Orbanisation of the eastern realms


a bit idealist ideas from within troublemaking Eastern Europe

Bad mother, good father

Despite being nett receivers of EU money, Eastern European citizens developed strong culture of EU-hate. A mixture of rumours, coffee-machine discussions, conspiracy theories, perhaps Russian media misinformation war, pan-Slavic sentiments. From superstition around "EU normalizing shape of bananas", through general grudge on "Bruxelles deciding about us without us", through real TTIP/CETA threats (iconic vulnerability of centralisation of power - that should be seen, named and addressed, instead of silently swept under the carpet), through tell-tale horrors of "dictating liberalism, minority rights, gender propaganda" to ungrounded fear of "EU sucking our money" and historically-conditioned admiration of (even more dictating) macho/traditionalist/patriarchal (Soviet) style of rule. Man of the house, hero, savior - who knows, solves and manages it all. These attitudes and sympathies are shockingly prevalent, even among educated class, intellectuals, scientists, environmentalists, or counter-culture movements.

As part of bizarre imitation game in the East, the "back to the roots" and "back to the nature" has become a commandment - to not only rediscover and adapt what is still functional/meaningful in self-sufficient ancestor-farmer life-style, but to completely adopt it. Flirting with keywords like "traditional" is interpreted (or rather "not interpreted") literally - including the old conservative social values and patriarchal family structure. Forget the "excessive sensitivity" of "spoilt urban man"! This reopened backdoor allows to escape from gender-and-sexuality diverse complexity of identities into "simple is beautiful" past or so called "common sense" (which can be translated as "Let's not think too much, it's no good."). Folk crafts and costumes are rediscovered along the folk prejudices (just redressing all the traditional phobias against everything new/different/foreign) and fake pan-Slavic mythology, pseudo-history and hockey-fan self-adoration. Green/folk/alternative counter-culture is becoming synonymous with anti-Bruxelles sentiments and pro-Moscow sympathies.

The only counterbalance I see is here-and-there an inconspicuous billboard saying "this was paid from EU funds" (often without public opinion poll, at wrong place, at wrong time, in wrong way) or now-and-then an odd animated ad about "structural funds improving railway infrastructure" (which does not match customer experience really). We genuinely miss multi-layered, multi-targeted, substantial, non-propagandist, non-cheesy, grass-root, personal-feel campaign promoting unified Europe from the most obvious points to the less perceptible ones ...

... a continent of migrants that was in constant wars for centuries, culminating in two disastrous world-scale conflicts with technological fireworks of the weapons of mass destruction, immense death-toll and awful ideological fallout felt to day - has now encountered more than half a century of peace ...
... has become one of the most diverse and liberal places on Earth ever seen, allowing people to live freely in their bodies, with their sexuality, preference, opinions, political and religious choice, elect their representatives, enjoy high availability of information, complex checks and balances in society ...
... as much as one of the most developed places in the world - speaking of science, technology, industry, medicine, but also in scope of social organisation and culture ... and not to forget one of the highest environmental standards to be seen - and still to be improved. Air one breaths, water one drinks, food one eats ...

... as basic they are, there should by an appreciation to access these, not even mentioning a desire to do so

Speaking of Eastern European countries and commenting on last quarter century of their unwanted freedom: Everything concerning the public services that one can see around, from roads and rails, bridges and tunnels, through trains and trams, public buildings, education and health and safety infrastructure, information access points, national parks and environmental and tourist infrastructure, or even museums, galleries, theaters and cultural events - was from the largest part either (rather brutishly) constructed by communists 3-6 decades ago and just recently repaired - or built new and now with significant EU money support.

If the big picture is easy to describe and easy to ignore, what often counts more are the personal stories. While grandma still believes that "now we are free to travel, but have no money to do so" (this memory to be heard, acknowledged and scrutinized, but not ridiculed!) - even the poorest may have already experienced the opposite. Bureaucracy-free vacations, work and travel, meetings with friends, cultural events, or even a shopping abroad, thus exercising freedom of preference and choice - can be surprising, opinion-changing, life-enriching experience, that one values more than stable supply of white pastry rolls, sliced plastic cheese, colored salami and soap operas at home.

Despite the unpleasant situations they often happen in - the encounters with foreign police officers, bureaucrats, public services, healthcare, or even private vendors can be positive - and even more infuriatingly so - in comparison with "golden standard" at home. Getting more makes one demand more. Ill-reputed Union misses personal sharings of real-life experience of liberal multi-cultural diversity-cherishing open-border society. Different campaigns targeted at workers or at professors, at urban or at countryside folk. "Get In Touch with EU." (... but not just as a vain slogan.) With awareness of heightened east-European sensitivity to propaganda/advertisement (back from still-remembered totalitarian times), EU should tactfully but significantly self-promote more.

