Europe’s Fall? Advocate, 15/07/2015

All the ideas I have for non-fiction books are fundamentally political. Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity is a philosophical exploration of how environmental activism can literally forge a new self-image for our species. The Utopias project will explore how our dreams of building a perfect society inevitably fuel our most destructive politics. 

This photo was taken during Greece's rioting in late 2013.
If the government falls and the economy continues to crash,
there will be more violence in the future.
So all my writing has to speak to the fundamental political conflicts of my time. And in general, I think we should all think more about the political conflicts that span the globe. It’s easy to read a few quick articles about the Greek crisis, the war in Syria, or the American election and consider yourself informed. But have you thought?

I watched the humiliation of Alexis Tsipras and the people of Greece with terrible dismay and sadness. I felt crushed. It wasn’t just because the terms of the new agreement – mass privatization, new taxes, slashing pensions, no true debt relief – are so harsh, even the International Monetary Fund is critical. It wasn’t just that Anglea Merkel framed the harsh terms explicitly as punishment to the Greek people for defying the terms of EU technocrats. 

The history of Europe had long been about war, domination, violence, and empire. The European Union was founded as a way to overcome that heritage and build a political culture of brotherhood across the continent. Instead, it’s become the engine of one country’s dominance over the continent. The idea of European solidarity, after last weekend, is a joke, and the world is worse off because of it.

Even worse, the collapse of European solidarity has left its economically depressed countries (Greece, and also Spain, Portugal, Italy, the rest of the southeast) vulnerable to home-grown violent political movements. Racist government has already taken hold in Hungary, whose government plans to build a wall along its eastern border to stop the flow of refugees from the Syrian war and Serbian migrants. As Syriza falls, Golden Dawn will almost surely rise, and the politics of racism and violence against minorities will become a major force in European society again.

Vladimir Putin may look ridiculous to us, but his comical
propaganda is received as the word of a national hero in
his own country. A lot of us in the West have to face the
fact that we're completely ignorant about Russian culture.
All of this comes as Russia is growing increasingly aggressive in Europe. I’m not just talking about the civil war in Ukraine, but general belligerence toward countries near its border. Russian officials have threatened that Sweden will face consequences if its government joins the NATO alliance, as it’s considering. The Russian air force regularly flies military planes over Estonia.

Max Fisher’s investigation for of Russia’s foreign and military policy influencers is enlightening about the genuine danger Europe faces. Putin and his circle among the military, his party, and ex-KGB businessmen and politicians genuinely feel threatened by the United States. 

Returning to the new century’s biggest fool, their fear goes back to the Bush Administration. The invasion of Iraq to cause regime change and build democracy at the barrel of a gun in the Middle East terrified Vladimir Putin. He knows he isn’t a democrat, and he remembers the Cold War. There’s a general presumption, Fisher discovered, in Russia’s political and military elite that the only reason the United States isn’t similarly destabilizing or attacking Russia for regime change is because of the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. 

Russia’s current imperialist destabilization of independently-minded border states (Ukraine, Georgia) is about building a buffer of friendly, controllable regimes to keep the United States army from going after them directly. For Putin, Russia’s greatness depends on the military and economic subjugation of Europe, because he believes that Europe’s goal for its east is the collapse of Russia.

We in Western democracies forgot that Russia was a powerful, dangerous country since the end of the Cold War. Not only did Francis Fukuyama temporarily convince us that History had ended, but Russia in the 1990s was a basket case country whose economy had collapsed, whose state assets were in the hands of decadent oligarchs, and whose President Boris Yeltsin was a drunken buffoon.

We North Americans also forget that militarized, racist,
violent nationalism never went away in Europe. In
Eastern Europe, it continued to thrive, fostered by
economic and cultural isolation and the belligerent
influence of its national Orthodox Churches.
But Russians never stopped being afraid of the United States, never really considered Western democracies allies. This is why Russia is seriously considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons if NATO were to send its armies to defend its Baltic members from attack. The war that would result from this kind of brinksmanship would set the continent on fire and kill millions of people in months. 

However much Merkel’s government might be concerned with the growth of Russian hostility and paranoia toward Europe and the United States, she’s doing a terrible job of managing it. A fallen, chaotic Greece would be the perfect place for a Golden Dawn government to install itself as a military dictatorship after Syriza falls. 

Their white supremacist values would see the Golden Dawn Greek government likely withdraw from the EU and NATO (a Western, democratic alliance), disappear Syriza members and supporters, suppress more moderate opposition figures, and either deport or massacre Syrian refugees and Greek ethnic minorities. Such a belligerent, anti-EU government would be a perfect ally for Putin’s Russia.

The last century’s totalitarian movement arose, in part, from popular disgust with democracy’s inability to fight economic depression. We should be serious about the possibility that it could happen again. That’s why I’m writing my next book of political philosophy, to grapple with how easily democratic freedom can fall.

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