooring of Slovakia in NATO and the EU is not sufficient and is not efficient economically. The USA have ignored the Treaty of Budapest in the case of Ukraine and, ignoring Article 5, they will also not come to the aid of any Baltic or Eastern European state if the need arose. If Ukraine was not worth it, then we are definitely not worth it.

Great Britain can’t be relied on either. Its anti-Russian stance is encouraging, but its anti-EU sentiment as well as its xenophobic attitude, particularly towards migrants from the V4 working on the other side of the Channel, is unacceptable. It has to be said loudly and clearly: at least since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, Great Britain has been “annoying” the EU with claims to its reputed “special status”. It has no such status – its “exceptionality” today is rooted only in the especially erosive effects of London’s demands for all sorts of exemptions and exceptions; an example which is slowly becoming a bandwagon for other countries. The only positive aspect to be highlighted is the possibility for citizens of new member states to work in the country without a transitional period. But that was at the time of the Labour government. The Conservative party, having seized power, has made a 180° turn, largely due to the political successes of a Eurosceptic opposition. Currently, it seems that Great Britain will no longer be a member of the EU from 23 June, or at least will significantly curtail the basic social rights of V4 citizens who contribute greatly to public revenue with their labour and taxes. This social hostility and humiliation, this violation of the basic principle of equality among peoples cannot be accepted or tolerated. Great Britain is not a partner the V4 can count on.

The V4 as a counterbalance to Russia and Germany is certainly not enough. Other potential partners are those who are in the same situation as we are, in particular: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. If all these countries coalesced and lobbied for Ukrainian membership in the EU, a solid base of foreign policy cooperation could emerge.

The EU does not have its own army and nothing suggests it is interested in creating one. Germany, as the most economically advanced and strongest country of the EU, is not a reliable partner for the V4 in any potential defence pact. It is not only due to bitter memories of WWII, but also due to insufficient German commitment towards European ideas and its agreements with Russia. It was Germany that opposed and fervently opposes the idea of a real currency union and European bonds. And if someone does not want to pool finances in a European project, the suspicion arises that they are not counting on the project in the long term. In other words, there is a real suspicion that Germany prioritizes its own interests over European ones in the long view. There is a real danger that Germany will support the EU only as long as it is advantageous for the Germans.

The current German realpolitik towards Russia does not engender much trust either. There is obviously the matter of Nordstream, but also the dealings of former German Chancellor Schroeder with Gazprom or  the training that the German army provided to the Russians, even throughout the latter’s Ukrainian operations. All of this painfully evokes ominous memories of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which we do not want to witness again. As history tends to repeat itself, our vigilance is understandable.

With feet on the ground, but a head in the clouds

Vigilance does not mean temerity. Central Europe surely does not have options other than being part of the EU and NATO. The Ukrainian crisis is so unpleasant for us for precisely that reason – if the Russians had not stopped somewhere in Donbas, we would have had no other choice than to beg all the gods and Obamas that  NATO would intervene and that the EU would continue to function.

Comparing life before 1989 and now – I have witnessed both – and comparing the living standards in the countries of the former USSR and those of the USA – there is no doubt that, if we must choose,  Russian domination is worse than American. Yes, even for me as a man on the left-of-centre, the working conditions of those in the USA are preferable to those of their colleagues in the states of the former USSR, not to mention freedoms. The evidence lies in the murders of Politkovskaya and Litvinenko, the jailing of Pussy Riot, Putin’s war on LGBT people, etc. I’m sorry to say, but Snowden, unlike Politkovskaya or Litvinenko, is still alive and Manning is as well, although jailed. It goes without saying that it does not mean the American treatment of Snowden, Assange or Manning is correct – quite the contrary. Undoubtedly, the Americans have committed worse atrocities in the past than the Russians today – but nowadays, American dominance is still more acceptable than Russian.

Nevertheless, as the title says, it is time to dream big dreams, dreams of a Central Europe under no-one’s dominance. The Ukrainian crisis should serve as a warning on the one hand, and as a wake-up call on the other. The Russians have not attacked us yet but what if, someday, someone invites them again? The neo-Nazi regional mayor of Banská Bystrica in Slovakia has addressed letters of admiration to Yanukovych; followers of pro-Russian politician Čarnogurský look up to Putin; Viktor Orbán’s eyes turn in the same direction. The Russians support extremists outside Slovakia, so is it really so unimaginable? What comes next, once we know that we are not worth it for NATO and the EU’s future seems uncertain?

We in Central Europe cannot be content to sit and watch how Berlin articulates its own national interests regardless of the EU, we cannot sit and watch the rise of Eurosceptics, national conservatives and fascists in European elections. As long as it is possible, let’s dream our European dream and let’s try to reshape it towards the left, let’s emancipate ourselves from Washington, without the danger of falling beneath Russian tanks. Like Germany, let us prepare our backup plan – just in case all of our suspicions regarding the end of the EU and the non-European priorities of Germany are proved right.

With whom to dream?

The first step should be to cooperate in the EU with those who are economically equal to us and geopolitically the closest. Strengthening the Visegrád 4 should be our primary security concern, a fact currently felt most strongly by Poland. Polish historical experience with Russia and Germany is the essence of their foreign policy, and it may be worth learning from them.

The V4 as a counterbalance to Russia and Germany is certainly not enough. Other potential partners are those who are in the same situation as we are, in particular: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. If all these countries coalesced and lobbied for Ukrainian membership in the EU, a solid base of foreign policy cooperation could emerge. A cooperation of countries on the same industrial level – apart from Ukraine, which will nevertheless progress and could become an agricultural granary – that could work together without serious ruptures.

In the case of EU disintegration, the cooperation of the Baltic countries, the V4 and Ukraine could result in a bigger geopolitical unity, ideally a sort of a Central European equivalent of the Balkan federation, an idea that scared Stalin so much he poisoned Dimitrov.

The idea of a Balkan federation was first formulated as a reaction to the fall of the Ottoman Empire – but only after its fall. Creating a backup plan while the EU exists in case of its disintegration could improve the chances of the realization of a Central European federation in contrast with the Balkan one.

The Balkan federation project could serve also as the ideological basis for a wider social solidarity and economic equality, and above all, for loyalty to the ideals of the French revolution. It is necessary to emphasize other ideals, such as protection of human rights of every individual regardless of their religion (or lack thereof), origin, social status, ethnicity or sexual orientation. To a certain extent, we can discuss Bakunin or Marx, but the protection of the aforementioned ideals should take precedence over the application of their philosophical opinions. For security concerns, the foreign policy of such a federation should favour cooperation with France, owing to their nuclear weapons, instead of cooperation with Germany.

It is still only a dream, but at the time, so was the French revolution, just as it was once a daring desire to look upon Bratislava from the Austrian side of the Danube. Both changes could have gone better, but without them things would have been worse. As was the case then, it remains the case now that if you do not have a dream, you have nothing to translate into reality, and so reality then mirrors the dreams of others. It mirrors the dreams of those, for example, who try to dominate and fragment the EU through free market deals with the USA. Or the dreams of those who see the light at the end of this pseudo-capitalist tunnel, but it is only the reflection of Russian towers. Thank you, but these do not interest me.



Zolo Mikeš is a journalist and a political commentator for Since 2013, he lectures in journalism at Goethe University in Bratislava.