Children of Europe

EU was created and later enlarged more as an economic space than a cultural one. There is more emphasis on economy than shared liberal/humanist values. As such, EU needs to be reinvented. Perhaps there should be not only an example of countries freely leaving, but also an example of countries being kicked out. If they give up on certain political culture, respectful self-organisation and electorate-representative communication, there's no reason to prefer them in economic support (structural funds, Shengen space, place in solid and robust economy) above the other countries of the world. As an example - Poland and Hungary are nowadays more subversive than helpful in EU's relation towards Russia, China and other authoritarian blocks - which they successfully imitate. Their archetypal conservative populist nationalism is toxic also for the other east-European countries (Slovakia, Czech R.) if not to the whole of EU.

Though, why is it so? With all the dystopian narratives in popular culture nowadays (empires versus rebels) - revolt is very fashionable. It is not only solitary humanist V fighting the totalitarian regime, it can easily twist into stubborn country resisting pressure of Big Brother of Bruxelles. So, what made them revolt and flirt with such extensive illiberalism in the first place? Let's not forget that Eastern Europe joined EU with only one comparative advantage - cheap labor, cheap infrastructure, opportunist laws in favor of multi-national companies, big entrepreneurs and employers. It has become assembly factory of EU. Dirty backyard of the New Green Europe utopia. As much as a Wild East for the resource mining.

That injustice is felt subconsciously, while politically dismissed and medially shunned. The neo-liberal theory of starting low and gradually getting higher proved somewhat false or at least incomplete. Eastern Europe is still cheap labor zone with poor employee protection, still shamefully lagging behind West in quality of life, with exception of rather detached and privileged elite. This should be publicly recognized by political faces of EU and ameliorated where possible and sensible (idealist would say: pressure on companies resident or even making-money in EU to apply same standards/wages EU-wide).

The nominal rise of GDP did not bring cultural progress in terms of valuing diversity - something envisioned by neo-liberal theorists as well. Progress and wealth does not cultivate human being - lesson learned. (Think of oil rich fairy-tale gilded Persian Gulf kingdoms, emirates and sultanates.) The minority protection laws in Eastern Europe were sort of imposed by EU, still in outrageously reduced scale, resisted internally, never promoted by state institutions, never adopted in hearts. EU still prefers to support obscure NGOs with limited impact - while it should create EU-wide programs aimed at equalizing public opinion on minority issues or generally shared core liberal values. At least one channel of national radio&television broadcasters should be made perceptibly pro-European or even pan-European (while the other one would preserve distinct regional culture).

Aunt TV

While the mass media dominate life everywhere in the world - the mirror of reality, the moving-picture truth, all knowing presenters, divine stars, dictate of good taste - in Eastern Europe it is quite underestimated phenomenon. Locals live with TV as a family member. Private broadcasters sovereignly entered empty markets and extrapolated former communist state-media culture. The dictate of truth, self-assuring objectivity, infallible guardianship of society. Private media companies have phenomenal nation-wide impact. For 2.5 decades of imitation of democracy or 1.5 decade of EU-membership, these media have not resisted bigotry, nor chronic political resignation. They perpetuated conservative self-image, vain 19th century romantic nationalism, kindergarten-level pseudo-discussions, mob democracy, small town mentality, dictatorship of "normality", homophobia, heteronormativity, telenovela forms of family/relationship/love. The national awareness is trapped in phrases, cliches, prejudices.

Presenting their subjective commentaries as the Objective Truth - and believing in it - they lack feedback and sanity. They forget about being private companies, with shareholders and advertisers - naturally incapable to present information harmful to them. Sometimes it feels like the mass media is the real government of country - they shape opinions, mood, political choices. Often into more conservative and hence predictable ones. Simply because they can be easily processed by less bright (cheaper) journalists and commented on by template phrases, perpetuating readily readable status quo. News-makers are often more populist than politicians. If there are any pressure points, we need to identify them and use them. Some of east-European media has perhaps EU-resident shareholders, some journalists are member of European associations...

If needed, shame or outlaw certain news-making, opinion-shaping, or even programming methods - everywhere in EU. Tabloid is a matter of freedom and choice up to the point when it starts to undermine it erratically. Eastern media has created Orban/Kaczynski/Babis/Fico phenomenon (with Jobbik, Radio Maryja, Okamura, Kotleba as "the other option" to fear, gloom versus doom) as much as Murdoch media machinery created fact-less zeal for Brexit or post-journalism madness of Fox News. Shaping minds by selecting programs cannot always hide behind "we just show what people want to see". Cheap programming co-created cheap-society. Populist news created populist citizens. We cannot continue forming mindsets according to magnates interests nor Turkish soap-operas. There were recent scandals of Czech chief editor forcing journalists to preach xenophobia, emphasizing hierarchical employer-employee relationship that is outdated in West. Eastern Europe lives with old fear "I should keep silent, to keep job, to survive." This is where Europe needs to start - target and undermine this pre-conception.

