Delo - Interview (March 31, 2000)
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
"After the Rain - How the West Lost the East"
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The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author
“After the Rain - How the West Lost the East" is the title of your last book which consists of a two-parts thesis. The first part of the thesis is that "the West missed a unique historical opportunity to unite Europe". Could you please explain: why unique?
In the last millennium, Europe was caught in a pendulum movement between integration and disintegration. Only 200 years ago, Europe was composed of more than 600 political entities (380 of them in the area of today’s Germany alone!). People like Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler all had visions of a unified Europe. The European Union is a much more benign version of the same dream. The modern nation state was an equidistant compromise between the two poles. It integrated many political units within a political union called the “nation” – but the nation was also an exercise in segregation and separatism – a “we” against “they”. This becomes abundantly evident now that self- determination went amok and every village aspires to be a state and a nation and YET be a member of the EU!
The collapse of communism afforded a unique opportunity in that, for the first time in European history, there was a viable and functioning truly European alternative in the form of the European Union. Non-violent, prosperous and enlightened – it was the envy of the belligerent and dilapidated remnants of the old nation-states system. The countries of CEE and the Balkan were willing to shed some of their sovereignty in order to join these exclusive clubs: NATO and the EU. For the first time in history, a unified, integrated, peaceful Europe was within reach.
But, instead of grasping at this fantastic opportunity – the West recoiled, procrastinated, bluffed and hesitated. The opportunity was missed. The tide turned. Public opinion on both sides of the fence changed. The dream transmogrified into a nightmare of bureaucracy, hostility and warfare.
Are, in this case, the recent initiatives of the Pact of Stability, or the Stability and Association agreement between Macedonia and EU only an endless trial at "parallel friendly walking"?
It is too little and too late. The nations of Europe do not support integration now. The post-communist delirium waned. The Wessies (West Germans and, by extension, West Europeans) – are repelled by the Ossies (East Germans and, by extension, East Europeans). The Ossies distrust the Wessies. The former detest the corruption, the venality, the inefficiency, the lack of ethics and the crime. They are terrified by the spectre of waves of destitute immigrants drowning their national accounts in welfare costs and competing for scarce jobs. Haider is a typical reaction – there are similar movements everywhere in Europe, from France to Scandinavia. These are xenophobic allergic reactions to immigrants from CEE and Southeastern Europe (also known as the Balkans).
The Stability, Growth and Association Pacts and Agreements are stopgap measures, aspirin to cancer patients. The “civilized” Europeans simply don’t know what to do with the Barbarians at the Gate. They stall. They invent agreements they have no intention to fill with content. They peddle dreams and fantasies. They wait. They hope that time will heal all wounds, that somehow the situation will resolve itself. But it won’t and sooner or later the peoples of the Balkans will try to cash the check. When the hollowness of the promises, the emptiness of the visions, the insincerity of the ceremonies is exposed – there is bound to be a great upheaval and a backlash. The seeds of future conflict – between rich and poor, south and north, Slav and Latin or Anglo-Saxon – are being sown. They who sow wind shall surely reap a storm.
The second part of the thesis, which you considered as the cause of the first one, is that the battle is lost because "the peoples of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe are beyond salvation, deformed and pathologized by communism irreconstructibly". Why do you consider the battle as irreversible lost?
It is lost for as long as the people who were exposed to the poison of socialism and communism are still alive. These generations were corrupted and pathologized. They were weaned on brainwashing, lying, venality, criminal habits and hypocrisy in debilitating quantities. In other words, they have been abused and traumatized. Future generations are likely to be healthier, no matter what bad habits they absorb through their “education” and socialization processes. This is the only hope.
Your origin is from the east side of a world divided in two polarities, a political division (ex communist versus capitalist countries) and a spiritual divide (Asian versus Western civilization). This is how come you are acquainted with the Eastern mentality. Do you think that the missing of that intention (except the communist experience) might be attributed to the essential distinction between these two completely different entities: the mentalities of West and East? Does this distinction prevent fostering an homogenous totality based on Western principles and is economic globalization (the homogenous capitalistic model) a unique opportunity to unite the continent?
Two historical influences are directly responsible for the schism between East and West: the Ottoman Empire and Communism. Both empires acquired Byzantine hues in the Balkans and Germanic / Austrian leanings in CEE. The Ottoman Empire influenced Europe both by directly ruling its Southeast and by threatening and adumbrating its heartland. Communism and its more benign variant, socialism, engulfed even more of Europe though for a fraction of the time. Still, the two shared a few characteristics: authoritarianism, bloated, stifling and senseless bureaucracy, venality, ruthlessness, hypocrisy, indoctrination, suppression of minorities and their national aspirations, etc. I do not understand the term “mentality”. I think it is too vague to be conducive to a meaningful and constructive discussion. But I do believe that centuries of trauma, abuse, wrong role models, vile education and anti-social socialization – led to the emergence of a personality disorder on a massive scale among the populations subjected to such treatment.
