April 29, 2009
A young Romanian friend, who is translating my work into his native language, recently sent me the latest book by Romanian social thinker and University of Maryland professor of government Vladimir Tismaneanu. A thin, discursive volume, Fantasies of Salvation was produced by Princeton University Press. The same press also published my book After Liberalism but then found my later analysis of multiculturalism insufficiently forward-thinking to justify any further patronage of my products. Fantasies of Salvation is clearly different from my lamentations. Tismaneanu has garnered appropriately long blurbs from Polish social democrat Adam Michnik and from various defenders of the current Liberal Democratic Romanian government, a regime that is sufficiently “pro-Western” to have decriminalized incest. In any case, Princeton prefers this hymn to a glorious pax Americana (presumably under Obama) to my gloomy reflections on the problems of Western democracy. Semper sursum, as the Latin motto goes, or as General Electric used to announce: “We”re all about progress.”
Tismaneanu travels in good company. He can boast of oodles of neocon cash, together with an institute at Maryland, paid for by the usual suspects, designed to inflict on the Romanian people a state-of-the-art version of “democratic” values. It’s not as if this impoverished country didn”t have enough tsuras climbing out from under the rubble of the sadistic, grasping regime of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. It is now destined to be taught by the residents of Obamaland how to create the proper form of democratic government, together with a “civil society” that corresponds to the values of the re-educators. Apparently this project worked so well with the Krauts and imbued them with such inexpressible loathing for their national identity that the same project is to be tried again for the benefit of Eastern Europeans.
Having said this by way of introduction, I should point out that Tismaneanu’s diatribe against European anti-Semitism, democracy deficits in Romanian civil society, and the forever ominous example of German illiberalism is about as digestible as a cardboard box. Without mincing words: his book has all the freshness of a maggot-covered corpse.
Here we meet the usual rogues” gallery of “undemocratic types,” Franjo Tudjman, the first premier of post-Communist Croatia who, we are told, managed to be both a Leninist and a throwback to the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustacha, such interwar authoritarian Central and Eastern European heads of state as Miklos Horthy of Hungary, Joszef Pilsudski of Poland, and the World War Two Romanian quasi-dictator Ion Antonescu, and finally, anyone else hanging around the current Balkan scene who doesn”t fit the global democratic mold. We”re also given ample heaps of Fritz Stern railing against the German Sonderweg and tortuous warnings from Habermas about the collective German past.
Tismaneanu is also palpably upset about the Romanian ultranationalist politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who insists that all of Moldavia (and not just the Western part) should belong to Romania. What he fails to stress is that Tudor had previously worked for the Communists. This opportunistic politician recast himself as a Romanian expansionist in the post-Communist society after Tismaneanu and other Romanian Liberal Democrats and the Romanian Social Democratic president Ion Iliescu had gone after the National Peasant Party as a remnant of the agrarian, pre-modern past. According to my Romanian friend Mircea Platon, it was the crusade pursued by Tismaneanu and his circle against the traditional national (but non-expansionist) Right that allowed Tudor and his Greater Romania Party to come out of the shadow of their involvement with Ceausescu to form an aggressive nationalist movement. The war in Romania against the old Right-Center, and its attempted replacement by a GOP look-alike, prepared the way for Tudor’s ascent as the Romanian nationalist par excellence.
There are further problems with Tismameanu’s tendentious picture. Even if I accepted his analysis of a innately Nazi Germans, supplied by Stern-Habermas, why should that cause me to believe that everyone’s national identity is as intrinsically evil as that of the Germans? Not even the neocons teach anything as sweepingly negative. These self-proclaimed global democrats make generous allowances for the current anti-German, pro-Israeli nationalist government of Poland, and prominent neoconservatives were very much on the side of the Turks when the Armenians tried to get the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian claim to a Turkish genocide against the Armenians during World War One. After all, the Turks, whether or not they have created a “democratic” political culture, are Israel’s best friends in that part of the world. If the neoconservatives are gnashing their teeth over the appointment of an ultra-rightwing Jewish nationalist as Israeli foreign minister, I must have missed it. Clearly, the Israelis have a neocon right to be as identitarian as they want. To the charge that Romanians have lost such a right to national identity because they have shown anti-Semitism in the past, well, what about the Polish exception to this rule? Obviously the American neoconservative press has long ceased beating up on the Poles for past anti-Semitism, seeing that Poland has become politically useful. Perhaps Romanian nationalists could learn the same game.