Mother earns, father gives

EU money is often "generously given" from the hands of local politicians, with few credits attributed to the original source. The victories are personal, the mistakes are made in Bruxelles. There's no way Eastern European politicians continue to live off stolen EU money (corruption, clientelism, exploiting structural funds) and in the same time paint the EU in the worst possible colors in national media. The politicians who are incorporated in EP parties should be made responsible in sense of promoting EU, as much as its core values. EU is tragically unpopular in East, where the most money and support goes. Opportunist use of EU as a whore for self-gratification and simultaneously as scape-goat should be stopped, in exemplary way.

Most of the 20th century, Eastern Europe was part of the empires, the Nazi dystopia and then communist bloc. There was not much opportunity to experience self-governance, liberalism, or even healthy dynamic between electors and their chosen/responsible representatives. The passive resignation (if not traditionalist Christian acceptance of ordeal) is a widespread attitude. "It is so!" - is a national and regional commentary to anything. Nothing can be changed. Nothing can be done. Politicians will always steal. Powerful will do what they want. Citizens prefer to stay quiet and "not sticking out" - as a meme imprinted throughout generations - to avert the attention of powerful, instead of exercising their political will. If EU has any ways to interfere, it should - because without changing this attitude, people will not know what to do with democracy. Imagine that instead of daily chronicle of crimes and tragedies, there would be a showcase of examples of people changing their environment for better?

Put them on the buses

With a bit of humor: EU should immediately stop giving any money to the East. There should be only one aid to focus on: put all our youngsters on buses and allow them to live for substantial time in the real West. Not just those from richer families who can afford Erasmus or Work And Travel and other programs. All of them, from the goddess forgotten villages no bureaucrat has ever heard of. To experience how it looks like when:

- public services suddenly really work in majority of the cases (because politicians spend 90% money for common good, stealing 10% maybe, not in reverse ratio known in the East)
- main roads are prevalently real roads (repaired in last decade), public transport network and system that makes sense, extensive cycling infrastructure that is usable and used en masse, free or affordable and omnipresent access to internet and useful information
- cities and communes that prevalently invite their citizens to shape them, enjoy them, participate, that are usable and used, livable and lived
- spontaneous places of leisure and counter-culture are at least partially recognized and preserved, instead of immediately and always erased without asking and replaced with sterile money-making tourist-traps and imitations.
- institutions use contemporary technology to reduce bureaucracy and stress, instead of bullying citizens by carrying more cards in wallet and papers from door to door
- police that is prevalently polite and helpful, skilled in soft-power, not vainly authoritarian and strict-acting
- teachers who are in majority the partners in education, treating their students respectfully, offering example for the society of equals, instead of being patronizing infallible dictators
- doctors that as part of unquestioned standard hear and help patients, not just recite books and scold patients, avoiding work at each cost
- entrepreneurs that are expected to offer some service for the earned money, instead of just amassing fortune overnight; the helpfulness, kindness and customer-oriented attitude of employees taken for granted as part of good manners and life attitude
- culture of hearing diverse opinions, debates, media that rather aims at and not claims objectivity
- respect and acceptance of diversity, identity, sexuality, belief, lifestyle, style, sensitivity to others sensitivities
- atmosphere of mutual safety and friendliness instead of competitive attitude and acting out hostile aggressive arrogant machismo

It is far away from ideal in the West, but also far advanced from East as well.

Personal encounters

Using the opportunity of free traveling, I have recognized something unusual in everyday interactions elsewhere. Being in the West feels differently. People look, acknowledge my presence, pass with a smile, joke, engage in friendly conversation, offer service or help, let me know I'm there and that it is OK I am there. It's a mutual feeling of safety, social comfort, acceptance. Not without exceptions, but still prevalent enough to generalize. Something rarely experience in the East, where normative attitude is being aggressive and arrogant, harsh competition, survival of the toughest, general distrust. I speak of road culture, workplace atmosphere, attitude of bureaucrats behind glass, public transport situations, queues in shops, passing by on the pavement, random encounters, sorting out conflicts, accidents, missteps, sharing public space (smells, noise, parking), partying - what sums up as daily life, my life.

As a reflection, my guests from West equivocally wonder about visible and stunning machismo. Something that I would hardly notice, or name. All my life that used to be "normal", how things are, without any counter-example. Instead of being comfortable in their bodies and minds, people of all generations and sexes and sexualities act out a hyper-masculine pose - the tense way they stand, walk, look, react, respond. Being constantly on guard, wary, ready to strike before the other one does, taking pleasure of dominating through physical intimidation as much as verbal humiliation. This transcends into the organisation of society, politics, business, relations, how daily life feels. Life in fear and readiness - that has become ordinary life. My life.

Only if I could paste in the scene from the recent version of The Handmaid's Tale - in the context of its whole story... So I'll quote from the book:

"Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary."