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Burden of Eastern Partnership, what does EU seek in Ukraine?

November 28, 2013, 17:52 UTC+3 28

Was the EU disappointed about Russia’s success in the Ukrainian ‘rope pulling’? It was, but not really

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BRUSSELS, November 28. /ITAR-TASS/. Ukraine’s decision to delay the signing of the EU association agreement a week ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit that opens today, Thursday, in Vilnius has been in detail examined in the press, by pundits and politicians from Russia, the EU, the US, Ukraine and other countries of the Partnership (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldavia). Most of them considered the problem from the economic point of view — the benefits for Ukraine, the EU and Russia, geopolitically — whether Ukraine will enter the Russian orbit of influence or the EU, or from the perspective of human rights — freedom for Yulia Timoshenko!

However, the key question remained on the sidelines — what does the EU need Ukraine for? Indeed, why had so much attention been riveted to this issue in Europe and why did Ukraine’s decision cause sheer hysteria in the European establishment?

Surely, the reason is not economic. The Ukrainian market is quite a capacious one, but it hardly plays any role for the EU — the country accounts for less than 1.5% of the European export, while imports make up less than 1%. The European Commission’s boldest forecasts suggest the European exports could increase 10-15% over the five years following the signing of the free trade zone deal, that is European export growth on the free trade zone with Ukraine would be 0.15% with a margin of error.

Was the EU disappointed about Russia’s success in the Ukrainian ‘rope pulling’? It was, but not really. The EU and all countries sponsoring the Eastern Partnership program are aware that this is only one decision by the Ukrainian authorities. The presidential election is ahead, and it is common knowledge the incumbent president has always tried to take advantage of Russia-EU disagreements. Nobody thinks in earnest Ukraine has made the irrevocable turnaround from the EU towards Russia.

The reason for European frustration lies deeper and is not as obvious. It lies in the foundation of the European mentality. This is an old game called ‘disseminating European values’ that is even older than the European values themselves.

European intellectuals and politicians are earnestly playing this game to spread the Western society’s traditional standards and values across as large a territory as possible. The idea is the more people think the same and live according to the same principles in similar states, the more homogeneous, stable and safe is the life in the society. The EU and the Western community as a whole make huge efforts for this game. Moreover, the West sees it no less than its duty to humanity. This is the feeling Rudyard Kipling praised over 110 years ago as “the white man’s burden” that the European colonization bore to bring civilization to the tribes of Africa and Asia. One can dig even deeper and recall that Catholic and Protestant missionaries have the same roots.

Nowadays this idea has transformed into spreading Western values worldwide.

After all, is there anything bad about it? Let’s put the theory aside and have a look at concrete examples.

Free elections are number one principle of democracy. The majority is always right. Alas, the EU has been the first to deny the democratically elected leaders it does not like as it happened when the Hamas party won the election in Palestine and when Mohamed Morsi came to power in Egypt. By the way, Adolf Hitler was also elected absolutely democratically. A party that clinched an honest victory in the election may not even be admitted to the government, a situation we see now in Luxembourg, or saw in Belgium in 2011. Surely, one may consider all these just numerous exceptions.

Another principle is that minorities, either political, ethnic, national or sexual should have a guarantee of protection in society. Unfortunately, this principle has been reduced to absurdity in Europe, where minorities often impose their rules on society. One can cite the migration problem the European press is allowed to discuss only from one point of view — protection and provision of humanitarian rights of fugitives from a lengthy list of countries — from Syria and Libya over Afghanistan to Romania and Bulgaria. The latter two have been the EU members for already five years, and it is not quite clear why they need additional protection. Moreover, the press prefers to keep silent on the issue of ethnic ghettoes that now occupy whole quarters and even entire small European towns where they speak Arabic, European laws are not always effective and where the police do not dare venture into without an urgent need. The same is true of the problem of ethnic criminal groups. For such statements you can easily end up with a tag of a racist that may cost a career in Europe, so proud of its pluralism.

The freedom of speech is the third principle. To understand how it works in practice, see the previous paragraph. Self-censorship is strict in the modern Western media. Every journalist knows what issues he’d better evade.

The war in Libya is one example. Before it started, at the time of protests against Gaddafi, all of the EU media clamored about the people’s revolt and its peace rallies quelled by the blood-thirsty regime. The same phrasing was used without variations. And not a word was said in the free Western media about the welfare situation under that ostensible dictatorship with its free medical care, education and almost free food.

The period of military actions and NATO strikes followed that received wide coverage in Western media — the whole of Europe rooted for the rebels. Yet NATO was sometimes reproved for civilian casualties. But the European media turned their backs on Libya once Gaddafi was liquidated and the civil war turned into a lingering hopeless conflict ‘of all against all’ and the country’s started to collapse and fall under the control of armed groups. As if they had not been struggling for democracy in Libya for nine months. Later Libya emerged in the headlines again only because of attacks on foreign embassies there or abduction of the country’s prime minister and ministers. The Western media often recall Libya now, but solely as another hotspot on the world’s map, and that in the tone as if it had never been otherwise. As if the Europeans did not contribute to the process.