Capitalism is not the panacea, nor is it a unifying principle. To start with, there are at least three competing models of capitalism. Additionally, capitalism is first of all a state of mind, a social and cultural biosphere, all-pervasive and all-encompassing. One cannot study (or teach) capitalism from books, it is not a recipe. Its – now triumphant – Anglo-Saxon version (as practised mainly in the USA and the UK) is not fully compatible with the “East”. Major modifications are called for, especially as concerns the supremacy of money as a value and social cohesion and solidarity as inevitable costs.
I would hate to see a continent united on the basis of a pale imitation of America. The uniting principle should be the very plurality and diversity of this magnificent part of the world. The secret is in assimilating the good qualities of each of the constituent members – East and West alike – and not in homogenization.
Can we say that the case with Macedonia is more complex, considering itself as a bridge across those two polarities. Do you think this clash between its desires its and roots is responsible for its situation (political, social, ethical...) and leads to more paranoia?
I think that Macedonia is closer to certain parts of Europe than to others. It is reminiscent of Naples, south France and Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Turkey. It has very little in common with Austrian Waltzes and Buckingham Palace. Yet, in a curious reversal of an unjustified – I emphasize: absolutely unjustified - sense of inferiority, the Macedonians narcissistically regard themselves as being a part of the “other” Europe. This is common behaviour in all “bridging” countries. Israel, Slovenia and Croatia are other examples of countries, which pretend to be what they are not and get horribly offended if reminded of what they are.
Macedonia can fulfil the role of an intermediary and go between the diverse civilizations only if it maintains its authenticity and genuineness. Only by being what it really is can it contribute to a world, which thirsts for the different and the unique. Becoming a cheap and preposterous imitation of others – is a guaranteed cul de sac.
The main tension in Macedonia is not between East and West. The West failed to penetrate Macedonia meaningfully and it remained pretty well insulated. Macedonia is still a bastion of the East.
The tension is between the principles of the nation state and the tenets of liberalism. Is Macedonia primarily the state of the Macedonians or is it a state of its citizens (including the Albanians)? What should be preferred – the individual or the state (the common good)? The individual, or the family? In a way, it is a clash between modernity and the very foundations of a still rural and tribal society.
There is also a crisis of identity – or, rather, the emergence of one. To some Macedonians, the distinction between being Bulgarian and being Macedonian is vague. To others, Macedonia is still a part of Serbia. The majority tries to grapple with the history, the language, the territory. It is all in very disorienting flux: borders, dialects, loyalties, national aspirations.
You received a combined doctorate of philosophy and physics, but you turned to economics. On the other hand, you consider psychology to be a complementary science to economics. You also elaborate on a struggle between East and West... Do your interests converge on the theme of a struggle between the material and spiritual? How you solve it in your philosophical conception: in Hegel, Adorno, Nietzsche or Kierkegard`s way?
I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am a materialist to the core and, philosophically, probably the last positivist. In other words, I do not deal with information that cannot be communicated (like personal experiences) and I do not waste my time on questions that cannot be answered (is there a God and so on). I am, therefore, an agnostic.
Still, I do tend to think that all the branches of knowledge are manifestations of essentially the same “thing”. Reality is monolithic. It is our shortcomings as finite humans that prevent us from grasping the totality. Therefore, yes, I believe that economics, psychology and philosophy are all facets of one and the same reality.
The other two parts of the book are analyses borrowed from the spheres of economics and history. How do these complete the totality of the book and your thesis?
One can hardly advance a thesis, which pertains to both history and economics without relying on historical and economic facts. What I tried to demonstrate in the “historical” part is the inordinate power of myths in this region – mainly the power to generate more myths. In the economic chapters I dealt with some phenomena, which are particularly relevant to this area (intellectual property, the IMF, the New Rich, etc.)
Our older men used to say "After the rain..." comes the sun. The younger generations have another motto. A few years ago, one Macedonian band recorded an album called "And After Tito - Techno!" Do you think the new techno generation is already born?
Yes, I do. Just look around you. It is not only a question of musical preferences. It is a more independent, less brainwashed breed. They respect nothing by decree. They question everything. They doubt everyone. They taste life early on – from sex to travel abroad. They are tuned in. They are open to the world and, in return, the world is open to them. They are the rainbow after the rain: colourful, overarching, promising.
There are a lot of reactions to your articles.
In this forthcoming issue of Delo there is one of them.
What do you think about these minds?
In ancient Rome, they used to kill the messenger who brought
It is never easy to be a mirror - people often want to break it.
Macedonia's only hope is if faces its shortcomings, character failures and past
with no denial and no suppression or censorship of the truth.
There is a mentality in small, landlocked countries of "hush-hush",
of "let us not launder the dirty linen in public",
of "why stir trouble and cause turbulence".
This is wrong.
Wounds heal only when exposed to fresh air.
To be realistic about one's capabilities and goals - one needs to face oneself without flinching.
It is only through confronting unpleasant truths that we grow and change.
I don't mind paying the price. I will continue to serve Macedonia and Macedonians by being their faithful mirror -
though I do not guarantee they are going to like everything they will see in it.