What actions can and need to be taken to safeguard universities as bastions of free thought and sources of innovation?
Not surprisingly, the growth of populism has been accompanied by shrinking spaces for intellectual life, especially regarding (but not limited to) educational activities in at least in some cases.
In Eastern Europe, the Hungarian government is actively involved in closing the Central European University, funded by the U.S. billionaire George Soros. Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not hide his aversion to Soros’s activities in Hungary. In St. Petersburg, the European University is, once more, threatened with closure, due to inspections by the state agency Rozobrnadzor, which has allegedly uncovered some formal rule violations. The School for Political Science at the second most important Russian University, the MGIMO in Moscow, will be closed due to ‘administrative reorganizations’ as of July 1st.
So what can we, more or less concerned observers and colleagues, do about this? We could accept it as a sign of changing global landscapes. Or we could send or sign protest lists online. Or we could give more or less critical interviews. But when there is a pattern in our observation of increasing harassment of certain, mostly liberal, schools and departments, this trend could sooner or later turn against ourselves.
This week’s question is simple (to ask): What can and should we do about these illiberal incidents?
– Klaus Segbers
As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.
There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Last Sunday, a stretched-out four weeks of the Euro 2016 soccer championship came to an end. Most of the games were not particularly exciting, the level of playing was moderate, and mostly dominated by tactical considerations. As always, there was the odd and vastly popular outliner: Iceland.
The relationship between popular sports events and politics was always enigmatic, and it remains so. There were wars triggered or even caused by soccer like in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. There were boycotts. There are even theories and books trying to correlate a certain style of playing soccer with political backgrounds (like in the case of Germany: the victory in the world championship in Switzerland in 1954 symbolizing a successful reintegration of Germany, the success in 1974 representing the lightness of the social-democratic-liberal turn-around (Willy Brandt’s ‘we want to take a chance with more democracy’), the victory in 1990 as a sign of the newly united Germany, and the one in 2014 – signifying Germany’s new weight and role in Europe and beyond, as a successful civilian power).
So is all of this pure speculation? Or are there links between a team’s success in sports, and politics?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Terrorism has arrived in Europe, not as a temporary phenomenon, but rather as a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay. It can happen any time, any place.
There are certain differences between this current wave of terror and carnage, and previous incidents, like in the 1970’s: the current actions are framed mostly in Islamist and cultural terms, rather than in a political language. The actions are not state sponsored. The perpetrators are not (only) the poorest and most marginalized. Some of this terrorism is homegrown. And there is zero space for negotiating with the jihadists.
Now the obvious question is how to react. Apparently, there are two road posts that may provide orientation, but they (at least partly) collide with each other. The first principle is to not give way to terror and blackmailing – not an inch. Liberal and pluralist societies will continue with their lifestyles, without anticipating self-censorship or unacceptable compromises. And two, the perpetrators have to be found and punished relentlessly.
Yes, there are problems here. Searching for terrorists may sometimes put some civil liberties in danger. Defending and developing open societies may also offer spaces for talking, proselytizing and committing terrorist acts.
How can our societies solve this contradiction?
The EU is in a difficult situation. One could also say: in a deep crisis.
There is an ongoing and unresolved Eurocrisis. There is the permanent threat of terrorist attacks. There is an ongoing wave of immigration hardly controlled by anybody, and putting in danger the Schengen rules. There is a Russian regime that keeps behaving assertively. There is a wave of populism especially in the Visegrad group in Central Europe, but not limited to it. At the same time, in the U.S. two populist candidates are gaining traction with voters, and China is escalating a crisis in the South China Sea. Germany’s chancellor, recently lauded as ‘Person of the Year’, is experiencing her most serious crisis so far.
The question is: Do you think that the dissolution, or collapse of the EU is a realistic possibility?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The outgoing year was not only difficult in terms of challenges and crises. It also marked a point where, maybe for the first time since the end of the East-West Conflict, liberalism came under significant pressure.
