Staš Kleindienst: EU – SOME THOUGHTS ON IDEOLOGY
The process of expanding the EU to post-socialist countries, with the biggest mass expansion in 2004, can be seen as logical consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the social and political changes of the early 1990s, which introduced the neoliberal capitalist way of thinking and doing to the then-closed markets. The Western tendency to break the Iron Curtain can be put in parallel with the neoliberal project and can be seen as a way to produce new territories capable of embracing free market ideology rather than just an effort to “liberate” the oppressed people and bring them human rights. The neoliberal market economy also exported a post-ideological state of mind to the Eastern European countries, introducing them to the end of great ideologies and including them into one big democratic world family. And one way of keeping the ideological foundations of the EU intact is also to constantly renovate its relationship towards its own different ideological and totalitarian histories. If we take a closer look at the European Parliament Resolution on European Conscience and Totalitarianism which the EU parliament adopted on April 2, 2009, certain conclusions can be drawn from it that can show us how the representation of contemporary European ideology works by organizing a matrix of relations towards its own history (or in this case, towards the history of Eastern Europe)1 that legitimizes Europe’s own processes of violence and makes them natural to the functioning of the Union.
The document promotes European values by producing a diametrical difference between the violent past, conjured by great ideologies, and the peaceful present, ready to build on the idea of harmony among all nations that constitute the European Union. In this sense, the resolution acts as an “independent” arbitrary mechanism that puts a dualist perspective on the EU and its past. The rhetoric of this dualist perspective is simple and it fits perfectly in the general neoliberal discourse about the post-ideological democratic political system, making it the only natural and possible option of governing. In this case, the ideologies of the past are only there to steal away the title of the big bad troublemaker, while contemporary Europe is a place of happy coexistence and by no means a place where ideology happens. This rhetoric needs a system of symbols on which the past (totalitarian) regimes can be classified as bad examples of ideology and the neoliberal present can be fully extracted out of discourse about ideologies. This system of symbols is constructed on a basis of appropriating great modern discourses about freedom and human dignity and its institutions. With this, I mean the discourse of human rights, sovereignty, the UN, the Nobel Peace Prize, etc., and also more popular events such as the Olympic Games or the recent World Cup in South Africa. What I mean is that these symbols of the free world and democracy have been appropriated so that they can serve Western capitalist ideology in making it natural and diametrical to the violent past. Their value as symbols of freedom and peace works only on the level of representation; in reality, it produces effects that are in opposition to their rhetoric. For example, we can remember the clash between reality and representation which occurred before the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing when the traditional Olympic torch relay (“In the context of the modern Games, the Olympic flame represents the positive values that Man has always associated with fire.”2) was interrupted by protests and the runners, in white sweatsuits, had to ride in a bus to prevent the Olympic fire from being extinguished. The other example could be the sovereignty of Iraq. In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey points out the way in which the Iraqi government was declared sovereign.3 On September 19, 2003, four orders were issued by Paul Bremer, the then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority; the orders included the full privatization of public enterprises, full ownership rights by foreign firms of Iraqi businesses, full repatriation of foreign profits, the opening of Iraq’s banks to foreign control, national treatment for foreign companies and the elimination of nearly all trade barriers. Now, these orders were in violation of the Geneva and Hague Conventions, which state that an occupying power must protect and not sell off the assets of an occupied country. Harvey states: “Though Bremer’s rules may have been illegal when imposed by an occupying power, they would become legal if confirmed by ‘sovereign’ government. The interim government, appointed by the US, that took over at the end of June 2004 was declared ‘sovereign.’ But it only had the power to confirm the existing laws.”4 In this example, we can clearly see how the conception of sovereignty changes from a condition of political struggle to that of an economic interest.
