The only constant in European history was war and aggression. Modernity did not change that. In fact, the accompanying technological development led to more vicious wars and an astronomical death toll. It also added colonial oppression and slavery. Finally, the Second World War put an end to this awful violence when Europe was divided into the West and the East, with the United States and the Soviet Union being the ultimate arbiters of Europe. Germany, situated in the middle, was logically divided and posed no immediate threat to the post-War new international order. Still, the nervousness of eventual German secret re-militarisation did not completely go away. This led to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of six contiguous countries including West Germany in 1952. The idea was to stop Germany from secretly mining coal and making steel for future rearmament. My hunch is that the same fear led to the creation of the European nuclear research centre, CERN, in 1954. This made German nuclear research more open, thereby reducing the chance of Germany ever secretly developing a nuclear bomb.
Germany also behaved like the best boy in class. Germans disowned their fathers and grandfathers for their complicity in the War. They became the paymasters of the European Union (EU), the present avatar of the ECSC. Nationalism was erased from the vocabulary as much as possible, and gradually ‘European’ or ‘Western’ were used in place of the national identity. Germans only feel nationalistic when it comes to cars and football. Europeans turned inwards, were busy creating wealth, developing an idyllic society with unprecedented social security and paid vacation to go to Phuket or Bali. Then suddenly about a quarter century ago East European countries started breaking away from the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union collapsed and Germany got united. The euphoria in Europe knew no bounds.
The European Union expanded, slowly but inexorably, to the East including countries that were part of the Soviet Union only a few years back. “Project Europe”, with the exception of Russia and the surrounding Slavic countries, was undertaken with full vigour. There were some hiccups like the war in former Yugoslavia, but that did not deter the dream of one united Europe someday in the future. Introduction of the Euro was an auspicious beginning.
The last five years changed this optimism into utter confusion. It started with the fall of Lehman Brothers. Most ordinary people in the Continent had never heard the name. In fact, out of ten largest investment banks at that time, the only one within the EU was Deutsche Bank, whose investment wing was also primarily Anglo-American, resulting from acquisitions. No wonder the reaction on the Continent was one of contempt for the greedy American bankers and lack of business ethic there with the culture of making quick bucks. Soon thereafter, the reality of globalisation set in as one European bank after another tumbled and many had to be nationalised. The threat to the existence of the Euro and that of the EU became everyday news. Then came the Greek crisis, followed by those of Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Italy and France were hovering on the brink of bankruptcy, devoid of any power to print money. The result was the great recession that is not over yet. Euro was saved from the brink, but at a huge political cost.
Slavic countries belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church have always been considered backward, Asian and despotic by the rest of Europe. When President Boris Yeltsin effectively gave his country over to the western interest, Europeans elsewhere saw an opportunity to embrace Russia into their fold. As soon as Russia asserted herself with Vladimir Putin coming to power, the traditional discomfort with the ‘Russian ways’ came back. Americans did not want to waste time before Russia emerged again as a threat to their interests and actively encouraged Ukrainian ultra-conservative goons to foment trouble with Russia. Europeans were helpless, although they would prefer a much softer approach. The elected President, friendly to Russia, fled the country and anti-Russian forces took control of the Ukrainian Parliament. At that critical juncture, Putin took a gamble, grabbed Crimea that historically belonged to Russia anyway, and armed pro-Russian Ukrainians on their eastern border with Russia to secede from Ukraine. Then came the accidental downing of the Malaysian airline departing from Amsterdam causing death of all passengers that included many Dutch. Carefully cultivated cooperation of the EU with Russia evaporated. There were sanctions and counter-sanctions, affecting not just Russia, but the EU as well. The economic effect made the already difficult situation worse. There was confusion all around.
The latest confusion relates to the sudden influx of refugees in large numbers causing severe strain among the EU member-countries. It all started with the invasion of Iraq based on a lie that anyone could see through. Continental powers refused to join the invasion causing an unprecedented rupture between the US and her continental allies. After the devastation of Iraq, attention shifted to Libya and Syria. France tried to atone her ‘sin’ for not supporting Americans earlier and Europe got overtly involved in the overthrow of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some of Muslim groups fighting Assad with Western support, and aided by the extremely religious Sunni countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf States, morphed into the Islamic State (IS), took over a large chunk of Syria and then a part of Iraq, and declared the Caliphate there. The group is even more vicious than Al Qaida, and any rapprochement between the two terrorist organisations in the future would cause havoc in West Asia, all the way to India. The rest, so-called moderate, Muslim groups proved to be totally ineffective in fighting Assad. In the meanwhile, the country got destroyed and millions of refugees fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Now a flood of refugees from these places is coming to Europe causing alarm all around.
Newspapers outside Europe are full of advice about the moral imperative of accepting these refugees and criticism for the reluctance of European governments to do so. Many think that these are just illegal immigrants who would be absorbed by their ethnic brethren in the Netherworld. They do not realise that providing accommodation and living expenses to all potential asylum-seekers, paying social security to those granted asylum of the exact same amount as all other residents, teaching them to understand an alien culture and language, and providing them free schooling and medical benefit are prohibitively expensive in times of recession.
Then suddenly Angela Merkel surprised everybody by declaring that Germany is a sympathetic country and people fleeing war and persecution are welcome there. Her words spread at lightning speed, prompting hundreds of thousands of people from Syria and from countries far from the warzone, to march to Europe. Hungary tried to fight off refugees with water canons and teargas. The previous estimate of 800,000 asylum-seekers this year in Germany has already been jacked up to one and a half million. It was soon obvious that emotion alone would not help Europe solve the refugee problem. Germany has temporarily reintroduced border control ostensibly to regulate the flow of the refugees. As the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reminds us, for two weeks it was Wir schaffen es (We’ll manage it) and now it appears that Wir schaffen es doch niet (We won’t really be able to manage it).
It soon became clear that Ms Merkel was not just speaking for Germany, but for the whole of the EU without any prior consultation. Now she is being blamed by other countries for the huge increase in refugees, most of whom are rushing in just for economic reasons. What confuses ordinary Europeans is that the refugee crisis originated with the attempt of the United States, in collusion with neighbouring Sunni Muslim countries, for regime change in Syria. Now the United States, and the super rich Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, are silent about taking any refugee. Even worse is the announcement from Saudi Arabia that they will erect mosques for these refugees in Europe at their expense. Now with Russia bombing all Muslim rebel groups fighting against Assad, including the so-called moderate ones subservient to the West, Europe is full of angst over the arrival of refugees like a tsunami.