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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Crisis of Humanity and the Euro-Bluffs

The massive influx of west Asian, south-central Asian and east African humanity into Europe has called a series of bluffs we customarily refer to as the European Union.

Bluff 1: 'Europe'. Obviously, there is no "continent" of Europe. That we refer to the northwestern corner of the Afro-Eurasian continent as a separate geographical unit is entirely a matter of (a highly consequential, Euro-centric) convention. The very act of trying to talk of 'Europe' as a continent is a prime example of metageographic reification. If this is not obvious to you, please follow up with Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen's very useful book, The Myth of Continents.

Bluff 2: 'Europe is a thing apart from "Asia" and 'Africa''. For thousands of years, the Mediterranean, the Balkans and (south-)east-central Europe had functioned as the veritable switchboards of the Afro-Eurasian trade system. They were what kept the system--and I mean nothing less than the interconnected world at the time, with 95% of humanity--together, not as borders. (For more on this, please consult my book, especially Chapter 1.) The current European chatter about 'Europe''s self-containedness, "thing-apart"-ness is a geopolitical fantasy, produced by way of equal amounts of selfishness (designed so as not to share the spoils of centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism), narrow-mindedness (the smaller we define "our" unit the safer we feel) and racism (if geography doesn't help, there is always the automatic, smooth turn to 'race' difference). When I hear the conversation about 'Europe' as apart / different from 'Asia' or 'Africa', I hear the voice of malicious whiteness, no matter which political corner it comes from "otherwise."

Bluff 3: 'Concerted "European" action.' The European Union's supposedly unified migration management system, named after the Dutch town of Schengen, was designed, supposedly, to provide a predictable, legally based, fair and just, pan-European supra-state framework for the movement of people from the outside. This influx of labor is absolutely necessary for the sustenance of west European capitalism, and the Schengen idea is that this, crucial inbound resource transfer ought not to be left to the whim of each of the 28, in many ways disparate and congenitally short-sighted, member states of the EU. The current immigrant wave is the first real test of the system. To put it simply, Schengen, and especially its most relevant set of rules pertaining to the processing of asylum claimants, referred to as "Dublin III", is not working. 28 separate EU member states have at least 28 separate immigration policies. (I am saying "at least 28," because the governments of some, like immigration novice Hungary, are painfully confused about both EU-requirements and their own national interests, let alone standards of common decency, and pursue several, mutually contradictory policies, more or less at the same time.) Make a long story short, there is no such thing as a common "European" response to a major humanitarian crisis, and the absence of a shared policy is powerfully exposed by the current, massive influx.

Bluff 4: 'West European Goodness'. I have written extensively about this. This bluff has two components: (1) a claim that there is such a thing as a moral geopolitics of goodness, and (2) that it resides in western Europe. Today, that western Europe which produces and spreads astounding amounts of this ideological poison, could easily show its goodness through compassion, solidarity and overall openness to the downtrodden whose abysmal conditions were produced by geopolitical-strategic wars they had nothing to do with in the first place. Instead, there is the closely watched, minutely apportioned, extremely ungenerous, legalistic "management of asylum-seekers," done almost exclusively by the law enforcement organs of west European societies. Meanwhile, vast majorities of the societies at large hide behind the police, sneer, and wish this "onslaught" of "migrants" had never happened. Politicians understand this, and give carefully measured, cryptic and deeply polysemic statements about the issue. The few pro-immigrant rallies that have taken place in western Europe involve relatively small numbers of people, typically the youngest among the most educated and those who have personal involvement with friends, partners, colleagues, etc. who had come to western Europe from somewhere else. Such rallies take enormous efforts to organize and have almost no political effect--case in point: contrast the UK marches under banners like "Migrants Welcome" and "Nobody Is Illegal" with the reality on the ground at the "Jungle" in Calais, a crisis created singularly by the UK's official anti-immigrant (and, BTW, anti-Schengen) policies. Nobody talks about the future, I suspect to a large extent because it would involve raising the question of the long-durée presence / integration / acceptance of "migrants"--a prospect seen by vast majorities of west European societies as a deplorable, threatening and overall majorly undesirable outcome. This is all the more of a tragedy as pretty much all west European societies suffer severe social care labor shortages (i.e., west European societies are increasingly unable / unwilling to take care of their rapidly aging and ailing societies themselves). So much about west European "goodness."

Bluff 5: 'European solidarity and "soft power"'. There is another trope to the self-image that the European Union is projecting to the rest of the world, namely that of 'European solidarity.' Development assistance, technology transfer, education, health care, diplomatic assistance, conflict mediation, all these elements of the west European states' and the European Union's "external" policies are supposed to congeal into a historically new, particularly 'European' kind of global politics, sometimes referred to as "soft power." (I suppose the point is that this concept acknowledges the fact that the EU is a monster, a global powerhouse--only, putatively, a kinder and gentler kind of monster.) What could be a more appropriate and more fascinating opportunity to show the strengths of "European solidarity" by this putative "soft power" than the geopolitical development of a couple hundred thousand asylum claimants showing up on their border? Instead of solidarity and softness, the states of Europe are showing an incredibly measured, alienated, impersonal, technical kind of "treatment," in processing the inflows. Of course that is not the worst, as the government of Hungary has shown over the last few weeks (where impersonal, technical character of the state's reaction is coupled with insufficient technical preparation, substandard, unacceptable conditions, and the breathtakingly dehumanizing treatment of the masses of humanity on their territory). Given this reaction, we can rest assured: Germany's much hailed, recent declaration of accepting Syrian refugees implies that it is less likely that people from other countries will be accepted. And, as for the relatively "luckier" Syrians: They will definitely be pushed back to their war-ravaged country once the first signs of an end to the most gruesome aspects of the war currently tearing apart their homes will appear.

There is more, but this is already long.

1 comment:

  1. Addendum to Bluff 3 above: By re-introducing border checking on its borders with Austria, Germany has what they call "suspended" Schengen. Problem: Although it sounds awfully techno-legal, "suspension" is not part of the Schengen regulations. You either have Schengen (i.e., unrestricted movement within the territory of the states that are part of the agreement) or not.

    In doing so, the German government is basically inconveniencing 99% of the people who have, over the course of the last decade or so, relied on the un-hindered openness of the Austro-German border as part of their daily lives. People live on one side of the border and work on the other, tourists budget time for traffic bottlenecks but not for border checking, etc. It is quite easy to predict what the reaction of the German and Austrian, not to mention all other, "Schengen-Bürger" will be to the new status quo.

    BTW, as of 4pm CET, September 14, 2015, Slovakia has also "suspended" Schengen. I am curious to hear what the people who work in Bratislava and live on the Hungarian side of the border, or those who live in southern Slovakia and commute to the Suzuki factory in the town of Esztergom (in Hungary) across a bridge over the Danube, will have to say about this nice idea.

    Nationalism rulez. So much about EU-constitutional nationalism (Habermas' key concept legitimizing the German social democratic sociology-of-law of "European Integration", or the overall EU-logy in the political science literature that has been singing praises to the end of European state-centric nationalism for one generation).

    And we have not even seen what the "State of Refugee Emergency," due to be introduced in Hungary tomorrow, will do to the situation. Rest assured: nice it won't bee. Police are in red alert in 4 counties already.


cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta