THE FUTURE OF CENTRAL EUROPEAN COUNTRIES: EU? OR RUSSIA?
Diplomatic Observer Magazine has made an interview with Daniel Milo, senior research fellow at Globesec Policy Institute, about Eastern European Countries’ domestic policies and their current relations with Russia.As is known, Angela Merkel has pursued open-border refugee policy and she trying to convince the Central European countries to pursue the same. However, latest failure of the migration referendum in Hungary showed that Central European countries do not share same opinions with Angela Merkel on that issue. What are the policies of Central Europe countries on migration and also do you think that Central European governments are not willing to apply this policy and not willing to express to their societies what Germany wants?First of all, I do not think Angela Merkel tried to convince Central European countries to pursue an open-border policy. She tried to convince Central European countries to share the burden of more than 1 million migrants and refugees pouring into Western European countries last year. Central European countries resisted this approach by the European Commission and some, including Slovakia even challenged the mandatory relocation mechanism adopted by the Commission.Secondly, restrictive policies of Central European countries regarding migration are shaped by popular moods in all Central European countries, which overwhelmingly reject integration of Muslim migrants from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan as “alien elements”. Some politicians, riding on the wave of anti-migrant hysteria and fears of terrorist attacks even stated that Islam as such is not compatible with European values. Political parities which used this type of rhetoric saw huge electoral gains, while other more pro-European parties dropped.On the other hand, there have been several positive activities in the Central Europe, at least in Slovakia and Czech Republic, are not as islamophobic and rejective as media and outside opinion portrays. Both countries have committed to take some refugees (Slovakia 200 until the end of the year), Slovakia already resettled some Iraqis, pledged 500 scholarships for refugee students from Syria. These are small, symbolic small steps, but that' a start. “Blaming the EU for any societal ills is seen as the best political platform”Why has Euroscepticism been rising in Europe? Can we say that the main reason of this is refugee crisis or are there any other reasons causing this rising? Also it is obvious that Europe is facing a new far-right atmosphere after the WWII. What do you think about that? Do you think that this issue will be the biggest challenge for European Union?After more than 10 years of being EU members, Central European countries take many things which were the main “carrots” in their EU membership bid for granted – free movement of goods and people, visa-free regime, huge EU funded investments etc. Political elites are also to blame, since quite often the criticism of individual deficiencies of EU policies is used as a tool to criticize and undermine the whole European integration project. Furthermore, EU faced many crisis in the last couple of years – economic crisis of 2008, Greek debt, migration crisis, Brexit. All these are seen and often portrayed as signs that the EU as such is weak and vulnerable. Such sentiments in our societies are then further strengthened by far right political parties with xenophobic, nativist and islamophobic narrative. All these developments are compounded by broader changes affecting not just EU, or CE, but the whole world – erosion of trust to any public authority, post-factual world, impact of social media. All in all, this creates a mood in which blaming the EU for any societal ills is seen as the best political platform and EU bashing became the norm.Russia has taken the world political stage again after their positions in Ukraine and Syria. And also, there is a European Union, of which future is unclear. Within this framework, could Central Europe countries get into a strategically partnership with Russia?There are certainly political actors in Central European countries who wish a closer partnership with Russia, even if this would mean leaving the EU or NATO. Such sentiments are however still marginal and as our recently published GLOBSEC Trends confirm, majority of public in all Central European countries support EU and NATO membership. Despite its deficiencies, EU is the only viable economic and political trans-national structure, which could support Central European countries in their economic growth and guarantee political stability. Russia`s increased military posturing an involvement in international affairs in EU neighbourhood (Ukraine, Balkans) and the Middle East should be the reason for a closer European and trans-Atlantic cooperation. Any idea of strategic partnership with Russia`s autocratic regime is in direct conflict with interest of Central European societies. History tells us how such strategic partnership ends up – communist coups and military intervention by Soviet Union (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968). NATO wants and supports Poland as a base in Eastern Europe. Does Russia have a policy against that issue? Or do they see this situation as a threat? Not exactly – NATO will deploy rotational, and provided on voluntary basis, forces to Poland and the Baltic States. This is different from permanent bases in the likes of Germany. Nonetheless, Russia perceives is differently and regards such deployments, alongside the operationalization of the missile defence shield in Poland, as aggressive acts – it has a long-standing policy of no NATO installations on the territory of the Allies who joined after 1999. It is not consistent though - Multinational Corps Northeast (MNCNE) has its Headquarters in Szczecin and there was far less opposition to its deployment there than in the more recent cases of missile defence (US installations) and the enhanced forward presence. And lastly, we can see that there is also a rise in Russo-phobia. Can we consider this as a big problem in Central Europe? And what kind of a policy does Russian pursue against Russo-phobia?Naming openly Kremlin`s meddling into internal affairs of Central European countries by funding fringe political parties and operating a vast media propaganda network aimed at sowing distrust towards the EU and NATO could hardly be described as Russo-phobia. Central European societies are not Russo-phobic, they are just aware of the nature of Putin`s regime in Russia and rightly reject its authoritarian and anti-democratic elements.There is need to differentiate between rejection of Putin`s regime and animosity towards Russia as a country -these are two different issues.Who is Daniel Milo?Daniel Milo studied law at the Comenius University in Bratislava and holds a Doctor of Law degree in criminal law. His main field of expertise is extremism, cyber hate, hate crimes and strategic communication. He worked as Adviser for the OSCE-Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and as National Coordinator of Counter-extremist policies at the Slovak Ministry of Interior. Currently he works as the Head of Strategic communication initiative at Globsec Policy Institute.Serhat Tunar@tunar_serhat