Goodbye to Europe?

Image: Julia Antipina


Without Russia, Europe is half of itself, economically and culturally.

A new-old ghost hovers over Europe – war. The most violent continent in the world in terms of deaths in armed conflicts in the last hundred years (not to go back in time and include the deaths suffered by Europe during religious wars and the deaths inflicted by Europeans on peoples subjected to colonialism) is heading towards a new war conflict, eighty years after the most violent conflict so far, with around eighty million dead.

All previous conflicts apparently started without a strong reason, it was common opinion that they would last a short time and, in the beginning, most of the remedied population continued to do their normal life, going shopping and to the cinema, reading newspapers and enjoy pleasant chatter about politics and gossip on the esplanades. Whenever a localized violent conflict arose, there was a dominant conviction that it would be resolved locally. For example, very few people (including politicians) thought that the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and XNUMX dead were a harbinger of a wider war – World War II – even though the conditions were there.

While knowing that history does not repeat itself, it is legitimate to ask whether the current war between Russia and Ukraine is not the harbinger of a new, much broader war. Signs are accumulating that a greater danger may be on the horizon. At the level of public opinion and the dominant political discourse, the presence of this danger emerges in two opposite symptoms. On the one hand, conservative political forces hold not only the ideological initiative but also privileged reception in the media.

They are polarizing, enemies of complexity and serene argumentation, use extremely aggressive words and make inflamed appeals to hate. They are not disturbed by the dual criteria with which they comment on conflicts and death (for example, between dead in Ukraine and in Palestine), nor the hypocrisy of appealing to values ​​that are belied by their practice (they expose the corruption of opponents to hide the your).

In this current of conservative opinion, more and more right-wing and extreme-right positions are mixed, and the greatest dynamism (tolerated aggressiveness) comes from the latter. This device aims to inculcate the idea of ​​the enemy to be destroyed. Destruction by words predisposes public opinion to destruction by deeds. Despite the fact that in democracy there are no internal enemies and only adversaries, the logic of war is insidiously transposed to supposed internal enemies, whose voice must first of all be silenced. In parliaments, conservative forces dominate the political initiative; while the left forces, disoriented or lost in ideological labyrinths or unfathomable electoral calculations, refer to a defensionism as paralyzing as it is incomprehensible.

Europe's death drive spreads on two fronts: the extreme right defends fascism in the name of democracy; the secretary general of NATO defends war in the name of peace.

But the specter of greater danger is signaled by an opposite symptom. The most attentive observers become aware of the ghost that haunts society and converge in a surprising way in their concerns. In recent times, I have become very identified with analyzes by commentators whom I have always recognized as belonging to a different political family than my own. I am referring to texts by José Pacheco Pereira, Teresa de Sousa (published in Public) or by Miguel Sousa Tavares (Espresso). What we have in common is the subordination of questions of war and peace to questions of democracy. We can differ in the former and coincide in the latter. For the simple reason that only the strengthening of democracy in Europe can lead to the containment of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and its peaceful solution. Without vigorous democracy, Europe will sleepwalk towards its destruction.

Will we be in time to avoid the catastrophe? I'd like to say yes, but I can't. The signs are very worrying. First, the far right grows globally driven and funded by the same interests that gather in Davos to safeguard their business. In the 30s, people were much more afraid of communism than of fascism; today, without the communist threat, they fear the revolt of the impoverished masses and propose violent police and military repression as the only answer. Its parliamentary voice is that of the extreme right. The internal war and the external war are two faces of the same monster and the arms industry benefits equally from both.

Second, Ukraine's war seems more confined than it actually is. The current scourge, which overwhelms the plains where eighty years ago so many thousands of innocent people (mainly Jews) died, has the dimensions of a self-flagellation. Russia up to the Urals is as European as Ukraine, and with this illegal war, in addition to innocent lives, many of them Russian-speaking, it is destroying the infrastructure that it built when it was the Soviet Union. The history and ethno-cultural identities between two countries are better intertwined than with other countries that formerly occupied Ukraine and now support it.

Ukraine and Russia both need a lot more democracy so that they can end the war and build a peace that does not disgrace them. Europe is vaster than meets the eye from Brussels. At the headquarters of the Commission (or NATO, which is the same thing) the logic of peace according to the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 dominates, and not that of the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The former humiliated the vanquished power (Germany). and humiliation led to war twenty years later; the second honored the vanquished power (Napoleonic France) and guaranteed a century of peace in Europe. The peace of Versailles presupposes the total defeat of Russia, as imagined by Hitler. Did its ideologues think that if the losing power had nuclear weapons, it wouldn't stop using them? And that this will be the nuclear holocaust?

Without Russia, Europe is half of itself, economically and culturally. The biggest illusion that the information war has inculcated in Europeans in the last year is that Europe, once amputated from Russia, will be able to restore its integrity with the US transplant. Justice be done to the US: they look after their interests very well. History shows that a declining empire always seeks to drag its spheres of influence with it in order to delay its decline. So Europe would know how to take care of its interests.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper Public.

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