Let’s assume that liberalism rests most of all on three assumptions: One, the international system should rest on a set of rules of behavior that is guaranteed by the United Nations. Two, domestic constraints and structures matter a lot for the policies pursued by a respective government. Three, democratic peace is an assumption that has been proved right mostly. So the furthering of democracy, transparency, the division of powers and the protection of minorities’ rights are not just fancy ideas, and not only the foundational principles of the EU, but the pillars of a healthy way of interaction between actors in the global landscape in general.
Now, in 2015 there were remarkable challenges to these ideas. That Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi hold on to different ideas was no big surprise. But a number of European leaders are also thinking along similar lines – most prominently, the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, and the Turkish President Erdogan. The new Polish government may be added to this list. And we cannot forget about radical populist movements and parties, most prominently in France and Sweden, but also in the Netherlands and Finland, as well as to some extent in Greece, Spain, and Italy. Muslim fundamentalism constitutes another, maybe even more formidable challenge to a liberalist order.
So the first question of the New Year is:
Is Fukuyama’s idea about the end of the ideational development of history finally outdated? Or is liberalism still a valid roadmap for social and political developments?
While the EU is overwhelmed by the tasks of containing Russia, redirecting profligate southern governments, and by blocking terrorism, it is more attractive to hundreds of thousands of migrants than ever before. Whether this is a fatal, or welcome attraction, is hotly debated.
Germany, which for many played the role of the bad cop during the so-called Eurocrisis, appears now as the good angel in the migrant crisis. While the EU may be technically able to take in more than 1 million refugees and labor migrants in 2015 alone, even superficial extrapolations for the coming years clearly show that the EU cannot alleviate ongoing and deep crises in the MENA area as well as the Balkans by accepting millions of people.
So what could a viable solution look like?
Anniversaries come and go, but now and then some are elevated to a specific interest, and play the role of a crucial date. This year, 2015, makes the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In May the Russian authorities organized a huge parade on Red Square in Moscow. Then, for the 3rd of September, the Chinese ruling party have planned something similar on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In both cases, some foreign governments faced the quandary of whether or not they should attend and participate.
The reason for this is not some small historical squabble over this or that detail, but rather the value of these commemorations within the current paradigm. In practice, history is not what has been, but rather what we need it to be today.
So what attitude should governments hold towards the staging of historical memory?
Over the last decades, Europe was overwhelmingly considered as a success story – and rightly so. Sure, there were debates and problems, but not on core matters. On the contrary: the end of the east-west conflict, different rounds of enlargement, and the introduction of the Euro established the perception of an ongoing strengthening of Europe. This seems to now be coming to an end.
There are at least four crises where Europe is stumbling: first, the ongoing euro crisis. The referendum in Greece is irrelevant here. When the Greeks do not want to be humiliated, they are free to live by themselves. But the inability of the European agencies to accept their own rules, without bending them, is worrying.
Second, the apparent helplessness regarding waves of migrants moving toward Europe from Africa. Short-term assistance and mid-term signals are confused, and there is no coherent European response. Thirdly, the wavering positions toward an aggressive Russia. The only helpful response – a clear communication of red lines and their enforcement – is missing.
And fourthly, an unconvincing whining about continuing and clear violations of rules and standards by American spy agencies being active in Europe. Because the American nerve will listen to European concerns, a much higher European independence from the US would be the only solution.
In all these cases, the core problem is a confused (or missing) European signalling.
Representatives of Greece are using the opportunity – their sailing along the shore of insolvency – to claim reparations, or interest rates for forced state loans from the German government during WWII. Germany has so far resisted these requests.
How many decades, or centuries, back is there a possibly legitimate basis for such claims? There are still the comfort women in Korea and China, asking Japan for justice payments. There are the successors of former slaves in the US and aborigines in Australia. In a more general sense, mutual territorial claims are one of the core issues between Israel and Palestine. Is it simply politically and socially wise to accept what happened in the past, mourn, and move on, giving up on all potential claims?