Is There a European Political Culture?

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We like to tell ourselves that ‘Europe’ is defined by its achievements, when in truth our story is just as much one of barbarism, ignorance, and violence as it is about civilisation, enlightenment and high culture

This morning I participated in a panel discussion at the Wroclaw Global Forum, a security conference hosted by the Atlantic Council in the Polish city that in a former life was the German city of Breslau.

The conference is held in a facility next to Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall, built in 1913 when the city was still part of the German Empire, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations, when a coalition of armies from Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden defeated Napoleon outside Leipzig.  A concrete counterpart to Leipzig’s magnificent Völkerschlachtdenkmal, its design, original purpose and former Polish name (Hala Ludowa, Hall of the People), serve to illustrate how a monument can stand still whilst names, systems, borders and local inhabitants change around it.

As if to press home the historical precariousness of Central European existence, conference guests stay at the Hotel Monopol, which has the dubious honour of having hosted Adolf Hitler in 1938 when he travelled to Breslau so as to address a gathering of Sudeten-Deutsche who had made the journey from nearby Czechoslovakia.  The setting helps gives even the most platitudinous Atlanticist clichés about the value of freedom a resonance they lack when regurgitated in their native Washington.

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Tusk, Kaczyński, and Putin: A View From Moscow

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So the biggest problem Kaczynski was for Russia was that they were worried he was going to go and get himself killed?  For sure it was that, yes.  And it was not just a problem for Russia, it was also a problem for NATO.

Last month, I interviewed Maxim Samorukov, Deputy Editor of Carnegie.ru and an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Centre.

We discussed relations between Poland and Russia between 2007 and 2010, when Poland’s executive branch was divided between Law and Justice President Lech Kaczynski and Civic Platform Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the domestic and foreign policy context of the Smolensk catastrophe, and the Kremlin’s view of Poland’s present Law and Justice government, including the possibility of future co-operation.

‘The Ghosts of Smolensk’, an article I wrote for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab about President Kaczynski’s contested legacy , can be found here.

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The Ghosts of Smolensk

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For Law and Justice, Kaczynski is a national saint whose assassination proves his greatness, and whose greatness proves he was assassinated. Rather than having “died” like a civilian in an accident, he is referred to as having “fallen”, like a soldier in battle.

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My latest article, for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab, addresses the legacy of President Lech Kaczynski, who died in the Smolensk catastrophe six years ago.  The 10th of April marks the sixth anniversary of the disaster, and the first anniversary of the crash since Law and Justice returned to power last year.

You can read the article here.

Long Read essay for The Guardian available in Polish

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The exploitation of a symbol of national suffering in support of a political agenda that seeks to turn Pole against Pole is contradictory to every conceivable notion of patriotism.

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My Long Read essay for the Guardian ‘The conspiracy theorists who have taken over Poland‘, has been published in Polish this weekend in print and online by the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, with an extra introduction for Polish readers.

The Polish version of the essay can be found here, and the introduction (in English) is as follows:

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Sentimental Self-Interest: Turkey’s Foreign Policy During the Bosnia Conflict

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Turkey’s policy can be described as one of ‘sentimental self-interest’ because the ‘sentimental’ identification of elements of Turkish society with the Bosnian Muslims did not contradict the ‘self-interested’ raison d’État­ calculations of the Kemalist ‘guardian state’

The post-Cold War period was a time of great political and strategic uncertainty for Turkey. Since the introduction of democratic elections in the 1940s there had been considerable ideological competion over domestic issues, primarily the role of religion in Turkish society, but in the 1980s, with the rise of a moneyed class of socially conservative Anatolian business-owners, combined with wider popular disenchantment with the corruption and statism of the Kemalist elite and secular ruling parties, the ‘Islamist’[1] movement gained the financial and electoral clout to challenge the ‘Kemalist’[2] state. (White, 2008, p369-70)

A dramatically changing strategic environment exacerbated this challenge to the Kemalist worldview. Whereas ‘during the days of Cold War friction and the perception of an imminent military threat it was possible to hold a broad consensus behind the idea of NATO membership and close military relations with the United States’, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the apparent liberation of Turkey from the straitjacket of the Cold War bipolar order meant that ‘the old consensus on foreign policy was breaking down just at a time when an ideological competition over the strategic direction of the country should take was both emerging and becoming more intense’ (Robins, 2003, p155).

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Independence Day: Poland’s Internal Partitions

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The hooligans paused respectfully for the hourly trumpet call from the towers of St Mary’s Basilica marking the defence of the city from Mongol invasion in 1241, as if it somehow proved their point.

Kraków’s Main Square was crowded as I entered from the northwest at about eight o’clock in the evening.  It is 11th November – Independence Day.  On this day in 1918, Józef Piłsudski proclaimed an independent Polish state after over a century of partition by the Prussian, Russian and Austrian empires.  In 1794, Kraków witnessed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s last symbolic act of defiance, when Tadeusz Kościuszko stood before the people in the Main Square and assumed command of the Polish forces, swearing to regain the nation’s independence. The Kościuszko Uprising was put down by Russian and Prussian forces before the final partition of 1795.

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Is Joshua Wong Being Naïve?

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The simplicity of Wong’s message gives Hong Kong’s activists the best chance on focusing on their tactics without eternal debates about the goal

In my post about Britain’s relations with China during the Chinese state visit last month, I mentioned the case of Joshua Wong, the teenage protestor from Hong Kong and founder of the territory’s ‘Scholarism’ movement – a protest movement of Hong Kong school students against Chinese plans to introduce a compulsory “Moral and National Education Programme”, teaching that the Chinese Communist Party is “progressive, selfless and united”, into the Hong Kong school programme.  The students succeeded in having the implementation of the programme postponed, though not scrapped.

Open Democracy’s En Liang Khong has published a very interesting interview with Wong, who is on an international speaking tour ahead of learning whether he will sentenced for five years in jail for his protesting activities.  The interview is accompanied by an analysis of the divisions within the Hong Kong protest movement, including contributions by a number of Wong’s critics.

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