There are very few people on this planet (if any) who know Europe like Mr Glenny and, although the following recordings are 6 years old, they are every bit as relevant today. If there was an an honour for ‘greatest European’ Mr G would get my vote….
In the first part: Brave New Europe 1 (click to listen) MG takes a look at Poland as it joined the EU in 2004…
“In fact, even a cursory dip into Poland’s modern history gives you a clear sense as to why this country nurses some very deep grievances. If Poland is God’s Playground, as the eminent historian Norman Davis has popularised it, then God has tolerated some pretty nasty bullying over the years, especially from those two Flashman brothers from the Upper 4th, Fritz and Ivan. Indeed, the slow and often very painful transformation of Europe from the ancien regimes of absolutism and empire to the age of nation states, democracy and totalitarianism proved an especially treacherous road for the Poles, being alternately dismembered, eaten alive or coshed over the head and then imprisoned in a darkened if poorly manufactured cage.”
“Ironically, in Poland and Hungary, whose peoples fought hardest for freedom, 1989 was strangely anti-climactic. Unlike in Czechoslovakia, East Germany or Romania, there were no theatrical events that represented the unambiguous end of communism.”
“Revolution is like the God Saturn. It devours its own children. And just three years after their uncompromising refusal to accept Soviet-style communism, countless miners, steelworkers and their families were now eking out a twilight existence as the dawn of capitalism broke.”
“However ghastly communism had been, it had subsidised the basics for almost all of Poland’s 38 million people. 1989 removed that particular safety net and as I wandered through the broken down estates where water and electricity supplies were seizing up, I met the victims of Poland’s Brave New World.”
Looking at the situation in Poland now, they have a very very good reason to be proud of themselves. Poland has a stable and effective government and is the only member of the 27-nation European Union to have enjoyed growth in 2009. Living standards for many Poles are still not at ‘western’ levels and probably wont be for a long time but, given their history – it’s an impressive achievement.
The second part: Brave New Europe 2 he takes a look at the transition taking place in Central and Eastern Europe, the EU as a political project and its capacity to ‘absorb’.
“This rebirth of culture and creativity is comparable to the dramatic social change that swept away the grimly oppressive influence of the Catholic Church and allowed a modern and tolerant European state to flourish in Ireland. Portugal, Spain and now Greece have all experienced a similar development. But as the Irish, Spaniards and Greeks have already discovered, and the Balts and the Central Europeans are now slowly learning: this embrace into the bosom of Europe brings with it tribulations while latent fears, both irrational and rational, can also rise to the surface.”
…and sets out the following argument on immigration that he re-states in his recent book McMafia…
“The relationship between the new and old Europe is in fact a complex two-way process which brings short-term gains and losses on both sides. But if played correctly, it offers considerable long-term benefits for all of us. As Slovaks, Slovenes and Hungarians become richer, so will their desire to purchase goods and services from Western Europe. The Keynsian potential for growth in the European Union is now extraordinary.”
“There is one towering obstacle that looms – it is not to do with immigration although allow me a brief digression here: Immigration is problem but only, in my opinion, if West European countries continue to regard immigration as the devil’s vanguard. Should xenophobia dictate the EU’s economic policy allowing the development of an entirely non-productive pensioner class but preventing the renewal of its labour force through significant immigration, then in that event our living standards will fall dramatically compared to those in America and in the Far East – and with those living standards, we will lose many of our treasured ways of life that depend on continuing affluence.”
In the final episode: Brave New Europe 3 MG looks at the Balkan ‘Powder Keg’ and one big and unavoidable issue – the EU and Turkey…
“Because the real issue regarding Turkey is as deep as it gets – our European identity. The elephant in Turkey’s living room is Islam. There is a deep conviction held by many Europeans that we are a Christian culture and must remain so. The Vatican made strenuous attempts to say as much in the preamble of the forthcoming EU constitution (although why St. Peter’s which is not a member of the EU has any say in the matter remains unclear). And the Pope’s team found supporters all over Europe.”
“Does that mean that we Europeans must deny the contributions of other faiths to our culture from Alhambra to Einstein? Does this mean that the majority of Albanians should be excluded a priori from claiming to be part of Europe’s heritage simply because they are Muslims. For almost two centuries, the Balkan peninsula was known as Turkey in Europe. Turkish culture is already European – it may be Asian as well but Britain straddles European and Atlantic culture just as Spain has an intimate connection with the Maghreb. There are no easy definitions and those who believe so try, in my opinion, to turn back the wheel of history to a place and time that has never existed – a Europe of clear-cut boundaries.”