We could say that one of the more powerful tools for the naturalization of an ideology is the control over interpretation and representation. The above-mentioned resolution does just that in producing an image of the people from Eastern (post-socialist) countries as barbaric nomads who need to be civilized and taught democracy since they bear the burden of a traumatic totalitarian past. The extract of the resolution found on the web portal of the European Parliament in the Slovene language states that new members (those who came out of a totalitarian socialist past) have to accept the guilt and have to go on a mission to achieve reconciliation through: “acceptance of responsibility, an appeal for forgiveness and the encouragement of moral renovation.”5 This kind of rhetoric only helps strengthen the internal division in domestic political discourse since the majority of problems concerning, on one side, the question of socialism and revolutionary violence and, on the other side, the collaboration with German and Italian occupiers, are very present in daily political chit-chat and are only there to help score political points, but not much more than that. But on the other hand, this kind of rhetoric also produces (on the level of discourse) a certain subordination of new European countries that have no other option but to fully accept a new democratic regime which was so generously given to them by the big Western European powers. In practice, this is seen in the race to “progress” and to achieve “a sufficient level of democracy,” where Eastern European countries become “suckers” for all the laws, decrees and regulatives that come from Brussels and embrace them, not only without any reflection, but also with a high degree of compliance. A film by the Slovenian artist Nika Autor entitled Report on the Situation of Asylum Seekers in the Republic of Slovenia, January 2008–August 2009 clearly shows this attitude when, on a farcical celebration of the Day of Refugees, an official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr. Bojan Trnovšek, is asked by the author how would he comment on the situation that the individuals who jeered at him during the speech were in fact the applicants for asylum and that it was they who didn’t agree with the event, he answered: “Look, about this, I must say that, in fact, in Slovenia, as such, it is taken care of in respect to international standards for asylum applicants as well as for refugees. So our law is, of course, in check with the law of the European Union. In such cases, we act according to standards that are placed in this segment in all countries of the European Union.”6 While this statement clearly shows the monstrous gap between the real problematics of asylum seekers in Slovenia (which Nika Autor’s film is exposing) and the bureaucratic way of governing and solving things in democratic countries, it also shows how the minds of our leaders are colonized by the EU; not only that they obey such regulatives completely, but that this can serve as an excuse for not doing anything to overcome real problems.
But the true power of the European Parliament Resolution on European Conscience and Totalitarianism is hidden not in its content, but in the absence of content, because the resolution completely bypasses the colonial violence of the so-called ‘old Europe’. Some may argue that the resolution is focused on totalitarian regimes and that colonial violence has no place in such a document, but only its absence can produce a moral perspective which makes present a peaceful era, diametrically different from totalitarianisms of the past. Why is that? The answer lies in the discursive difference between totalitarianism (ideology) and colonialism (religion) as historical forms of governing. Both formations can be seen as a consequence of European history, with the difference being that totalitarianism functions as a political form and colonialism as an economic one. So while, on the one hand, totalitarianism represents itself as a series of symbols which derive directly from ideology and its institutions within the state, colonialism naturalizes itself through supra-national institutions such as Christianity and Humanism, that can make overseas expansion (and consequent exploitation) a universal project, a civilizing mission, the unquestionable act of exporting civilization’s greatest achievements (from scientific to spiritual and governmental) to underdeveloped countries and those in need. And this is the precise point through which we can link historical colonization with contemporary forms of subjugation through capital that today’s West is leading. The non-ideological framework makes colonization an economic paradigm rather than a political one, and through this, internalizes its political discourse so that no external reflection on its violent processes can be made. It is this elimination of externality that can make the imperial-colonial regime spread around the globe and work endlessly, as opposed to totalitarianism, where externality is criminalized, but can still identify totalitarianism as such. So if, on one hand, we have a clear reflection and distance (in a democratic regime of representation, of course) toward today’s closed societies such as North Korea or toward radical Islamic groups, being portrayed as origins of terrorism, which oppose democratic values of human rights, multiculturalism, etc., it is only on the condition that the latter are represented as universal ethical values not to be judged, and