Another, more local example is found in Lithuania where a criminal penalty is stipulated for denying Soviet aggression and occupation in 1940 and 1941. Terms of imprisonment are, however, nominal. Hardly anybody in that country would risk publishing the thesis by the incumbent president, Dalia Grybauskait, on the interconnection between public and private property in Lithuanian villages she presented in 1988 specializing in political economy of socialism. It says nothing about occupation in the period under consideration.

Lately, there is the principle of human rights based on the French idea citizens need protection in the face of the State Leviathan, which is indisputable. However, dispersing street disorders with water-jets in Minsk is deemed a severe violation of the right to the freedom of assembly, whereas dispersing an aggressive crowd with water-jets in Brussels is an act aimed to protect order. The Europeans tend to be more active in asserting human rights in the countries recently deemed ‘backward societies’ though these days this incorrect term is out of use. Meanwhile, within the EU this issue is rather used to fight for women’s right in applying for a job or in political emigrants’ desperate attempts to acquire European citizenship.

The modern ‘intellectual Europe’s' problem in relations with neighbors is the fear of the surrounding world and limited ability to understand its diversity because of confidence in its own impeccability under all circumstances. The European politicians want all their neighbors — from Belarus to Arab countries — to acquire one mindset — that of France, Germany or Britain. All these three world views are disparate, but the difference between them is immeasurably less than the gap that separates them from the equally great Ottoman culture — the modern Turkey, or Persian culture — Iran.

Alas, European multiculturalism usually means support for ethnic traditions like folklore dances, whereas world views, that is, the structure of society and political system should be the same for all cultures — ‘civilized and Western’, that is belonging to the Western civilization.

Numerous Western media and politicians do not conceal this view when considering the present situation in and around Ukraine that allegedly suffers pressures from Russia blocking Ukraine’s reunion with Western civilization.

And this missionary wish to tailor the world to its own pattern is often naively sincere. Many Europeans, including high-ranking officials and politicians, in private conversations voice the views that show they really believe all people are not only equal in their rights but are born equal. This means the political system that has been more or less successful in the US and Europe in the last 60 years is suitable for all people. (Earlier there were some unpleasant failures, like the one in Germany in 1932.) The fact that Europe’s troubles are no less numerous than its achievements, with the economic crisis just one of them, and not the gravest, does not in the slightest reduce this confidence. It's the other way round — the thought that countries seek to join united Europe even in its current state is a balm to European officials’ vanity.

In effect, Ukraine’s decision to postpone the association agreement was not only a blow to the EU self-respect, but was perceived as a symbolic failure in the game for ‘Western values’.

Notably, this is the reason for the EU's stubborn reluctance to drop its requirements addressed to Ukraine for a revision of its electoral and judicial legislation and for the release of Yulia Timoshenko in exchange for signing the association agreement. The European leaders are sure their actions are really able to scale Ukraine to European standards. If the EU and Lithuania were solely interested in economic benefits or geopolitical competition with Russia, they would easily quit these requirements. And this is especially offensive for the EU that finds Russia’s stance unscrupulous. But this is not true. In Russia, memories are still green of the 1990s, when the EU, the European Council and the US were lecturing it on democracy and free market. Therefore Russia's stance has ideological reasons. From Russia’s point of view, any society has the right to develop its own state model, and ready patterns are not to be imposed from outside.

The EU actions strikingly resemble the USSR's desperate attempts to support as many countries that had pronounced themselves socialist as possible, though many of them did not have the remotest connection to the type of socialism the way the Soviet Union saw it. The EU is now falling into the same trap trying to build Western-like democracies over a short term in all countries it can stretch out to.

In practice, this accelerated democratization results in the emulation of a democratic society at best, as it happened in Saakashvili’s Georgia or in Kosovo. The careful fostering of an illusion of democracy is another result, which can be seen in Afghanistan after NATO's twelve-year-long military campaign. In its self-delusion the EU went as far as to say that the decision of Loya Jirga, Afghanistan’s parliament, not to renew the capital punishment for adultery by stoning is the success of democratization. Syria and Libya are other disastrous results of the West’s attempts to establish democracy overnight.

All these cases by no means deny the fact the Western democracy is an operable state system. They just show it is not universal in its pure form. This system was invented, created and polished by Western European societies to perfection and it is suitable only for Western mentality. In its pure form it is mostly effective only in Europe and entirely the ‘adapted’ former colonies like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where the aborigines were almost entirely replaced by European settlers. In other world democracies it was dramatically adapted to the local features, which took decades of delicate tailoring of political institutions to a particular society. It is impossible to impose the process from outside or make a society adopt foreign laws over a year or two. These will be either rejected or approved only to be carefully circumvented.

By Itar-Tass correspondent Denis Dubrovin

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