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Saturday, July 13, 2024

The European Union as Yugoslavia?

By: Dimitrij Rupel

France Bučar (1923–2015) sometimes compared the European Union to Yugoslavia. The suspicion may have been related to the discussions about grexit that were going on during his lifetime, but at that time there was no Brexit nor was there any talk of polexit. At that time, Bučar’s suspicion of the disintegration of the EU seemed greatly exaggerated or just the imagination of a man with a lot of experience.

The question arises as to what the cause of the disintegration of Yugoslavia was. In a way, our European interlocutors at the time of independence imagined that Yugoslavia would remain together (according to “European criteria”) despite the fact that this or that republic would leave it; but it all turned upside down when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The disintegration of Yugoslavia was more radical than the Soviet one, because in our case there was no continuation after the disintegration, as happened with Russia. This country – in line with the power it had – took over all the vital heritage of the former Soviet Union: armaments, secret services, international connections (permanent membership of the UN Security Council), diplomacy, space technology, etc. Of course, the Soviet Union was not (like Yugoslavia or the EU) a political project according to the wishes of the components. The Slovenes wanted Yugoslavia because of the indifference of Versailles, because of the objective danger from the West and in their romantic Slavophile naivety. During communism, Slovene subjective expectations were subordinated to the world revolution and the argument of Serbian supremacy. The Serbs had in their hands the army and diplomacy, the capital, and so on; after all, in the political turmoil after Tito’s death, they remembered the well-known Serbian motto: Serbs win in war but lose in peace. The Serbs were wrong not to consider that the Cold War was over all over the world. Thus began the all-encompassing – of all Russian interventions (Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine, Crimea) more fatal – Yugoslav war.

Yugoslavia was blown up mainly by the (ideologically inflamed) violence of the leading nation; and the Soviet Union, mainly due to the obsolescence of the communist system, which was not able to compete with the United States or EU; consequently, the disintegration of the Soviet Union naturally affected what was happening in Yugoslavia. (Serbs waited in vain for Soviet support, Slovenes learned directly from Yeltsin that the Soviet Union would disintegrate.) At first glance, there are similarities between the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the European Union, as Slovenes and Croats – like Greeks, British or Poles from Brussels or Luxembourg – felt threatened by the Belgrade bureaucracy. But the EU has two strong members in addition to the weakening and less legitimate Brussels, which is represented by the Belgian President of the European Council (who cannot decide anything on his own): Germany and France, which, together with Italy and Spain, keep the EU afloat. (It is certainly interesting that these countries have shared the most influential positions in the EU: the German President of the Commission, the French President of the European Central Bank, the Spanish Foreign Minister and the Italian President of the European Parliament.)

The clash between national and European law did not start with Poland

Today, the main topic of discussion within the circle of Central European countries is the relationship between state constitutional and European law between them and Brussels. According to V4, with which the United Kingdom would also agree, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) attributes/takes too much jurisdiction and promotes the primacy of European law. (It should be recalled that the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (PUE) was suspended by France and the Netherlands in referendums in 2005.) Both the German and Polish Constitutional Courts have concerns about the CJEU’s rulings and demand national jurisdiction over matters that have not been (clearly and unequivocally) transferred to the EU in the Treaties in force. The German Constitutional Court has stated since 1974 that it must retain certain powers until (solange) substantial changes take place at EU level: …as long as (solange) the European Community still does not have a democratically elected parliament directly on the basis of a general electoral rights and with the legislature, to which the Community judiciary is accountable at political level, protection under Article 24 of the German Constitution remains in force.

Poland, with other V4 members, is at the forefront of current controversies among European lawyers and politicians about the rule of law and the jurisdiction of the courts (even in the context of the official debate on the future of Europe, stimulated by the European Commission). Slovenia is also taking part in these discussions, thus demonstrating a foreign policy interest that is different from foreign policy before the spring of 2020. Slovenia is seen in the society of other Central European and Baltic countries due to its cultural tradition as well as due to the insurance of its economic or political interests. The Central European and Baltic states are characterised by political burns from the Cold War, so on the one hand they point to the remnants of European totalitarianism, and on the other hand they seek to contribute to the improvement of EU-Russia relations.

After the end of the Cold War, which divided Europe into two: the western capitalist and the eastern communist part, a new three-part system with Western, Central and Eastern Europe began to take shape. Western and Central Europe belong to the European Union, and the third part hesitates between the alliance with the EU and Russia, which Yeltsin’s Foreign Minister Kozyrev said in 1992 that he had a European and Asian perspective. The Visegrad Group, Slovenia and Croatia – together with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – represent a strategically important intermediate space between Western Europe and the European neighbourhood from the Balkans and the Caucasus to Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. In the early twenty-first century, innovations in the United States and Great Britain loosened some connections in the West. Europe shrank on the west side and expanded eastward, from where, after the wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, crowds of migrants and refugees began to approach. Significant shifts and challenges are accumulating on the eastern border of Central Europe, which is being reorganised as a result.

The countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States began to gain in prestige and strategic importance

In the last third of the 19th century, some Slovene opinion leaders gave in to discouragement, which was based on the abandonment of Slovene and the merging of Slovenes with larger nations. It was said: Slovenes have no future as Slovenes, we will become either Prussians or Russians. This was repeated in a different form between the two wars, when Josip Vidmar, for understandable reasons, was saving Slovenia’s identity from the Yugoslav state or rejected the identity of the state and the nation, to which he assigned primarily cultural tasks. There are also documents and testimonies from the socialist era about the abandonment of the Slovene language. In addition to Vidmar and the writers, Dušan Pirjevec also resisted this, defeating Dobrica Ćosić in a historical controversy in 1961. Pirjevec’s successors finally began to prepare the concept of the state of the Slovene nation. Hesitation between Prussians/Germans and Russians has been characteristic of Slovenes several times in history, e.g., in the First World War and also at the beginning of the Second, when the anti-imperialist (later liberation) front followed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. In a way, the dilemma between belonging to Germanic and Slavic culture remained – at least in a latent form – relevant in the European Union as well. It is well known that Germany has agreed on gas pipelines and an energy connection with the Russians, which has caused the most doubts and suspicions in Central Europe – not to mention the Americans. In recent times, these have been economically pushing away European countries, some of which, in addition to Russian ones, also nurture Chinese connections; however, everything intensified during the covid-19 epidemic, when suddenly – but not unrelated to the epidemic – there was a shortage of certain electronic products needed for the European (and apparently not for the American) automotive industry.

In other words, the countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States have begun to gain in prestige and strategic importance, which again cannot be separated from the discussions, even the threats, coming from Brussels and Luxembourg.


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