not as clear political and ideological paradigms. So this optic of representation enables processes of privatization, exploitation, subjugation and even death as inherent elements to the normal functioning of democratic regimes and as necessary consequences of expansion through democratization. A clear example of this is seen in the EU intervention in today’s Kosovo, where, under the guise of bringing stability to the region, institutions such as EULEX and K-FOR (NATO mission in Kosovo) are overseeing almost all local institutions and enterprises, from security, education, health care and media to businesses such as power supply, mobile telephony and construction. But even more, their intervention also serves as a platform to construct a new ideological subject in Kosovo, one that needs to be civilized and prepared to embrace a depoliticized, consumerist way of life and become an obedient part of market ideology. Agon Hamza states: “The civil society of Kosovo was created from outside, it was one of the neoliberal projects. It was created based on funding programs/projects from abroad, such as multicultural tolerance, human rights, co-existence between different ethnical, cultural, and racial groups, democratization, sustainable development, etc. The so-called needs of Kosovo’s society are being designed (mostly) by EU bureaucrats in Brussels; they design our needs, our future, and our demands. The people of Kosovo and of the Balkans in general are portrayed as an excessively violent, criminalized society, traumatized subjects, etc.”7
The reality is that, even though the intervention was supposed to be temporary, only to enable the normal functioning of the new state, the internationals (a word used to describe the official staff of the intervention) are there to stay. So the state of Kosovo is left in a permanent state of exception, where everything is controlled by international institutions and serves only for Western interests. We could identify this as a contemporary form of colonization that works on different political, economic and social levels and uses a form of crisis as a launching point to deploy its mechanisms of control. Be it an unstable political situation such as Kosovo, an unfriendly political regime, natural or ecologic catastrophe or even an economic crisis produced from within the strongest financial centers, the neoliberal logic of expansion finds a way to rearrange political, economic and social relations in a way to introduce the logic of the free market as a necessary component of Western democratic and humanitarian intervention. We could see this in the case of the recent economic crisis, where the only solution given by the big powers was giving more financial support to multinational corporations so that they could put their production back to normal standards. In the case of Greece, the situation is even worse. Solving the financial collapse of a state by giving it financial support can do nothing in the direction of preventing the collapse from happening again and only puts a state into dependency on the generous helper – in the case of Greece, the EU.
So as opposed to the imposed ideological orthodoxy characteristic for totalitarian regimes, we could say that we live in an imposed capitalist orthodoxy, an heir to imperialism and colonialism, which integrates pluralism, multiculturalism, parliamentary democracy, human rights, the possibility of choice, etc., and, on the other hand, uses those same terms as ideological discursive apparatuses to naturalize processes of violence as side effects of expansion, inherent to the working of neoliberal ideology. I would like now to propose a flourish quote, written on the official web page of the EU: “Europeans cherish their rich heritage of values, which includes a belief in human rights, social solidarity, free enterprise, a fair distribution of the fruits of economic growth, the right to a protected environment, respect for cultural, linguistic and religious diversity and a harmonious blend of tradition and progress,”8 which clearly shows the moral standpoints on which the idea of united Europe stands, but on the other hand, we cannot go over its imperial and colonial histories, which constituted those same moral standpoints on foundations of exploitation and subjugation. Or to put it in the words of renowned Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembene, who, speaking from the “other side,” once said: “At a moral level, I don’t think we have any lesson to learn from Europe.”9
Staš Kleindienst is an artist living in Ljubljana.
1 Although the resolution deals with all totalitarian regimes in European history, its focus is aimed on socialist regimes of Eastern Europe.
2 Factsheet – The Olympic Torch Relay, http://www.olympic.org/Documents/Reference_documents_Factsheets/The_Olympic_Torch_relay.pdf
3 David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005, p. 5
5 European Parliament Resolution on European Consciousness and Totalitarianism http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?language=EN&type=IM-PRESS&reference=20090401IPR53245
6 Nika Autor, Report on the Situation of Asylum Seekers in the Republic of Slovenia, January 2008–August 2009, 2010, experimental film.
7 Agon Hamza, “The Specter of Ideological Apparatuses,” Reartikulacija no. 8, Ljubljana, 2009, p. 5.
8 “Europe in 12 Lessons: Lesson 1,” http://europa.eu/abc/12lessons/lesson_1/index_en.htm
9 Ousmane Sembene, Personal Quotes, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0783733/bio