Moreover, nations that do not feel they are part of a national community are very much subject to those nations that do. Thus the Teutonophobe, nationalist Polish government has explicitly forbidden the German Chancellor to set up a center in Berlin that calls attention to Poland’s crimes against German minorities from 1945 onward. Although these crimes resulted in millions of deaths and expulsions, Germans are forbidden”and have forbidden themselves”to express what the German press and the Polish government consider “revanchist” sentiments. Meanwhile the Polish government imposes new demands on the Germans to pay further reparations for Polish laborers brought to Germany during World War Two. When the two countries discuss ticklish controversies at joint conferences or in joint publications, the Germans obligingly provide the account of past events favored by Polish nationalists. Should Romanians now follow the German example to prove to the world that they”re “good democrats”? Perhaps they have a right to be “democratic” like the Poles, that is, in a way not resembling the character of a dishrag.
Anyhow the Germans have taken the necessary steps to becoming post-national and may soon cease to exist as an ethnic nation. For example, Germans no longer reproduce their evil seed, although Habermas hopes that his people will stay around long enough to make an impression as inconsolable penitents before the rest of the world. Furthermore, the Germans are happily allowing their government to hand them over to an EU super-state, even without a popular vote. And then there’s the ultimate act of German national suicide, which consists of handing over inner cities to mostly uneducated and often fanatically Muslim immigrants. One can thereby eliminate German fascism and illiberal German nationalism both at the same time by getting rid of the people in question.
The problem with this project in global democratic indoctrination, beyond its obvious selectivity in terms of who is allowed to manifest identitarian sentiments, is the attempt to remove the lifeblood from historic nations. Why should Eastern European countries be turned into local illustrations of the present politics and popular culture of the U.S.? New York is fine where it is (for those who like what it is). But why must Bucharest and Tallinn be made to resemble American urban life and mores in ways that are inconsistent with ingrained traditions and tastes?
The recipes for modernization that Tismameanu favors are taken from late modern Western societies and based on individualism and constantly expanding “human rights.” But why must Romanians judge themselves by these standards, and particularly since those American characteristics that Tismaneanu claims to value, such as individualism, have come increasingly under attack in the current West? To what extent, are the dominant cultural-political tendencies in the West, represented by multiculturalism, and the assignment of collective guilt or victimological status, an extension of the right to be judged as an individual? Individual rights are those privileges that public administrators, often ruling through undemocratic political entities, like the EU, assign or withdraw from those under their control.
One last point: the task that Eastern Europeans should set for themselves is not how they can imitate the Germans or become ersatz Americans but something far more practical: reconciling two interests, national specificity and regional cooperation. The Poles are doing the first but not the second when they take advantage of the current German masochism. The Baltic peoples satisfy both interests when they celebrate their national independence and ethnic traditions but try to coexist with large Russian minorities, whom the Soviets moved into their countries after deporting the native populations.
Of course the Balts may have no alternative with the Russian Bear on their borders, but whatever the case, they have been remarkably tolerant of those who were imposed on them by their oppressors. They have also made transitions to post-Communist societies, a subject that Tismameanu claims to be an expert on. But Baltic nations have made these transitions with unmistakably patriotic governments that rest on popular foundations. Moreover, their populations seem to be more interested in what the Communists did to them, for example, murdering millions of their countrymen, than they are in giving EU-mandated lessons on antifascism and homophobia. Such behavior seems entirely healthy, although not politically correct, nor likely to attract neocon funding.